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What Is Sustainable Urban Development?

As population grows the urbanisation of society is inevitable. Urbanisation leads to an increased impact on the environment; the 'ecological footprint' of cities is spreading.

The impact of growth on all areas of society must be acknowledged. Sustainable growth requires an evolution in the way urban areas carry out their activities such as resource use and the movement of people and goods. The physical infrastructure in addition to social and economic processes must evolve to acknowledge the challenges of growth.

Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, sustainable urban development implies a process by which sustainability can be attained, emphasising improvement, progress and positive change, incorporating both environmental and social dimensions.

Sustainable urban development highlights the need for reform of market mechanisms to achieve environmental goals and the achievement of a balance with social and economic considerations.

Several themes common to all definitions of sustainable urban development have emerged:

  • A change in the quality of growth.

  • The conservation and minimisation of the depletion of non-renewable resources.

  • A merging of economic decisions with those on the environment.

  • A strong consideration of the needs of future generations.

  • "By the year 2000, half the world's people will be living in cities. The urbanization of society is part of the development process, and cities generate 60 percent of gross national product. A growing number of cities, however, are showing symptoms of the global environment and development crisis, …."  Agenda 21 ("The Earth Summit") and UN Sustainable Cities Programme.

    Cities should be healthy, providing housing and employment opportunities, meet environmental standards and be sustainable. Sustainability needs to be a addressed on a global scale, reforms need to concentrate on the interaction of the urban environment with the global economy and environment.

    Hong Kong's phenomenal expansion has resulted in major sustainability problems and environmental concerns. In Hong Kong, as in other parts of Asia, sustainability issues need to be confronted. Further development is at risk unless these problems are acknowledged and addressed. The sustainability issues facing Hong Kong also challenge other large, vibrant cities. Hong Kong, drawing on its experience of the past century, is well placed to address these issues.

    Major development agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme undertake significant work on urban development, however, little research on urban sustainability has been conducted in Asia. Asia has almost 45% of the world's population and six of the world's largest cities and cannot allow research to lag behind Europe.

    Local and international debate on urban sustainability issues needs to be encouraged and sustainable development strategies for Hong Kong and other cities in China and the Asia-Pacific region developed.

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    What is Sustainable Urban Development?

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    Sustainable Urban Development Research Database

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