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Three of the World's Best 'Cities for People'

Walking, socializing, and shopping in Liuyun Xiaoqu at night. (Source: ITDP)

A new Energy Innovation report, Cities for People in Practice, compares three sustainably developed communities that offer successful examples of the "cities for people" approach to urban development.

The three neighborhoods—located in Guangzhou, China; Stockholm, Sweden; and Freiburg, Germany—are located in very different countries and cultures. Yet each of these districts has a handful of common elements that has made the neighborhood a model of sustainable urban form:

1. There are very few cars.

2. People dominate the streets and public spaces.

3. Walking and biking are primary forms of transit.

By emphasizing public transit, walkability, and bicycling, these neighborhoods provide increased mobility and a higher quality of life for residents and visitors, but development costs have been comparable to traditional neighborhoods.

Promoting smart urban design

For the past two years, Energy Innovation has been working to promote smart urban design practices in China. Borrowing from the important mantra of Jan Gehl, we center our work on developing cities for people. Much of our work stems from The 8 Principles—a set of foundational urban design principles aimed at creating cities that are walkable, mixed-use, and transit-oriented that was first introduced in the ClimateWorks Foundation's Planning Cities for People. Calthorpe Associates, Energy Foundation, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) were all important contributors to this document.

The 8 Principles of sustainable urban development

The 8 Principles from Planning Cities for People promote alternatives to cars and emphasize mixed-use development clustered around transit hubs:

1. Walk. Develop neighborhoods that promote walking.

2. Connect. Create dense networks of streets and paths for non-motorized transit.

3. Transit. Build extensive, high-quality transit. Make connections between modes.

4. Cycle. Prioritize bicycle networks that offer protected lanes.

5. Mix. Zone for mixed-use neighborhoods.

6. Densify. Actively encourage greater density around major transit hubs.

7. Compact. Set growth boundaries and plan for compact regions with short commutes.

8. Shift. Increase mobility by regulating parking and road use.

Case studies of The 8 Principles

Since our inception, Energy Innovation has sought to spread awareness of The 8 Principles in China. To show the principles in practice, we examined the experience of three different cities: Guangzhou, Stockholm, and Freiburg. Cities for People in Practice, Energy Innovation's first report in its Cities for People series, provides detailed case studies that outline the advantages to developing communities according to The 8 Principles.

By placing people at the center of their planning strategy, the three communities profiled in this report have remained vibrant and thriving places to live.

Liuyun Xiaoqu in Guangzhou features walkable, mixed-use neighborhood


Children biking on car-free paths in Liuyun Xiaoqu (Source: ITDP)
In Liuyun Xiaoqu, Guangzhou's sustainable neighborhood, commercial space now dominates the ground floor of buildings after mixed-use development was permitted in the area. As a result, ground floor building area increased in value by 30 percent.

The introduction of mixed-use development, public space improvements, and improved transit connections has substantially enhanced quality of life. The neighborhood is now much more walkable and offers easy access to goods, services, transit, and recreational areas. Liuyun Xiaoqu's mixed-use nature and people-centered urban design has also made it a friendlier environment for children and the elderly.

Hammarby in Stockholm reduces environmental footprint


People enjoying a walk along the waterfront in Hammarby (Source: Design for Health / CC BY 2.0)

In Hammarby, Stockholm's sustainable neighborhood, demand for living space has been so strong that each new phase of construction has sold out almost immediately. The environmental impact of this community is 30-40 percent less than other developments built at the same time. Car travel accounts for only 21 percent of trips made by Hammarby's residents. Most impressively, the improved livability and environmental performance only increased costs for developers by 2-4 percent.

Few cars in Vauban, a sustainable district in Freiburg, Germany


Biking along street with ram line in the center of Freiburg (Source: Alain Rouiller / CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Vauban, Freiburg's sustainable neighborhood, the design of the district has successfully deprioritized the car and promoted transit, walking, and biking. As a result, only 16 percent of the residents own cars and 64 percent of all trips are by non-motorized means. With safe streets, outdoor recreation opportunities, and attention to the location of child services in the district, Vauban has attracted and retained many families, contributing to social stability. The cost of construction was only 3-5 percent more than traditional, less sustainable construction methods, and demand for both residential and commercial building space has been strong.

Why sustainable cities prosper

Beyond the environmental, social, and cultural benefits, communities designed according to The 8 Principles also perform better economically. Mixed-use and population density create a built-in customer base for local businesses. Quality of life and vibrant cultural spaces attract talented people, supporting further economic growth, thus creating a virtuous cycle.

In a world of rapidly growing cities facing a host of challenges, including congestion, pollution, poverty, and crime, these are a powerful combination of benefits. We think developers and city governments around the world should incorporate The 8 Principles into their planning practices since they offer a solid foundation for urban success.

Learn more about our work in China on our urban sustainability page.