Erasmus University Rotterdam: New research shines light on future directions for cities on sustainability and climate action

18 Feb 2021 | Network Updates | Update from Erasmus University Rotterdam
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

What’s in a word?  ‘Smart’, ‘eco’ or ‘future’ cities? Around the world, numerous city initiatives have sprung up in recent years to signal their engagement with sustainable development and global climate change action. But what is the difference between these and other city labels? Are some more important than others? And how will they develop in the coming 50 years?

Scottish and Dutch academics have carried out a global study across 35 different city labels revealing that the term ‘sustainable city’ has been the most popular and overarching one in policy and academic research until five years ago. However, the ‘smart city’ has surged forward in the last five years, as cities use digital technologies and big data to make their metropolitan areas more efficient with their resources. The authors advise urban planners and policymakers to develop awareness of the connections between these various city labels and their respective meanings to maximize the positive impact of their policy interventions  

The academics – from the University of Glasgow and Delft University of Technology & Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands – have carried out a comprehensive analysis of over 11,000 scientific articles to reveal insights in how urban sustainability approaches have evolved over the past 30 years and are likely to develop in the coming 50 years. Some 35 city labels have been identified and used including ‘resilient city’, ‘eco city’, ‘liveable city’, ‘regenerative city’ and ‘learning city’. ‘Smart city’ takes the lion’s share – 46% - of the total research output over the last 30 years.

Relating different aspects of sustainability

The academics study - Past, present, future: engagement with sustainable urban development through 35 city labels in the scientific literature 1990-2019Opens external - advises cities to make essential connections between different aspects of sustainable development, based on a multi-dimensional mapping which relates e.g. ‘liveable’ to ‘ecological’ and ‘creative’ to ‘smart’ urban development. 

Creating stronger links between Sustainable Development Goals

The report’s authors - Dr Daan SchravenOpens external (TU Delft); Professor Simon JossOpens external (University of Glasgow) and Professor Martin de JongOpens external (Erasmus University Rotterdam) - said:

“The findings demonstrate how urban sustainable development has different connotations and implications for different cities and these various aspects are expressed through the choice of different city labels. Hence, we can use this in policy to create stronger links between Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities with the other 16 SDGs to help responding to the known challenge that there is often a trade-off between the different goals.

We hope that our study can also benefit urban practitioners by giving them information on the best way forward for their future research, policy and practice to help global cities tackle climate change action. Equally we also hope, as we move towards COP26 summit of world leaders in Glasgow later this year, that our research can help inform and support the conversation and debate on cities and sustainability.”

This article was first published on 15 February by Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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