More and more people are now choosing to live in the city. Worldwide, more than half of the entire population already lives in cities. And the trend continues to rise. The result: a lack of living space and green areas, an immense amount of waste and never-ending traffic jams on the roads. Meanwhile, heightened environmental awareness is developing in many places and the desire for a lifestyle that is as climate-friendly as possible. All of these factors combined to create challenges that are faced not only by fast-growing Asian, African and Latin American cities but also by European and North American cities. More and more urban developers are tasked with making our urban spaces sustainable.

What is Sustainable Urban Development?

Sustainable urban development should ensure that residents can easily live an environmentally friendly and socially responsible lifestyle. This primarily means that the infrastructure is designed for pedestrians and cyclists and that public transport is expanded so that it is easy for people to do without their cars.

Environmentally friendly projects are promoted, and new green spaces are created, which improves the microclimate and the city’s air quality. The green oases also serve as social meeting places for people of all backgrounds. As part of sustainable urban planning, new buildings should be built using sustainable, if possible, recyclable materials. This avoids waste and helps to protect the environment.

Where people come together and face challenges, new ideas are born. Large cities and metropolises have always been drivers of innovation and new solutions regarding sustainability. A sustainable city brings with it high quality of life. However, there is no one universal solution. Instead, different approaches are being experimented with everywhere. At times they are profound and all-encompassing. Other times they are individual actions, projects or places, and sometimes the future is already here, as you can see in the following examples.

More Plants for a Better Microclimate in Milan

The Porta Nuova district has reshaped Milan’s skyline. On an old industrial site in the middle of the northern Italian city, a completely new district has been created that invites people to wander, relax and socialise. High-rise buildings by various architects replaced the empty, dilapidated factory buildings. Two of these skyscrapers are a model for biodiversity in urban spaces: the twin towers of the Bosco Vertikale and the vertical forest.

Trees stand on the balconies, and shrubs and grasses overgrow the railings. Almost 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and thousands of other plants, specially selected and prepared for this project, green the skyscrapers and offer birds and insects a habitat in the middle of the big city.

A green retreat is the roof terrace of our Green Pearls® partner Hotel Milano Scala, where various plants also grow and thrive. Above the rooftops of the vibrant city, you can end the evening here surrounded by fruit, vegetables and herbs. The lushly planted roof garden and the hotel’s green façade improve the hotel’s microclimate and immediate surroundings. This is particularly effective as a stay at the Milano Scala itself does not produce any harmful emissions that would have to be captured by the plants. Energy-efficient heat pumps and geothermal energy power the entire hotel.

Sustainable Neighbourhood development in Vauban, Freiburg

Like the Porto Nuova district, a former military site was converted for the “Vauban” rather than a new area being developed. The Vauban district was completed in 2006 and is energy self-sufficient, virtually car-free and environmentally responsible. The houses are all passive, low-energy or even plus-energy houses. The connections to public transport and the well-developed cycle paths make a car superfluous for most people. An active neighbourhood community takes care of incorporating and implementing the residents’ wishes and further shaping the neighbourhood.

The Green City Hotel Vauban is located on the edge of Vauban. It is the ideal starting point for exploring the sustainable district on foot or by bike and is a prime example of sustainability in action. Architecturally, it relies on resource-saving and green practices paired with a clean, no-frills design. Heating and cooling are energy-efficient, and electricity comes from a photovoltaic system integrated into the roof surface. The hotel is also an inclusive business: half of the employees are disabled or handicapped. Great importance is placed on the training and further education of the team. The focus is very much on the social component within the hotel and with external suppliers and producers.

Paris as a Pioneer for Green Urban Planning

For years, the greater Paris Region has been strongly committed to the sustainable development of the city area. Environmentally conscious projects are promoted, social measures are taken, and green building projects are supported. Among other things, there is the “EcoQuartier” quality label, which guarantees the environmental friendliness of a neighbourhood and focuses on the residents’ satisfaction.

One such EcoQuartier is the Clichy-Batignolles neighbourhood in the northeast of the city, which was built on a former freight station. The district’s image is characterised by the diverse yet harmonious styles of the buildings. The façades are greened, made of wood or other resource-saving materials, and the houses all have a very low energy footprint comparable to that of a Passive House. A large park has been created in the centre, visually balancing the tall buildings and offering the residents of the neighbourhood recreational opportunities and space for sports and games.

There are also small green oases outside the sustainable neighbourhoods. One example is the Hôtel Le Pavillon, which is completely dedicated to sustainability. The boutique hotel in a former convent is a quiet haven thanks to its somewhat hidden location and the green inner courtyard while still in the middle of the action. The Eiffel Tower, Seine and Champs-Elysées are all within walking distance. The rooms are uniquely furnished and offer relaxation without disturbing electromagnetic radiation. The locally and organically produced food is complemented with fruit, herbs and vegetables from their small garden.

Micro Forest in Erlangen

In many cases, new neighbourhoods simply cannot be built. But sustainable developments within a city can also affect a smaller scale. The initiative of individuals or groups is often the decisive factor. This is the case at the Creativhotel Luise.

Here guests can enjoy a delicious, ecological zero-waste breakfast to start the day full of energy. The huge hotel garden is also always worth a visit. Based on the Japanese model, a so-called Micro Forest is being created on part of the almost 1500 square metre area. Many trees and other plants are growing in a confined space and are expected to develop into an extremely diverse habitat within the next ten years.

Since the 1980s, the Creativhotel has been operating according to environmentally friendly principles. It is one of the most climate-positive hotels in Germany and offers a large garden and a green roof terrace for relaxation. If you prefer, you can also spend the night in a completely renewable hotel room®. Only natural and renewable raw materials were used for the interior design, showcasing that anything is possible!

The best practice examples of our Green Pearls® partners illustrate that sustainable urban development does not always occur on a large (or even larger) scale. It can be driven by individual businesses and also by individuals themselves. It can be the greened balcony, the support of sustainable and regional shops and initiatives and, of course, leaving the car at home. Our Green Pearls® partners are leading by example.

Edited by: Matthew Thomas