Sustainable Smart Cities: A Step Beyond

Sustainable Smart Cities: A Step Beyond

DOI: 10.4018/979-8-3693-3567-3.ch006
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Research on sustainable cities, smart cities, and, more recently, sustainable smart cities has gained great traction due to the current grand challenges that cities face. However, even if there are diverse and somehow coherent definitions available for sustainable cities and for smart cities, the definition of sustainable smart cities and the theoretical framework behind it remain underexplored. This gap hinders the effective deployment of policies and initiatives that successfully led cities to be sustainable and smart. The present study aims to address the ambiguity behind the term “sustainable smart cities” and to broaden the scope of the concept by suggesting that sustainable smart cities must be sustainability-coherent, consider limited growth and maximized awareness, and include the combination of bottom-up and top-down initiatives. This study aims to nurture the literature on urban sustainability and smartness and to give guidance for policy and decision makers in their journey towards sustainable smart cities.
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Urban contexts are experiencing important pressures due to unprecedented population growth and the consequences of urban development (Vardoulakis & Kinney, 2019). Specifically, the population living in cities is expected to grow from 4.45 billion people in 2021 (United Nations, 2022) to 6.5 billion people in 2050 (World Bank, 2020), meaning that more than two-thirds of the total world’s population will inhabit cities. Larger populations need higher amounts of resources and facilities (e.g., food, energy, housing, schools) to meet residents’ needs. For instance, a city experiencing a significant population growth must not only increase its housing stock, the number of schools or the number of health care facilities, but must also ensure the provision of food, water, and energy for an increased number of dwellers.

Not only demographic trends but also consumption trends are exacerbating urban sustainability issues because of resources extenuation and waste production (Sodiq et al., 2019). Consumption problems might be related to citizens’ activities and necessities in terms of leisure, food, shopping, clothes, or even decoration (Jayne, 2005). The offer of the mentioned goods and services is greater in cities because of a higher number and variety of cultural and leisure facilities, shops, or grocery stores and, thus, the opportunities for overconsumption are greater in urban contexts and, specially, in flourishing contexts (Gao & Tian, 2016). Besides, citizens are living concentrated in urban areas and this trend is expected to increase (World Bank, 2020), positioning cities as huge consumers in the global context. Consumption in urban contexts leads to greater amounts of waste which need to be urgently addressed (Vardoulakis & Kinney, 2019) because they might negatively impact people and place health (Gupta et al., 2019). Thus, the concentration of people living in cities, the high opportunities of over-consumption and the consequent amounts of wastes generated are likely to impact urban sustainability and city livability (Sodiq et al., 2019; Vardoulakis & Kinney, 2019).

Environmental and social tensions represent also severe issues in urban contexts (Martínez-Bravo et al., 2019). First, environmentally sustainable cities –based on the natural capital integration into the urban daily life (Tanguay et al., 2010) – offer availability of green areas, satisfactory air quality, acceptable noise levels, cleanliness, promotion of energy management and mitigation of climate change (Jenks & Jones, 2010; Węziak-Białowolska, 2016). However, achieving environmentally sustainable urban contexts implies big economic investments and urban planning redesign that a number of cities might not be willing to consider because they have more urgent problems, they do not hold enough economic power, or they are not obliged to. Second, a city which is socially sustainable, is a city with the capacity to endure as a viable environment for human interaction, engagement, communication, and the nurturing of cultural and social progress over the long term (Shafer et al., 2020). Urban social sustainability is associated with social equity in terms of access to key services such as health care and education facilities, minorities integration, and safety (Burton, 2000; Dempsey et al., 2011; Jenks & Jones, 2010). Social sustainable cities should minimize isolated neighborhoods and promote integration facilities aiming to foster social interaction, community spirit, and cultural vitality (Shafer et al., 2000). In the same line than environmentally sustainable cities, socially sustainable cities may require significant economic efforts and dedicated personnel for those purposes, which may imply investment as well. Overall, issues related to environmental and social urban sustainability might, in turn, threaten cities’ sustainability and livability (Martínez-Bravo et al., 2019; Ruth & Franklin, 2014).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainable Smart Cities: Urban settings that, based on efficiency and technology deployment, encompass and promote the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of urban sustainability.

Urban Environment: Physical, social, and cultural surroundings within a city which shelters the built environment, the social dynamics, the economic activities, and the overall lifestyle of dwellers.

Cities: Human settlements characterized by high population density, where diverse economic and social activities take place based on urban institutions and infrastructure.

Smart Cities: Urban settings that function based on technology integration through intelligent management.

Urban Sustainability: Managing urban contexts leading citizens to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs, balancing the urban economic, environmental, and social dimensions.

Urban Smartness: Integration of advanced technology on urban contexts to enhance urban efficiency and minimize resources consumption.

Sustainable Development: Development that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Cities: Urban contexts that encompass and promote the triple bottom-line of urban sustainability: economic, environmental, and social.

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