3 best practices for creating sustainable cities

3 best practices for creating sustainable cities

Those making decisions for cities today face a critical challenge. How to ensure sustainable development that preserves the environment, enhances quality of life, and promotes economic prosperity? And what decisions to make now that will have the biggest impact on everything from decarbonization to promoting biodiversity in the future?

Here are three best practices through which cities can become more sustainable, based on ICF’s work in successfully implementing a Green City Action Plan (GCAP) in Pokhara, Nepal. We have also run similar projects in Shymkent in Kazakhstan and Iasi in Romania, all based on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development GCAP methodology.

Background on creating an action plan for Pokhara

Our experience in Pokhara can serve as a model for those looking to implement positive change. Pokhara is seeking to enhance its livability and protect its natural assets through a Livable Cities Action Plan (LCAP). The aim of the LCAP, with its focus on sustainable tourism, is to benefit the city by improving urban services, strengthening urban planning, ensuring financial sustainability, enhancing resilience to climate change, and safeguarding the environment.

Throughout the process, we held extensive stakeholder engagement via discussions and workshops in order build the necessary support for successful implementation. The vision for Pokhara is to become a beautiful, safe, and prosperous city—with a tourism industry that thrives alongside environmental preservation and enhanced livability. Community engagement is essential to this vision.

Creating a plan for a more sustainable city

Our goal with the LCAP is to integrate sustainable tourism measures with efforts to improve livability. Sustainable tourism offers a win-win, making the city more attractive to visitors and bringing many benefits to those who live there. Those benefits include:

Economic opportunities

There is an existing market for tourism in Pokhara; making it more sustainable creates further jobs and income-generating opportunities for residents. It is also a vital source of revenue for Pokhara Metropolitan City (PMC), which can be reinvested in city development.

A fairer spread of benefits

Sustainable tourism initiatives have the potential to spread economic benefits across all wards of the city. This opens opportunities for less-visited attractions and ensures that tourism income is spread more equitably.

Environmental conservation

By implementing sustainable practices in natural resource management, Pokhara can optimize environmental conservation. Preserving its green spaces, forests, and water bodies secures its future—both in terms of tourism and livability.

Civic pride

Keeping the city cleaner builds a greater sense of pride among those who live there, contributing to overall livability.

Improved connectivity and mobility

Investing infrastructure and connectivity makes it easier and more efficient to travel around the city for those who live, work, and visit Pokhara.

Three best practices for sustainable city development

Based on our successful work in Pokhara, we suggest three approaches to making a city more sustainable.

  1. Prioritize the environment

    A commitment to environmental restoration must be at the heart of any sustainable city. As Pokhara shows, protecting natural resources is the cornerstone of all sustainability efforts. Clean air, pure water, and biodiversity are critical to the sustainability of any city.

    Pollution, deforestation, and habitat destruction endanger the natural world. But these issues also pose significant risks to human health. Poor air quality and contaminated water sources can strain healthcare systems and reduce the overall well-being of those who live in the city.

    Investing in environmental restoration is a way to enhance the quality of life for your residents. But it also attracts investors who seek sustainable opportunities—meaning the city is more likely to prosper economically, as it is attractive to businesses and tourists who are looking for clean, green surroundings.

  2. Engage your communities

    Without the support of the communities they serve, governments will struggle to achieve their sustainability goals. Community engagement is crucial—it provides a mandate for action, as well as additional resources to scale up efforts with the active participation of residents. Local knowledge and a vested interest mean that they are often engaged with the well-being of their neighborhoods.

    By involving residents in decision-making processes—through anything from participatory budgeting and citizen assemblies to volunteer programs and educational campaigns—broadens the scope of available ideas and innovation. It also provides a sense of empowerment and ownership, with an ongoing, long-term commitment to the success of any project.

  3. Future-proof against climate change

    As we have seen in Europe, climate change is a clear challenge to urban sustainability. Decision-makers should think about how they will build climate resilience into their strategies and ensure that they future-proof infrastructure to ensure the well-being of residents.

    This might include investing in resilient infrastructure, such as flood barriers, green spaces, and sustainable transportation systems; embracing nature-based solutions like urban forests, green roofs, and wetland restoration; developing early warning systems for extreme weather events; and adopting adaptive urban planning principles that consider changing climate conditions and prioritize sustainable development practices. This also offers an opening for investors and is a driver for innovation.

Steps towards sustainable development

By focusing on the three key principles of prioritizing environmental restoration, engaging communities, and future proofing against climate change, cities can begin to take steps towards a more sustainable future.

As the success of Pokhara  demonstrates, sustainable urban development is essential for the well-being both of current residents and of generations to come.

Meet the author
  1. Ripin Kalra, Technical Director, Urban Development and Resilience

    Ripin leads our urban analytics, planning, and climate resilience work with a significant focus on nature-based solutions, sustainable food systems, urban livelihoods, and resource-efficient development. View bio

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