A Brief Introduction to Sustainable Cities
Citizens of the United States utilize the Earth’s natural resources to improve and maintain the overall quality of life for the millions that call our country home. Over much of the past century, Americans have learned a great deal about the detrimental impact that industry and lifestyle habits have had on the Earth’s environment. As a result, there have been a number of environmentally friendly strategies developed over the past few decades to help humans better connect to their environment, cut back on pollution and improve public health. One of these initiatives is the development of sustainable cities, which examine current city development practices and consider alternatives which can provide long-term methods for sustaining our communities and the environment far into the future.
The topic of sustainability typically involves finding and implementing effective strategies for reducing local, state and regional impact on the greenhouse effect. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is only one aspect of building sustainable cities for the future; our use and depletion of natural resources is equally important to consider. For instance, recent crises have included a number of water issues, including shortages in western U.S. cities to poor water quality in places like Flint, Michigan. These environmental crises highlight the importance of considering sustainability and building sustainable infrastructures. Fortunately, research has led to the development of sustainable cities which can lessen the detrimental impact of our activities on the environment, better preserve valuable natural resources, and ultimately save financial resources as well.
A Process for Establishing Sustainable Cities
For any city, creating a sustainable society must be accomplished through a top-down approach. The path to a sustainable society essentially begins when policy makers take proper steps toward improving energy efficiency and reducing activities that destroy or deplete natural resources. Therefore, it is up to policy makers and community leaders to become knowledgeable about not only the science surrounding environmental threats, but also the possible approaches to confronting them. Once equipped with this information, successful leaders can set attainable goals that require shifts in developmental approaches to infrastructure, food and water preservation practices, waste reduction/management and other sustainability issues.
Goals for achieving more sustainable practices might encompass reducing carbon emissions within a specified timeframe—as exemplified by United State’s involvement in the Kyoto Protocol treaty of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2016—or providing cleaner drinking water for city residents. While the research is ongoing for experts in the field, part of the task for policy makers is to seek out and utilize their expertise to both set reachable goals and determine effective ways to achieve them. In sustainable cities across the U.S., policy makers facilitate collaboration between environmental agencies, engineers, architects and city planners to develop sustainability initiatives in the form of projects and various programs. When setting up sustainability initiatives, specific projects should indicate how the project will help create sustainability, as well as outline required steps to see the project through to completion.
Current Sustainability Efforts
In the U.S., cities like Portland, Oregon, have taken the lead on the path to creating a sustainable future. For the past several decades, Portland’s local government has initiated numerous projects aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions by 2050, including revamping the city transit system, building greener facilities that utilize solar energy, and upgrading homes to be more energy efficient. As a result of these sustainability efforts, the city’s use of fossil fuels has been reduced and their green structures initiative has also created hundreds of new jobs.
Another great example of current sustainability efforts is the development of sustainable sewage systems that take a more natural approach to water treatment by developing freshwater ecosystems for the purpose of treating wastewater. One of these sewage systems have been implemented in Nebraska and is currently providing water to approximately 120 households without taking up any additional energy (excluding discharge pumps). Proponents of this method suggest viewing the wastewater in sewage as a valuable resource for the enrichment of soil and other purposes.
As the impacts of global warming increase each year, developing sustainable cities will continue to be important within the United States, and the world as a whole. Although sustainable strategies should be implemented as soon as possible, it’s important to remember that developing efficient, long-lasting initiatives is a process that takes time. For quick, short-term changes, citizens and communities may benefit from assessing their current lifestyle to determine where they can decrease environmental impact and preserve natural resources.
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