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Innovations Promoting Sustainability in Cities

Sustainable development of the modern city is an extremely important task that must be addressed by all residents and city officials to ensure the high quality of urban environment, quality of life, the balance of the city and the nature. Sustainable urban development should ensure the establishment of a healthy and beautiful city beloved by the residents and ensuring the full satisfaction of their needs. Not so long ago, in the late 20th century, the movement of cities towards sustainable development began. Within the UN system special structures have been created designed to support the transition to sustainable development (HABITAT – United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, UEF – Urban Environment Forum, UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme, and others) (Agyeman and Evans 35-53; Dimitrova 216-22).

According to the UN definition, sustainable city is a city where the achievements in social, economic and physical development are constant (Agyeman and Evans 35). Sustainable city is constantly provided with natural resources upon which sustainable development is dependant. Sustainable city maintains a long safety of residents, including safety from natural disasters. In other words, according to the international community, sustainable development of the city provides its public safety and quality of life while preserving the natural environment, resources and ecological balance of the entire economic and social activities of citizens.

One of the top problems in the sustainable development of the city is the creation of a healthy, beautiful, environmentally friendly, sustainable urban environment that positively affects the residents and creates an image of a peaceful city; this environment influences positively on the basic senses (sight, hearing, smell) like natural influences. Eco-friendly buildings and engineering structures perfectly fit into the ecosystem and are perceived by it as usual natural ingredients. This environment provides a high quality of life, vast opportunities for the development of individuals, encourages communication of inhabitants. It must be supported by eco-friendly human activities in the city. And finally, this environment is in ecological balance with the natural environment, with a maximum inclusion of the natural environment in the city.

Principles of balanced economic, environmental and social spheres

An average person in a large city is exposed to numerous influences, most of which causes a state of chronic stress. Therefore, the target orientation of the strategic plan for sustainable development, above all, should be aimed at changing urban environment in order to improve the quality of life, and especially in this case the general environmental state should be assessed.

The concept of sustainable development rests on three basic principles (Agyeman and Evans 35-53; Dimitrova 216-25; Cremasco 226-34; Eckstein and Throgmorton 94-101):

  1. Achieving the balance between economy and ecology, i.e., achieving the degree of development, when people in the industrial or other economic activities no longer destroy the environment.
  2. Achieving the balance between economic and social spheres, taken in its human dimension, which means the maximum utilization of the resources given by the economic development in the population’s interests.
  3. The solution of problems related to development not only for living, but also for all future generations which have equal rights to resources.

Approaches to balancing economic, social and environmental factors in the transition to sustainable development lie on the path to social justice, sustainable economy and environmental sustainability. Social justice must inevitably be based on economic sustainability and social equity, which requires environmental sustainability, which means the preservation of natural capital. Environmental sustainability includes the preservation of biodiversity, human health and the quality of air, water and soil at a level sufficient to sustain life and welfare, as well as animal and plant life at all times (Eckstein and Throgmorton 56-59).
Development of city strategy with the principles of sustainable development, integrating economic, social and environmental goals and objectives of the urban community, offers comprehensive and compromise solutions of urban problems.

System approaches to the introduction of innovations for sustainable development of cities

One of the most important areas of sustainable development is greening or ecologization of all the areas of human activity. A city cannot become sustainably developing and environmentally-friendly, even at full ecological compatibility of all the buildings and structures. Settlements can be completely environmentally friendly only at the entire ecological friendliness of technologies in the city, which include all human activities (industry, energy, agriculture in the suburbs, etc.) and all the means of transport.

In future, eco-friendly (bio-positive) technologies should ideally be non-entropic and similar to natural ones. However, this is a very distant goal which requires a completely new approach and currently essentially inaccessible technologies. But even modern entropic techniques and technologies can be largely harmless. Bio-positive character should be imposed on materials, technologies, engineering facilities, recycling, etc. Only in this case, taking into account the incredible amount of materials, technologies, and engineering facilities, we can expect a gradual recovery of the natural environment (Droege 141-50).

The development of industrial technologies will, apparently, allow ecologizing the number of modern technologies in future, while at the same time, now in the bowels of old polluting technologies, new “green” solutions are forming. Closed-cycle technologies, deep cleaning and utilization of waste, reducing energy consumption and materials consumption, and reducing consumption of natural resources will increasingly become common for all technologies. Further, nature-similar and “smart” technologies will follow, which consume only renewable resources and simultaneously allow accumulating new anthropogenic deposits and storing energy (Table 1) (Jensen 235-47; Hanaki 34-49; Korres 104-117).

Table 1. Bio-positive technologies in the city

Bio-positive Technologies in the City

Improvement of the applied technologies and engineering facilities Closed-cycle technologies with waste minimization Deep cleaning of all the emissions Reduction of energy and materials consumption; application of the structures of shells and membranes Reduction of consumption with respect to renewable resources (water, air)

Development of new technologies and engineering facilities Designing technique with the predetermined total recycling Use of renewable, recyclable, self-destroying materials Ecobio-technologies with the volume of waste, equal to natural Miniaturization of the objects of technology

Fundamentally new technology and engineering facilities “Smart” objects of technology with expert systems Nature-similar and “smart” eco-biotechnologies Technologies with the accumulation of technogenic deposits for the descendants Technologies with the accumulation of high-quality energy for future generations

Non-entropic innovations of future

Source: Korres 104-117
Technology miniaturization is one of the directions of ecologization. A strange desire of man to create giant technological objects (skyscrapers, huge aircraft, ships, giant factories, enormous rockets, etc.) can hardly be explained from biological point of view. The possible advantages of miniaturization of technology include a sharp reduction of damage from accidents, reduction of costs for upgrading, conversion, disposal and recycling, great prospects for environmental compatibility, in particular the compliance of the sizes of technological objects with the sizes of landscape components and human body (consequently, the visual and aesthetic compliance with landscape), improvement of waste disposal technology (Jensen 235-47; Korres 104-117).

Waste-free energy-saving technologies. Any eco-friendly technology can only conditionally be called waste-free, since in reality technological processes even in the natural environment emit a small amount of waste that gradually accumulate on the Earth in the form of sedimentary rock. Therefore, we can speak about low-waste technologies which emit wastes nonpolluting the environment in the amount comparable to the amount of wastes in the biosphere cycles.

Just as current as the waste-free production is the problem of energy efficiency: energy efficiency of technologies, and especially of the commonly used products (electrical appliances, motors, electronics, etc.) (Jensen 235-47). Presently, new technologies are being developed and applied for significant reduction of emissions of harmful substances: for example, the new methods for direct reduction of iron ore in steel production, which exclude the especially polluting intermediate processes.

There are interesting developments of waste-free technologies based on the analysis of waste-free processes in nature (assimilation of separate productions to populations of plants, and their complexes to ecosystems). It is proposed to combine geographically the polytypic, qualitatively different productions, different processing raw materials. In this case, the wastes of one production are used as raw materials for another production; production chain are created with wastes at the end of the chain mineralized to the level of simple chemical elements or compounds used as primary raw material; inside the complex (an ecosystem) a subsystem of enterprises is created collecting non-mineralized or non-disposed wastes. Reactors of this subsystem average various contrasting in the beginning wastes, form stable substances from them that can be stored for a long time. Currently non-utilizable wastes are buried in the depths of the earth to create artificial fields for possible use in the distant future. Unfortunately, all these are very simplistic ways of ecologization, extremely distant from the deep ecologization of the future (Eckstein and Throgmorton 78-85; Hanaki 57-60; Cremasco 226-34).

Eco-friendly biotechnologies. In a broader sense, biotechnology is industrial technology with the use of natural agents, principles, techniques, that is, nature-like technology. Due to the fact that biotechnology includes as special cases, some new technologies that could be dangerous for people and nature (genetic, cellular and environmental engineering, engineering biology), eco-friendly biotechnology when created should satisfy the relevant principles of bio-positivity.

A lot of research and development has been made on the application of microorganisms in various branches of engineering: the creation of biomolecular computer (memory cells and logic elements based on substances of bacteria can help reach the packing density of up to 1 billion items per 1 square centimeter); strains of bacteria consume synthetic chemicals; bacteria purify waste water from mercury; bacteria cultivation for commercial production of cellulose makes it possible to significantly reduce the cost of production of paper, tissues, a number of medications; bacteria purify ground water from nitrates; microorganisms that heat the water while the fermentation in a tank with straw and sawdust are used to melt the snow by transferring the heat through pipes laid under the pavement, etc. (Korres 104-117; Jensen 235-47; Hanaki 27-34)

There is no doubt that the transition to environmentally friendly technologies will be very slow and gradual: probably, in the beginning, at the first stage, reduction of emitted pollution, recycling, reduction of energy consumption would be possible; the second stage would include complete circularity of technological cycles and the achievement of the amount of non-polluting wastes equal to the natural one, the use of waste-free energy-saving technologies; the third stage would provide the use of only renewable resources (including energy), application of environmentally friendly nature-like biotechnology, up to the transition to the industrial photosynthesis.

Environmentally friendly energy complex. Energy problems lie not only in the exhaustibility of the majority of modern resources (now, the share in world primary energy production of oil makes 37%, coal – 27%, gas -18%, wood and other biofuels -15%, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants – 3%), but in the limitations of received energy by the thermal limit of the biosphere (Wackernagel 103-12). Therefore, the future energetics must be non-appending (i.e. do not add heat to the atmosphere in excess of the limit), as well bio-positive (use only renewable resources and nature-similar technologies for energy production, and produce emissions in a volume close to natural). At the same time, using renewable energy sources, authorities must take into account that there are no absolutely safe and environmentally friendly sources (Droege 141-50). Still, ecologization of energy complex is achieved by designing energy efficient facilities and technologies, and developing new energy technologies. The prospects for the use of known energy resources are given in Table. 2 and Table 3.

Table 2. The state of energy resources

The state of energy resources

# Type of resource State and perspective of application

  1. Solar radiation Practically inexhaustible (13000 times exceeds the current level of energy consumption). Promising, but poorly concentrated
  2. Cosmic rays Practically inexhaustible, but poorly concentrated
  3. Ocean tides and currents Significant and promising, but can be appending
  4. Geothermal energy Significant and promising, but can be appending
  5. Energy of air, water, rocks (kinetic and potential) Significant, but its application can disrupt the ecological balance
  6. Atmospheric electricity Resources are relatively small
  7. Earth magnetism Resources are great, but gradually are weakening. The need for restoring or regulation is likely
  8. Natural nuclear fission Used extensively. Stocks of uranium make 3 million tons, thorium-630 thsd tons o.e. Prospects are problematic in view of the inevitability of waste and hazardous concentrations of the active principle
  9. Bioenergy Resources are significant, perspective
  10. Thermal energetic, electromagnetic and radiation pollutions Significant, perspective for utilization
  11. Oil 290 mlrd tons, the annual consumption is about 3 billion tons of o.e. Promising for several decades
  12. Gas 270 billion tons o.e., the annual consumption is about 1250×109 m3. Promising for several decades
  13. Coal 10,125 billion tons o.e, the annual consumption is about 5 billion tons. Perspective for not less than 100 – 150 years.
  14. Shale Significant reserves: more than 38,400 billion tons o.e. Yet unpromising because of the large waste and pollution
  15. Lignum fossil About 150 billion tons (on carbon) with an annual accumulation of 210 million tons. Unpromising because of the large waste and environmental violations
  16. Artificial atomic decay practically inexhaustible, but nowadays this type of energy is environmentally dangerous because of the lack of technologies on waste decontamination

Source: Wackernagel 103-12; Droege 141-50.

Table 3. Bio-positive city energetics

Improvement of the established energy complex Deep cleaning of emissions, refusal from smokestacks Preparation of fuel, more complete combustion, reduction of fuel consumption Usage of fuel from waste, heat utilization, liquidation of cooling towers Energy saving, reduction of power of household appliances
Contemporary perspective solutions Use of renewable energy, use of chemical fuel cells Use of alternative fuels (hydrogen, silicates, etc.), energy mixes Secure underground nuclear power stations Miniaturization of power plants

Fundamentally new energetics of more distant future Energy-active buildings, constructions and objects of technology Usage of energy from space (cosmic power plants) The sharp decline in energy intensity Energy from previously unknown sources

Non-entropic technologies of future

Thus, sustainable city energetics could be based on alternative, more environmentally friendly and widely represented on the Earth fuel and, possibly, on a new previously unknown source of energy. Among the promising sources are the electrochemical cells.

Energy saving. Limited availability of traditional energy sources, huge loss of energy during its production, transportation and use, growth of prices for energy carriers, and economic inefficiency of energy consumption have led to the idea of energy saving. Impressive results have been already obtained by the application of new technologies in many sectors of the economy from industry to home appliances. Among the latest developments are, for example, new standards for energy efficient home appliances in the U.S.A., application of which will make 22 large power plants unnecessary; the creation of a new washing powder that is active in room temperature water; the use of new compact fluorescent bulbs with a 4-fold reduction in power consumption if compared with incandescent bulbs; the achievement of efficiency of cars engines by the use of onboard computer, etc. (Portney 119-39).

Taking into account that about 40% of energy in industrialized countries is spent on supply of residential houses, the idea of creating mass energy-saving buildings is especially relevant. Energy-saving buildings are being currently designed with the following new solutions (Korres 104-117):

  • Architecture and planning solutions excluding through-ventilation, sharply reducing the air exchange, increasing the heating of the southern wall and reducing the cooling on the northern side, allowing the use of passive solar heating, etc.
  • Building materials that reduce heat loss through exterior walls and openings: energy-efficient walls, windows, doors, vents, louvers, roof coating.
  • Ventilation solutions that enable utilization of all the heat of the emitted air.
  • Heat pumps utilizing the heat from all the appliances in the building.
  • Automatic maintenance of the minimum required temperature in the rooms and automatic lighting turning on and off.

A very big source of energy saving is the modernization of technology. In Japan during 10 years, energy intensity of production reduced by more than twice. New home appliances have been created with the twice lower power consumption. Contact fluorescent lamps produced in many countries require 4 times less energy than incandescent bulbs: a 25-watt lamp shines like a 100-watt one with operation time is 5-10 times longer (Droege 141-50).

Transport. In modern technology the pursuit of the highest speeds dominates with almost complete ignoring of any restrictive environmental requirements (except for permissible noise level). Types of transport for the city with sustainable development include bicycles, minicars, electric vehicles, etc. It is also necessary to point out the need to develop alternative means of communication, which in some cases can replace transport: thus, mobile audio and video communication for holding meetings is a very promising technology; an interesting concept is the use of an automated pneumatic transportation in a tube for any type of cargo instead of other types of vehicles.

Figure 4 shows the main directions for the improvement of existing vehicles and the development of radically new types of transport, taking into account the gradual application of bio-positivity principles for reaching ecological balance in applying transport means (Balsas 429-33).
Table 4. Bio-positive city transport

Bio-positive city transport

Improvement of the traditional transport Reduction of pollution (exhaust, noise), neutralizers, non-toxic anti-detonators, etc. The use of renewable and hybrid energy sources, other fuels (gas, hydrogen, etc.) Design and manufacture considering full recycling Increase of cost effectiveness and maintainability, “smart” cars of the first generation

Development of new types of transport with enhanced sustainability Use of renewable materials widely represented in the Earth crust Miniaturization of the means of transport All types of transport in a tube “Smart” means of transport

Development of principally new types of transportation Land walking transport from non-deforming soft covering Underground and underwater vehicles in a tube with a vacuum, on a magnetic cushion Air transport with flapping wings, underwater vehicle with flapping fins All types of transportation with the soft non-injuring covering

Non-entropic transport of future

Making a greener transport starts with the improvement of existing types of transport: reduction of emitted pollution by post-combustion and exhaust treatment, application of advanced low-noise and efficient engines, non-toxic anti-knocks, transition to alternative fuels and renewable energy (solar, wind, use of ethanol obtained from plant materials, etc.) in connection with the growing shortage of petroleum products and their soon depletion (Balsas 429-33).

The next stage of transport greening should be the transition to the production of land vehicles from renewable materials or raw materials most widely represented in the earth’s crust. These new materials include ceramics, glass, aluminum, modified wood, etc. Their advantage is the possibility of complete recycling. Manufacturing of new types of transport should be also associated with its miniaturization, the transition from large trucks and passenger cars to small ones, designed to carry 1-2 people (i.e. individual in the full sense) or small cargo (Balsas 429-33).

According to some forecasts, by 2030, the number of bicycles in the world will 5 times exceed the number of cars. Improvement of bicycle transport as the most environmentally friendly one should in the first place be associated with the optimization of bicycle paths and their complete separation from other traffic, with safety of movement for bicycles (Cremasco 226-34). Perhaps one of the most environmentally friendly directions of transport improvement will be transport in an underground or ground tube with a centralized clearing of emissions coming into this tube from vehicles (a kind of a subway for cars).

“Smart” objects of engineering and technology. Currently, “smart” objects of engineering and technology are widely developed and partly applied in various industries. “Smart” objects of engineering include sensors, microprocessors with expert systems in its memory and actuators – effectors. The most substantial parts of “smart” technology are sensors-receptors and expert system.

“Smart” objects of engineering apply, in the first place, miniaturized systems and continuous monitoring sensors – chemical sensors, biosensors, gas detectors, lidars, etc. It is desirable to use non-contact sensors that convert information about the state of the environment into electrical signals.

In eco-friendly objects of “smart” technology, the aim of creation of which is the ecologization of technosphere and increase of reliability of equipment, all the types of sensors and measurement systems can be used to create “smart” appliances: systems and devices for pollution control of air, water, soil, plant and animal organisms; systems and devices for control of emissions and waste, noise and electromagnetic pollution, etc. The roads may be equipped with the sensors analyzing their state (e.g., excessive moisture or icing), which through a conveniently located information board can warn drivers about the dangers and the need of speed reduction; in places where car stopping is prohibited, appropriate sensors can be set that respond to a standing object, which through the effector-speakers can warn the driver and send signal to the traffic police; in areas of heavy traffic sensors of air pollution or odor sensors can send signal through the microprocessor to shut off the traffic and direct it in a detour when there is a high concentration of contaminants.

With the development of radically new types of sensors-receptors, new, more extensive and unusual opportunities to create “smart” technology appear.


The transition to sustainable urban development requires the development of strategic guidelines that take into account, firstly, the nature of world trends and expected changes in social life, technological structures, economics and politics; secondly, the natural and climatic conditions in the territory; thirdly, living standards, technological, intellectual and social potential of the urban population, resource capabilities of the settlement; and fourthly, the state of the urban environment. This can be achieved in the process of strategic planning for sustainable urban development and the management of implementation of the strategic plan. The strategic plan, in accordance with the concept of sustainable development, must be based on humanitarian and ecological imperative, i.e., the principle of preserving and restoring the natural environment for the normal life of people.

Sustainable activity in the city is a deep and systematic ecologization of industry, energy, transportation, construction, urban planning and architecture, agriculture in the suburbs. Comprehensive greening of all the areas of human activity based on environmental education can help develop a sustainable city.

Eco-friendly technology in the modern city must comply with the basic principles of ecology and bio-positivity and be nature-like. It should be noted that even at the present level technology and engineering objects can be created with sufficiently high degree of environmental friendliness.

In order to achieve sustainable development unlimited in time, the future of engineering and technology should be devoted to the creation of non-entropic solutions completely similar to natural ones. It is quite possible that the “smart” appliances and “smart” technology (along with environmentally friendly biotechnologies) are the first steps, the beginning of a long and complex process of creating non-entropic nature-similar technology which will not be negative for the environment.

Works Cited:

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Balsas, Carlos. “Cities, Automobiles, and Sustainability.” Urban Affairs Review 36.3 (2001): 429-432. Print.
Cremasco, V. “Sustainability Tools Dedicated to Urban Infrastructure: The Existing and the Distinctiveness of PETUS.” Indoor and Built Environment 16.3 (2007): 226-234. Print.
Dimitrova, E. “Testing PETUS: Expectations and Outcomes of the: `Theory—Practice’ Dialogue on Urban Sustainability.” Indoor and Built Environment 16.3 (2007): 216-225. Print.
Droege, Peter. “The Renewable City: Dawn of an Urban Revolution.” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 26.2 (2006): 141-150. Print.
Eckstein, Barbara, and James A. Throgmorton. Story and Sustainability: Planning, Practice, and Possibility for American Cities. The MIT Press, 2003. Print.
Hanaki, Keisuke, Moavenzadeh, Fred and Peter Baccini. Future Cities: Dynamics and Sustainability. Springer, 2002. Print.
Jensen, J.O., and M. Elle. “Exploring the Use of Tools for Urban Sustainability in European Cities.” Indoor and Built Environment 16.3 (2007): 235-247. Print.
Korres, George M. “Industrial and Innovation Policy in Europe: The Effects on Growth and Sustainability.” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 27.2 (2007): 104-117. Print.
Portney, Kent E., and Jeffrey M. Berry. “Participation and the Pursuit of Sustainability in U.S. Cities.” Urban Affairs Review 46.1 (2010): 119-139. Print.
Wackernagel, Mathis, Kitzes, Justin, Moran, Dan, Goldfinger, Steven, and Mary Thomas. “The Ecological Footprint of cities and regions: comparing resource availability with resource demand.” Environment and Urbanization 18.1 (2006): 103-112. Print.