Building sustainable cities starts with smart urban design


This page in:


The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.


Join the Conversation

vince carter
July 02, 2016

Very nice discussion. I'm looking forward to your next podcast. Could you possibly cover the strategies being considered for making sure that there is a physical real estate option for new urban arrivals to find / buy / rent properties built on/with sustainable infrastructure platforms. By preparing newly built mixed use walking village type spaces on new self contained sustainable infrastructure, the challenges being faced by urban planners to fix existing urban spaces would be greatly reduced. Just wondering what World Bank Group is seeing around the world's cities related to the strategy of containing the SIZE of the problem while trying to address the need to retrofit / upgrade existing infrastructure systems.

Jon Kher Kaw
July 09, 2016

Dear Vince, thank you for your valuable comments and for highlighting that sustainable infrastructure is an important focus in urban areas today. On your point regarding fixing existing urban spaces, we still see a lot of value in doing so, despite the many challenges - from improved quality of life and urban environment, preserving culture and heritage, to enabling city rejuvenation and transformation. Many World Bank projects do have elements of urban upgrading or urban space improvements that accompany infrastructure projects, where appropriate.

Stephen Doherty
August 24, 2016

Can we hear of some examples where the WB has changes national government approach to urban development that has helped create better urban design and development. Colombia might have been an open door to new ideas but most developing supercities are struggling with pop growth and infrastructure collapses under extreme load. How do you fix something like the Rio flavela or almost zero urban planning in the most populated African cities where the next supercities will be created.

Jon Kher Kaw
September 12, 2016

Dear Stephen, thank you for your comment. A recent example where the World Bank has partnered closely with the national government to create better livability outcomes through urban space improvements, beyond infrastructure, is in Sri Lanka. This Strategic Cities Development Project was recently featured online, and you will be able to find a short write-up of it here:…. You’re right to say that many developing megacities have many pressing needs in terms of services, housing and infrastructure, but city governments are also beginning to recognize the need to focus on city livability and to make urban spaces work for inclusion, safety and mobility. This has become a global agenda and is being reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda under HABITAT-III. Supercities are no exception. There is demand from large developing megacities like Karachi and Dhaka to improve not only basic services but also in the areas of urban planning and design; leveraging on public spaces and assets. In cities where planning is not present, the need to build strong institutional leadership and capacity, good urban governance, and implementation ability to accompany sensible policies and urban interventions are often key challenges to address.