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How Urban Renewal Projects Lead to Sustainable Cities

There are many problems that are causing problems in large cities in 2016.  More and more city planners and leadership in big cities are turning to urban renewal projects to help push their cities towards sustainable growth. This is often easier said than done, however it is far from impossible

There are certain examples of sustainability projects around the world that are truly inspirational and ambitious.  I recently came across some interesting research that was compiled to tell the story of five cities that took on urban planning initiatives with the end goal to obtain sustainable growth.  In the research they cover the problems each city was dealing with, how each project worked to solve that problem, as well as why each project is unique to each city. There is also a brief overview of the economic impact with project had upon the various cities. 

The five cities featured are Atlanta, Guangzhou, Los Angeles, Curitiba and Las Vegas.  Let's delve a little bit deeper into the urban renewal project for each city and the impact it had on each city.


The Atlanta Beltline is a network of walking paths, trails, railcars, streetcars that run in an out of commission railroad bed that is right in the center of metropolitan Atlanta. This is a project that not only contributed to greener initiatives throughout the city, it also helped clean up a neighborhood that was widely viewed as a troublesome neighborhood. This initiative dates back to the early 2000s. 

There was so much growth along the communities that board the railway loop that the city was looking for ways to generate economic growth while also enhancing the 45 historic neighborhoods throughout the city. The result was the Atlanta Beltline that is an incredible network of usable green space throughout the city that provides increased transportation options as well as more opportunities for physical activity and communal interaction. In the Beltline there is over 33 miles of trail as well as 1300 acres of parkland. The initiative also created over 30,000 permanent jobs to the local economy.


The Guangzhou Bus Rapid Transit Network (BRT) is a low-carbon public transit solution that is based on a direct service model, meaning that there are no interchanges or terminals. Guangzhou is China's third largest city and mart of the world's largest megacity.  As you can imagine with that many people there is a need for efficient public transportation.

The BRT is an efficient and energy efficient alternative to traditional metro systems.  It not only helps to address problems with traffic congestion, but also energy efficiency. The design of the transit system is what really makes it unique.  The BRT has over 850,000 average daily passengers which is three times the passenger flow of any BRT system in all of Asia. 

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles River Revitalization is an ambitious urban makeover that helps address some of the short sighted planning mistakes made by the city previously. This project will restore nearly 32 miles of the Los Angeles River that runs through the city.  Because of flooding issues in the 1930s, Los Angeles covered its river with concrete.  Almost a hundred years later this project will remove the concrete and restore the river to its natural state. There are over 240 different revitalization projects planned for along the river as well as 51 miles of new bike paths and over $5 billion in new development. This is a good story about a city acknowledging past mistakes.


The story of Curitiba is one that should inspire cities across the world that shows just what can happen when people are dedicated to making a sustainable city a reality. The Curitiba Integrated Planning is the manifestation of decades of commitment to sustainability.  Over one-fifth of the city is designated as protected green land which makes Curitiba one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly cities on the planet.

There's really nothing new or glamorous about what's been done here, but the results are really unmatched when compared to other cities across the globe.  A plan was instituted, focusing on sustainable, people-oriented development that encouraged all of their residents to pitch in. Over 1.5 million trees have been planted by residents.  Over 70% of all trash in Curitiba is recycled.  Over 80% of all travel is via public transportation.  The numbers really are staggering and show what can be done if everyone is dedicated to a mutual goal.

Las Vegas

When you think about the "city of lights", the last thing that probably comes to your mind is a commitment to smart energy consumption.  Las Vegas spends as much as energy as any city in the world.  However Las Vegas has made a renewability pledge to run on 100% renewable energy by 2017.  Both casinos and city leaders are leading the initiative to do so despite bullying from utility monopolies.

There are some staggering renewable energy numbers from Las Vegas that might surprise you.  By 2017, Las Vegas will have the capability for 24 hour solar generation with the only tower in the U.S> that will be able to generate electricity at night. There are over 20 acres of solar glass on the Mandalay Bay property alone. They have invested over $6 billion in renewable energy projects and are currently the number one state in solar and geothermal energy in the U.S.  It's nice to see the city of Las Vegas taking just a bold initiative towards renewable energy.

As you can see all of the projects are unique in their own way, however each one rises to the occasion and should hopefully lead the way for other communities to follow.