by topics

Topic: Urban sustainability


‘The Anthropocene originated from the natural sciences in general and from the earth sciences in particular. The core thesis is that humanity has affected nature over the last two hundred years or so in such a way that a new, human-made stratum has emerged in the geological record. Only a few years after Crutzen and Stoermer popularized the Anthropocene as the new geological “age of mankind,” the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy established a working group to determine whether there is enough scientific evidence to define a new Earth era. This new era, the Anthropocene, would succeed the Holocene, which started about 12,000 years ago during the Neolithic Revolution, when humans began to use agriculture in addition to hunting and gathering. The Greek word Holocene literally means “entirely recent”, which indicates that there is not much room for moving to something novel in a discipline that usually counts in hundreds of thousands and millions of years’ (Trischler, 2013, pp.5-8).


‘The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. Biodiversity includes not only species we consider rare, threatened, or endangered but also every living thing – from humans to organisms we know little about, such as microbes, fungi, and invertebrates.’ ... ‘We include humans and human cultural diversity as a part of biodiversity. We use the term “biocultural” to describe the dynamic, continually evolving and interconnected nature of people and place, and the notion that social and biological dimensions are interrelated. This concept recognizes that human use, knowledge, and beliefs influence, and in turn are influenced, by the ecological systems of which human communities are a part. This relationship makes all of biodiversity, including the species, land and seascapes, and the cultural links to the places where we live – be right where we are or in distant lands – important to our wellbeing as they all play a role in maintaining a diverse and healthy planet’ (American Museum of Natural History, n.d.).


Circular economy
‘The circular economy aims to keep products and materials at maximum value and utility at all times. This is done through a combination of extending product lifetimes through reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing; increasing resource use intensity through sharing and product service system business models (such as leasing, instead of buying, business models); and recycling materials at the end of their life’ … ‘The circular economy draws its conceptual foundations from a number of existing theories and concepts that use biological systems as models for understanding industrial processes. These include industrial ecology, cradle to cradle, biomimicry and other notions of closing and slowing loops of production’ (Sharpe & Giurco, 2018, p.21).


Collaborative consumption
Collaborative consumption ‘refers to as the “sharing economy” because individuals are sharing access to resources (for a fee or other compensation), or “peer-to-peer” exchange because both the service provider and recipient are individuals rather than businesses’ … ‘collaborative consumption markets are challenging existing business models and current regulatory environments. Collaborative consumption has emerged as a viable alternative to traditional business in industries such as transportation, hospitality, retail, and banking. As the popularity of these practices has grown, so has its economic, environmental, and societal impact’ … ‘Participation in collaborative consumption mitigates overconsumption by altering the consumption cycle and allowing individuals to acquire, use, and dispose of their assets in a way that positively influences the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. Environmental benefits are realized by extracting more use from assets that would otherwise go unused’ (Perren & Grauerholz, 2015, pp.139, 142).


Command-and-control policy
‘Command—and—control policy refers to environmental policy that relies on regulation (permission, prohibition, standard setting and enforcement) as opposed to financial incentives, that is, economic instruments of cost internalization’ (OECD, 2001).


Compact cities

‘Cities of a form and scale appropriate to walking, cycling and efficient public transport, and with a compactness that encourages social interaction’ (Jenks, Burton & Williams, 1996, p.3).


A key concept in economic geography and sources of competitiveness ‘have been identified in access to resources or markets, labor qualities, agglomeration economies, transactions costs, firm or commodity chain organization, social institutions, and government policy and spending’ (Lewis, 2009, p.226).


Cradle to Cradle
‘Cradle-to-cradle (C2C) is based on the principle that the whole life cycle of products and services needs to be redesigned so that every waste is a raw material for another round of production, service, or use. It aims to create systems that are both eco-efficient and waste-free, and can be been applied to industrial designs and manufacturing as well as urban environments, buildings, economics, and social systems’ (Grover, 2011, p.122).


Design for Disassembly (DFD)
‘DfD can be defined as a method to design a building/product in such a way that it enables the disassembly of building/components and reuse/recycling of its parts/materials. DfD requires a new approach to design and will result in a building/component designed for all the stages of its life-cycle’ (Thormark, n.d., p.1).


Doughnut economics
An economy that ‘ensures no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer’ (Raworth, 2017, para.1).


Ecological democracy
Ecological democracy is defined as ‘an alternative democratic model that 1) strives to incorporate interested citizens into environmental decision-making, and 2) lacks structural features that systematically concentrate environmental amenities into the hands of particular social groups, while imposing environmental and ecological degradation on others’ (Mitchell, 2006, p.459).


Ecological footprint
‘A measure of how much biologically productive land and water area an individual, a city, a country, a region, or humanity requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and resource management schemes’ (Holden, 2012, p.6).


Ecological revitalization
‘Ecological revitalization refers to the process of returning land from a contaminated state to one that supports a functioning and sustainable habitat.’ (Environmental Protection Agency, the United States, 2009, p. ES-1).


‘Ecology is the study of the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interaction between organisms, the interaction between organisms and their environment, and structure and function of ecosystems’ (British Ecological Society, n.d.).


Economic growth

‘Economic growth is an increase in the production of economic goods and services, compared from one period of time to another. It can be measured in nominal or real (adjusted for inflation) terms. Traditionally, aggregate economic growth is measured in terms of gross national product (GNP) or gross domestic product (GDP), although alternative metrics are sometimes used’ (Investopedia, 2019a).


Economic space
1. ‘Ubiquitous global space of market relations’ (Friedmann, 2002). 2. ‘The commodification of place, where place is understood to be socially and economically valued land’ (Rodgers, 2009, p.40).


Ecosystem services
‘Ecosystems are communities formed by the interaction between living (plants, animals, microbes) and non-living organisms (air, water, mineral soil). Human beings are both part of ecosystems and benefit from ecosystems in many ways. The benefits are known as ecosystem services’ (Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, CGIAR, 2014).



‘A process of neighbourhood transformation in which working-class and poor residents are displaced by an influx of middle-class residents’ (Hammel, 2009, p.360).


Green building

‘Green building is a practice of reducing the environmental impact of buildings and enhancing the health and wellbeing of building occupants by:

  • Planning throughout the life-cycle of a building or a community, from master planning and siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition with a focus on the impact to both the environment and people.
  • Optimising efficient use of energy, water, and other resources to avoid overconsumption and adopting the use of renewable energy and eco-friendly materials to minimise carbon footprint and emission.
  • Reducing the production of waste and preventing pollution of areas like water, air, noise and land.
  • Enhancing indoor environmental quality through natural ventilation and lighting as well as good indoor air quality by design and other means.’

(Hong Kong Green Building Council, 2019)


Green building assessments
‘A GB (green building) assessment method is a tool for evaluating whether a building is green or not, and rank is given to the building after detailed assessment. It also serves as a management tool or guidelines to address environmental concerns during design, construction, and operation phases, and provides an avenue for communicating key environmental concern amongst the stakeholders involved. In a way, the GB assessment tools are promoting sustainable practices, and their effectiveness does have a crucial role to play’ (Li, Chen, Wang, Xu & Chen, 2017, p.152). To name a few examples of GB assessment methods, there are BEAM Plus (HK), Green Building Evaluation Label / China Three Star (mainland China), LEED (US), BREEAM (UK), Green Mark (Singapore), Green Star (Australia), and CASBEE (Japan). Each has its own specific origin, history, credit composition and requirements, assessment method and process.


Green infrastructure
‘Green infrastructure is the interconnected systems of soils, water, air, vegetation, and animal life that constitute a healthy ecosystem. It provides services to humans that would otherwise need to be provided by constructed infrastructure. Examples of green infrastructure include wetlands that provide storm-water filtration and trees that cool buildings by providing shade’ (Hagerman, 2011, p.224).


Hybrid design
‘Hybrid Design is a strategy that incorporates elements and processes from diverse fields that are not always perceived as compatible in the design practice today’ (Hybrid Space Lab, n.d.).


Just city
It can be broadly defined in terms of 'democracy, equity, diversity, growth, and sustainability' (Fainstein, 2005, p.15).


Life-cycle assessment
‘Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) identifies, quantifies and evaluates the environmental impacts (inputs and outputs) of a product, service or activity, from cradle to grave. That is, the environmental impacts of all phases of the product's life are assessed, from the time materials are extracted through manufacture, transportation, storage, use, recovery, reuse and disposal’ (The Global Development Research Centre, n.d.).


Local/Community economy
A market and networking system operating in a specific community to satisfy the community’s needs (El-Zeind, 2012). It is characterized by ‘local purchasing, local self-reliance, and local ownership of business’ (Poole & Shuman, 2014, p.518).


Low carbon cities

A low carbon city is one that comprises ‘societies that consume sustainable green technology, green practices and emit relatively low carbon or GHG as compared with present day practice to avoid the adverse impacts on climate change’ (Kementerian Tenaga & Teknologi Hijau dan Air (KeTTHA), Malaysian Government, 2011, p.11).


Low carbon urbanism
According to Theodorson (1969), urbanism is a way of life. It is a study of cities – their geographical, economic, political, social and cultural environment, and the imprint of all these forces on the built environment. To take prompt action in responding to climate change, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have to be significantly reduced by changing the way humankind lives and inhabit cities (urbanized areas), how the cities are being planned, urbanized and managed, and how resources are circulated and consumed. Low carbon urbanism is one of the initiatives to address the challenges by adopting a low-carbon way of life and change how we approach urban development.


Market-based / Economic-incentive
‘Market-based instruments seek to address the market failure of “environmental externalities” (or other externalities) either by incorporating the external cost of production or consumption activities through taxes or charges on processes or products, or by creating property rights and facilitating the establishment of a proxy market for the use of environmental services’ (OECD, 2007).


New towns

‘New Towns are cities or towns that are designed from scratch and built in a short period of time. They are designed by professionals according to a Master Plan on a site where there was no city before. This distinguishes a New Town from a ‘normal’ city that gradually grows and evolves over time. Also, New Towns are mostly the result of a political (top-down) decision. The building of a new city ‘from scratch’ is a heroic enterprise that challenges the architect or planner to find the ideal shape for the urban program according to the state of the art planning ideas. A New Town is always a reflection of one moment in time and the ambitions of that moment’ (International New Town Institute, 2019).

‘Hong Kong has developed nine new towns since the initiation of its New Town Development Programme in 1973. The target at the commencement of the New Town Development Programme was to provide housing for about 1.8 million people in the first three new towns, namely, Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun.  (...) The first (Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun) started works in the early 1970s; then the second (Tai Po, Fanling/Sheung Shui and Yuen Long) in the late 1970s; and the third (Tseung Kwan O, Tin Shui Wai and Tung Chung) in the 1980s and 1990s. (...) All the new towns accommodate public and private housing supported by essential infrastructure and community facilities. External transport links were developed with all new towns now served by rail links to the urban area and road links to the adjacent districts. Further enhancement of road links is ongoing’ (Hong Kong: The Facts, 2016).


Passive design
‘”Passive design” is a design that takes advantage of the climate to maintain a comfortable temperature range in the home, which reduces or eliminates the need for auxiliary heating or cooling’ (McGee, 2013, p.87).


‘As a general concept, the practice of the art or science of directing and administrating states or other political units. The traditional definition of politics, “the art and science of government”, offers no constraint on its application since there has never been a consensus on which activities count as government. A modern mainstream view might be: politics applies only to human beings, or at least to those beings which can communicate symbolically and thus make statements, invoke principles, argue, and disagree. Politics occurs where people disagree about the distribution of goods, benefits, or statuses and have at least some procedures for the resolution of such disagreements’ (Brown et al, 2018, p.62).



Poverty ‘encompasses living conditions, an inability to meet basic needs because food, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, education, health care and other social services are inaccessible’ (Compassion International, n.d.).


Public space

‘Property that is open to public use, including streets, sidewalks, parks, plazas, malls, cafes, interior courtyards, and so forth. It can be privately or publicly owned’ (Mitchell & Staeheli, 2009, p.511).



A business strategy that involves ‘replacing old dilapidated buildings with modern, quality and environmentally-friendly schemes, enhancing the quality of the living environment through restructuring and re-planning of older districts’ and ‘providing appropriate community facilities and open space’ (Urban Renewal Authority, 2012).


Right to the city
‘The exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization after our hearts’ desire’ (Harvey, 2008, p.23).


Social justice
Social justice is socially reproduced, very often through the mode of production (how things are produced) in a particular society. Cities can be seen as ‘spaces of oppression and inequality but they are also spaces of political liberation’ and so the questions are: ‘what is being distributed, how it is distributed, and with what outcome’ (Newman, 2009, p.195).


Social polarization

‘Social polarization is the process of segregation within a society that may emerge from income inequality, economic restructuring, etc. and result in such differentiation that would consist of various social groups, from high-income to low-income. It is the process of growth of low-skilled service jobs at the same time of the expansion of elite of higher professionals’ (Surt Foundation, 2010).


Social reform

One of the four planning traditions, in which ‘[t]he tradition of social reform focuses on the role of the state in societal guidance. It is chiefly concerned with finding ways to institutionalize planning practice and make action by the state more effective; Under this mindset, planners work for a ‘“scientific endeavor”, and one of their main preoccupations is with using the scientific paradigm to inform and to limit politics to what are deemed to be its proper concerns’ (Friedmann, 1988, pp.11-12). While striving for change, the plan actually reinforces the existing power relationship.


Socio-spatial segregation
Socio-spatial segregation refers to ‘a state of socio-spatial exclusion and isolation among social groups’, including ‘residential, ethnic, racial and religious’. The segregation can be shown by ‘the residential separation of groups within a broader population’ in the city space (Caner & Bölen, 2013, p.154).


Spatial justice

‘Spatial Justice is a term put forward by the critical urbanist Ed Soja in his book Seeking Spatial Justice. It calls for a reflection on urban space focused on the spatial nature of social interaction and the inequalities that are produced and reproduced through spatial relationships. In a way, seeking spatial Justice advocates for greater control over how spaces are produced. In the words of Ed Soja spatial justice “seeks to promote more progressive and participatory forms of democratic politics and social activism, and to provide new ideas about how to mobilise and maintain cohesive collations and regional confederations of grassroots social activist.” In a way, seeking spatial Justice is about people’s control over how urban space is imagined, planned/designed and lived. It is both a goal and a tool to be used in the process of design’ (100 Resilient Cities, 2004).


Sponge city
‘“Sponge City” is a modern stormwater management approach to help solve drainage problems, fully utilize land resources and promote sustainable development. To combat climate change, DSD encourages the “Sponge City” concept to be adopted in new developments for more effective drainage and rainwater reuse to enhance urban flood resilience by the principle of infiltration, retention, storage, purification, reuse and discharge’ (Drainage Service Department, 2017).


Sustainable cities

‘The city that while providing a high quality of life to a diversified and plural society in the present, establishes the mechanisms necessary to ensure suitable economic and social growth in the long term while maintaining the natural resources of the environment. This will allow future generations of citizens to satisfy their needs on the same terms’ ( Garca-Sãnchez & Prado-Lorenzo, 2010, p.2746).


Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

‘The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030.’ (United Nations, n.d.)


Town Planning Ordinance

The Town Planning Ordinance is a procedural legal document and legislation ‘to promote the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the community by making provision for the systematic preparation and approval of plans for the lay-out of areas of Hong Kong as well as for the types of building suitable for erection therein and for the preparation and approval of plans for areas within which permission is required for development’ (Department of Justice, 2017).


Unplugged design
‘The term unplugged office (Design of an architecture) means that the renovation of this building will maximize the use of solar day lighting, wind power, natural ventilation, and water source heat pumps with the goal of unplugging it from the utility grid’ (Stewart & Radspinner, n.d.).


Urban development
‘The social, cultural, economic and physical development of cities, as well as the underlying causes of these processes’ (Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, 2011, as cited in Baldwin & King, 2018).


Urban ecology
‘According to Sukopp & Wittig (1998), the term ‘Urban Ecology’ (in German Stadtökologie) can be defined in two ways. Within the natural sciences, urban ecology addresses biological patterns and associated environmental processes in urban areas, as a subdiscipline of biology and ecology. In this sense, urban ecology endeavours to analyse the relationships between plant and animal populations and their communities as well as their relationships to environmental factors including human influences. From this perspective, the research is unconstrained by anthropocentric evaluations. However the second, complementary, definition implies the anthropocentric perspective. Here, urban ecology is understood as a multidisciplinary approach to improving living conditions for the human population in cities, referring to the ecological functions of urban habitats or ecosystems for people – and thus including aspects of social, especially planning, sciences’ (Endlicher et al., 2007, pp.1-2).


Urban hydrology
Urban hydrology is ‘a science, part of land surface hydrology investigating the hydrological cycle, water regime and quality in urbanized territory’. It focuses on urban groundwater processes and groundwater exchange with other parts of the hydrological cycle (Kupriyanov, 2009).Urban


Urban metabolism
‘Urban Metabolism is a multi-disciplinary and integrated platform that examines material and energy flows in cities as complex systems as various social, economic and environmental forces shape them. Even though the concept of urban metabolism is nothing new in the academic world, its implementation and its conversion in practical strategies and techniques are still quite front running’ (Urban Waste, n.d.).


Urban resilience
‘The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience’ (100 Resilient Cities, n.d.).


Urban stormwater runoff
‘When it rains or snows water flows over the land surface, heading downhill to the nearest stream or ditch, this is called stormwater runoff. In urban settings, water cannot soak through pavement and rooftops like it can into the soil. As a result, cities have larger amounts of stormwater runoff than forests and fields do.’ Thus, urban stormwater runoff is the water flowing over the land surface in the urban realm’ (Utah State University Extension, 2017).


World City Ranking
A ranking of world cities which are ‘the command and control centers of the global economy, they are nodal points that function as organizing centers for the interdependent skein of material, financial, and cultural flows that together sustain contemporary globalization’ (Derudder, 2009, p.262).

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