Sustainable Cities

  • Celebrating World Cities Day on October 31st
  • Supporting SDG 11 'Sustainable Cities & Communities'
  • Publishing research with a direct impact on societal challenges

World Cities Day - October 31st

SNG SDG logo © SpringerSpringer Nature connects the researchers tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy & business who need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world.

The impact of COVID-19 has re-shaped urban life around the world. The theme of this year's World Cities Day reinforces the benefits of cities that engage all stakeholders, including local communities to foster sustainable cities.  

Take a closer look at blog posts by some of our authors and editors, highlighted new titles, selected articles and book chapters free to read until the end of November, and more. Interested in publishing with Springer? Find out more.

Opinions and blog posts for World Cities Day

© Springer

Our cities are 'naturally challenged': here's why 

By Dr. Nicola Dempsey, Editor of Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions & Practices in Urban Green Spaces

"'Lockdown has been a time when many have appreciated the urban nature around us. Maybe it has been noticing the weeds growing through the cracks in the pavement or hearing birdsong that couldn’t be heard before. Many more people have been visiting parks, which have provided much needed respite from the challenges lockdown has brought.

continue reading...

Nicola Dempsey © Springer... We have long known about the health and wellbeing benefits of urban green spaces – and Covid-19 certainly demonstrated how urban green spaces are an essential service. So why are there still longstanding problems in accessing, funding and managing our parks and green spaces? A new book (published by Springer), which I edited with Dr Julian Dobson at Sheffield Hallam University, aims to answer this question.

Our new book Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces sheds light on why the health and wellbeing benefits of urban green spaces jar with the asset management approaches that view public green spaces as liabilities. With contributions from international green space management experts, the book demonstrates that it depends on how the wellbeing benefits of urban nature are analysed and valued.

Too often, urban nature is not valued highly enough for local and national decision-makers to invest significant funding. There tends to be a ‘business as usual’ approach to dealing with green spaces which are underpinned by logics of ‘we’ve done this because we’ve always done this’ or ‘that couldn’t work here’ without any exploration of the alternatives.

Such logics mean that decision-makers don’t meaningfully prioritise urban green spaces, and that is often attributed to (or blamed on) others. “It’s the public who aren’t interested in the outdoors”. “It’s the housing developers who can’t provide too much green space because it makes a development unviable”. “It’s because of other government departments and their silo mentalities”. “It’s because academics don’t provide the right evidence”.

These are all examples of ‘logics of inaction’ that are examined in the book and their implications are considered by experts from the UK, Italy and New Zealand. Knowing these logics of inaction exist means we can challenge national policymakers to secure funding for our green spaces in life beyond the pandemic."

Dr. Nicola Dempsey, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Planning, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield, UK

How much more evidence do we need to invest in green spaces?

by Dr. Julian Dobson, Editor of Naturally Challenged

"We know green spaces are good for us. The evidence is overwhelming. So why don’t we invest in what we know to be healthy and helpful, when we can find £522 million to subsidise people who want a meal out? 

continue reading...

Julian Dobson © Julian DobsonIn case there’s any doubt about the evidence, earlier this year a team at Sheffield Hallam University produced a report, Space to Thrive, which reviewed nearly 400 recent academic papers on the social benefits of urban parks. As well as supporting physical and mental health, which you’d expect, parks also play an important community role, bringing people together and enabling people to feel more involved in society.

But we also know that parks and green spaces are underfunded. A parliamentary inquiry three years ago found they were at a ‘tipping point’ of decline in England. So why are they considered less important than roads (£27.4bn investment over five years in England), private houses (£3.8bn diverted to the better-off through the suspension of stamp duty in 2020-21), or prisons (£2.5bn to create an extra 10,000 prison places)?

‘We want to invest, but we can’t’

It’s not as if local councils, which are responsible for most urban parks and many other green spaces, think parks are unimportant. But between 2010 and 2017/18 central government funding for English local authorities fell by 49.1% in real terms, and spending power (taking locally raised resources into account) fell by 28.6%. There is no statutory duty for councils to create or maintain parks.

Even this year, when the importance of parks has been spotlighted during the Covid-19 lockdown because they were among the very few public places people could use, local authorities are still discussing how they can save more money from parks budgets. 

And even when there is a chance to invest, council officers often feel disempowered and unable to make the case. In recent research in Sheffield we found a series of ‘logics of inaction’, justifiable reasons for not making the improvements council staff knew would be helpful. 

Unsurprisingly, the main logic was a financial one – people believed they would not be able to justify investment compared with actions generating a perceived immediate economic benefit, like mending roads, or where there was a legal duty attached, such as social services. But we also found people were institutionally disempowered: ten years of austerity have instilled a ‘finance says no’ culture within local government. 

Evidence-seeking as myth and ceremony

A common expression of this culture of disempowerment is to seek more evidence to justify investment, but then to argue that the evidence is insufficient. One parks professional we interviewed put it like this: 

‘…what we need to do is be better and savvier at using statistics, using the work of yourself and research in the city to say, Parks and Countryside have got so much x, it provides y, the benefits are pounds and economic savings.’

But in further discussions, another made the revealing comment that ‘I don’t even try anymore’. In a new book published by Springer Nature, I and my co-editor Nicola Dempsey argue that evidence-seeking has become an excuse for kicking the can down the road, deferring commitment on the basis that evidence is still not good enough.

In Naturally Challenged: Contested perceptions and practices in urban green spaces, we investigate the ‘logics of inaction’ affecting suggested investments. Drawing on John W Meyer and Brian Rowan’s classic study in organisational theory showing how organisational structure is often a result of ‘myth and ceremony’ which services the purpose of legitimising activities, we consider evidence-seeking through the same lens. 

While organisations engage actively in the search for appropriate evidence, the evidence legitimises a process of decision-making that does not require evidence to be acted upon. Evidence-seeking becomes a justificatory activity. We argue:

‘The myth of evidence-based policy … enables proposals to be rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence, effectively masking the politics of decision-making. A concern with “what works” and “good practice” provides an appearance of logical inevitability for what is actually a political choice.’

Where does that leave the case for investing in parks and green spaces? In our view, the evidence is good enough: it is the consequent action that has failed.

We are on the brink of a spending review that will set priorities in the UK for half a decade or more. In the run-up to that review, professionals, academics and campaigners are amassing the evidence and making the case for serious and significant investment in green space. The National Trust, for example, says we need a £5.5bn fund to improve green spaces and create new ones. 

If the spending review does not deliver, it won’t be for lack of evidence. It will be a political choice. And if the political choice is for prisons rather than parks, we should ask what that tells us about our priorities."

Dr. Julian Dobson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Are green spaces haunted by echoes of “keep off the grass”?

by Dr. Meredith Whitten, Author in Naturally Challenged

"The connection between urban green space and health and wellbeing has been highlighted in recent months. A regular stream of news stories, research and policy proposals have trumpeted the positive impact green space has on the health of urban dwellers. 

continue reading...

Meredith Whitten © SpringerYet, connecting green space and health – particularly in cities – is not a new idea. In the 19th century, for example, the Victorians rooted their progressive public parks concept in their concerns about health and behaviour, especially for the poor and working class. Their approach to providing access to nature is, in part, responsible for the parks and green spaces that exist today, not just in British cities, but in urban environments across the world.

While the Victorian rationale for establishing publicly accessible green spaces remains powerfully relevant nearly 200 years later, understanding of the benefits of urban nature and the context in which urban green spaces exist has evolved. For example, research has shown that urban green space plays a vital role in addressing a wide range of diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and depression, that afflict contemporary society.

Today, we also have a greater understanding of how human health is intertwined with ecological health. Although the global focus has been on COVID-19, climate change and its impact on human and planetary health has not abated. Urban green spaces, which help mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, can filter pollutants from air and water, reduce urban heating, and increase biodiversity and valuable habitats – all of which contribute to healthier urban environments.

To realise these benefits, green spaces have to be actively managed for a range of functions, including environmental and sociocultural services, that go beyond traditional leisure, recreation and amenity. Yet, in my research I have found that, in practice, a narrow approach to green space, grounded in 19th-century ideals, limits how green space and its potential contributions to health and wellbeing are conceptualised.

With increasing densities and vertical living encouraged to reduce the ecological footprint of cities, fewer residents have access to a private garden and less space is available for creating large, conventional parks and green spaces. Conceptualising green space more broadly reflects the demands, and the realities, of contemporary urban life, and draws upon innovative approaches to increasing urban greening. Yet, my research has found that integrating non-traditional types of urban greening, such as green roofs and walls, into the concept of green space remains challenging because these green elements do not fit readily into institutionalised concepts of green space. However, these nonconventional spaces can complement existing green spaces and contribute to positive health outcomes. For example, vegetated roofs can increase biodiversity and reduce energy consumption, as well as provide a place for quiet reflection when access is permitted.

A rigid adherence to a 19th-century conceptualisation of green space coupled with chronic underinvestment in urban greening limits the ability to manage these spaces more creatively as health and wellbeing assets. For example, fencing, railings and other barriers within a green space often exist to keep people off the grass and onto designated paved paths. This restricts types of use, while perpetuating the Victorian notion of promenading. While nothing is inherently wrong with promenading – indeed, walking in green space and being exposed to nature has health benefits – more active use can provide additional benefits to a wider range of residents. Yet, instead of drawing on the forward-thinking spirit that characterised the Victorian era, we often try to freeze green spaces in time as heritage assets rather than as active, contemporary landscapes.

Further, resources needed to deliver high-quality green spaces – already under pressure pre-pandemic – are stretched even thinner because green spaces are approached as amenities, not as critical health infrastructure. This minimises the valuable work green spaces can do.

For example, social prescribing has become more common, yet this practice loses effectiveness if green spaces are not maintained to sufficient quality and managed for broad health benefits. The impact of green space on health and wellbeing is further diminished when these spaces are not accessible or not considered safe and welcoming places, particularly by disadvantaged communities that are less likely to have access to private green space.

Delivering and managing urban green space with a focus rooted in 19th-century ideals obfuscates the wider range of benefits derived from green spaces today. Functions beyond the traditional uses of recreation, leisure and amenity contribute to health and wellbeing, but to realise this, green spaces must be thought of and managed as essential, multifunctional assets. Health and wellbeing are connected to green space in broader ways than merely providing green gyms or social prescriptions. Ecological health matters for human health, as well. Managing green space for a wider array of benefits, such as flood prevention, air and water filtration, biodiversity, urban agriculture and social interaction, provides more comprehensive health and wellbeing benefits for contemporary cities, and the people who live in them."

Dr. Meredith Whitten is ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geography & Environment, London School of Economics & Political Science, UK.

© Springer

City Water Matters

By Professor Sophie Watson, Author of City Water Matters

“You might take a walk through any city and not notice the traces of water’s vibrant part in making city cultures and materialities. But if you were mindful of water and the spaces, objects and artefacts that it has made at different moments in histories, and still makes, you would see traces of water everywhere.

continue reading

Indeed water is so much part of our everyday lives, and even our bodies-  the brain, lungs and kidneys contain 85% water,  that it is only when it is scarce or in too much abundance in areas of flooding, that we pay it much attention. We not only depend on water, without water we would die. Water lies at the very heart of the interconnectedness and entanglements of humans with our environment and reveals, arguably more than any other substance, the impossibility of thinking of ourselves as separate from nature. Water is far from being a naturally occurring terrestrial resource but is shaped in multiple ways by human activities and cultural practices. Water exists as a resource through a complex intersection of socio- technical networks and systems and is a site of different cultural meanings and social practices across time and space. Water is both a source and a force. Water imposes a set of technologies for containing it and directing it; it is enmeshed in a myriad of governmental and regulatory practices as well as private markets and complex forms of provision. Its abundance as well as its scarcity is constituted in public discourses and political decisions, implicated in relations of power as these are, as much a ‘natural’ occurring phenomena as rains, floods, and drought. Water enables and assembles a multiplicity of publics, embodied practices, cultural practices, and diverse forms of sociality. Water is far from being just the natural resource it is often assumed to be.

Water stretches and flows across human- non-human networks. Nowhere are the effects of human activities on the Earth’s eco-systems, in the current moment denoted by many as the Anthropocene, more visible. Not only does water cross the boundaries of different substances, with complex intersections and effects, the very complexities of current and impending water crises across the world, lead to greater uncertainties as to what kinds of solutions are possible. Indeed, many see water as the most pressing concern of the twenty-first century, which is likely to lead to massive migrations and water wars. At the same time, there is less and less certainty as to how best to resolve the scarcity of water, or its overabundance in the form of floods or rising sea levels in many parts of the world. Water is never far away from the centre of life and thought.  

Water is theorized in many different registers and through many different frames:  crisis, infrastructure, symbol, culture, politics, management and delivery, consumption, the economic and the social. Each of these spheres are interconnected and related and not easily disentangled. Water is emblematic of the powerful interconnections between human/ non-human, and nature and culture, where these entanglements are in a constant process of transforming cityscapes and landscapes, which in turn produce new waterscapes and manifestations of the ‘natural world’.  Water has the capacity to make things happen, to bring new socialities and publics into being. Water is an intrinsic part of everyday life, often invisible in its workings and taken for granted, only entering public discourse and visibility when it becomes a matter of concern through, for example, its scarcity, or its potential for danger or for the accumulation of profit. Water is deeply political, implicated in relations of power and constitutive of social, cultural and spatial differences. Water is highly contested both as a resource and a site of complex meanings. 

Though the impending crisis of water scarcity is likely to be the greatest challenge of the 21st century, this is not my central argument, instead I argue for the importance of water as a cultural object, and as a source of complex meanings in everyday life, whether it be Mumbai or London, Hanoi or Paris. Humans need water to thrive, and many daily practices and habits that often go unnoticed are connected to the presence of water. Water is needed for bodies to keep clean, for embodied pleasures, for ritual practices, for the beautification of urban sites and so on, and each of these are enabled by the socio-technical systems and structures of a specific historical and material context. My interest is in bringing cultural practices to the fore, arguing also for their embeddedness in a wider social, political, economic and technological context, and exploring water’s importance as a cultural object, and as a source of complex meanings and practices in everyday life, embedded in the socio-economics of local water provision.  What I am interested in therefore, are human-organized systems, meanings and practices, in a way that does not neglect the materiality of water and water-ecological-relations, but which does not take these as its primary focus. Water, precisely because of its fluidity, in some sense resists definition, in that, however much human infrastructures and representations strive to contain and channel water- it continually 'leaks' out of this containment. Because it is a highly fluid substance that is difficult to contain, physically, and because it is so essential to all life, particular cultural representations can never quite monopolize it.  Water is thus difficult to encapsulate, connected in different ways and spaces to unwanted fluidities - of migrants in the case of crisis, of gender or sex, of bodies and identities. 

Water makes and unmakes cities across the ages, it settles or is unsettled in serendipitous and fluid ways, enabling and disabling daily life as it ebbs and flows into domestic and public spaces.  Yet water is often ignored, invisible or forgotten as vibrant matter in the city, existing in the world as material object, cultural representation, as movement, as actor, as practice and as ritual.Water has the capacity to assemble publics. During the nineteenth century some 40,000 men earned a living on or about the Thames  lightermen to carry passengers, dockers to unload the ships, watermen to carry the goods ashore, mudlarkers sifting the banks to find treasures, sewer hunters delving in the drainage for old coins, bargemen to carry large loads along the river, whisky men to quench the worker’s thirst. These were just some of the men drawn to the power of the river to make work and to bring people to its waters. This is a story that repeats itself in urban rivers everywhere. 

Not only does water assemble working people, through its capacity to provide embodied pleasures, as a site of immersion, relaxation and exercise, water everywhere engages people in aquatic pursuits, enabling healthy and happy bodies, soothing troubled souls and connecting individuals across their differences as they share spaces in often unexpected and unplanned encounters, in lidos, ponds and baths in cities. In a similar vein public water features in the city bring together urban designers, water engineers, and multiple publics to gaze and more recently to actively engage. Publics then are heterogeneous. This is very clear when considering how water is imbued with religious meanings and symbols and core to a plethora of religious practices and rituals, which often go unnoticed until they are contested. Finally understanding the practices and habits associated with consumption  which are differentiated by age, gender and ethnicity, is crucial in strategies to reduce household use of water.

The specificity of water sites and water practices, then, are core to my concerns underpinned as each are by several key themes. First is the interconnectedness of humans and non-humans, of nature and culture, and the complex entanglements of water in all its many forms. The second argument is that water constitutes multiple differences which are themselves not fixed, but which shift and change across time and place. Third, that water is implicated in relations of power, often invisible, but present nevertheless in the workings of daily life in all its rhythms and forms. Thus also, differences are themselves connected to power, and water sites and resources mark boundaries and borders, and are political and contested. And finally, water has the capacity to assemble a multiplicity of publics and constitute new socialities and connections in different ways in different cities across different socio- political and socio-technical environments. As the history of Angkor Wat attests so vividly, cities, and their inhabitants, will die without water die, and so will their cultures."

Professor Sophie Watson is Professor of Sociology at the Open University, UK. 

© Springer

Resilient Urban Futures

By Dr. Zoé Hamstead, Co-Editor of Resilient Urban Futures

“Cities profoundly impact and are impacted by climate change. Processes of urbanization—characterized by industrialization, urban densification, expansion, and related dynamics—have not only warmed the globe through greenhouse gas-emitting activities. They have also changed local climate and weather patterns, creating unique vulnerabilities in the same sites as those greenhouse gas-emitting activities.

continue reading

Zoé Hamstead © SpringerUrban coastal sea levels are rising. Urban heat waves, precipitation events, droughts, and wildfires are becoming more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting. All as people concentrate in cities. 
Urban environments are becoming risky places to live in the context of climate change, but the question of which cities are able to harness resources necessary for recovery and which social groups within cities receive those resources is a matter of politics, power, and exclusionary practices. This is why designers of urban systems must wage simultaneous battles to curb global climate change trends while adapting and transforming to address local impacts. And all of this must be done in ways that wrestle with the institutions of social separateness that create unequal climate burdens and which are embedded in planning, policy, scientific, and economic practices.
Using experiences from a network of nine cities in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, Resilient Urban Futures brings the science of urban transformation together with practices of professionals who design, govern, and manage urban systems. The volume represents five years of urban futures work in which 180 researchers from 21 institutions collaborated with 220 practitioners to envision positive urban futures. Funded by a National Science Foundation Sustainable Research Network grant and led by Charles Redman and Nancy Grimm at Arizona State University, the Urban Resilience to Extremes (UREx) Project uses a social-ecological-technological systems (SETS) framework to develop ambitious and long-term positive visioning. Because the SETS framework is attentive to ways in which social systems (e.g., governance) interact with ecological systems (e.g., coastal ecosystems), and technological systems (e.g., energy networks), it is an inherently multi-disciplinary approach which helps to account for unpredictability. Grounded in the UREx experience, Resilient Urban Futures describes how multidisciplinary approaches are applied to ambitious and creative scenario visioning, land change modeling, data visualization, and co-production approaches among other forms of futures practice. 
Focusing on the future does not mean ignoring the past. Altering the climate is an economic and political endeavor, and one that has relied upon oppression and extraction. Climate change and vulnerabilities to weather extremes have been institutionalized in structures designed to replicate themselves. Fragile coastal ecologies may make us more vulnerable to floods as sea levels rise, and resource-deprived emergency medical services systems may make us more vulnerable to heat-related mortality. At the same time, inadequate mobility services, extractive hiring practices, and our commodity-based housing system create climate inequity by undermining basic health and economic determinants which are exacerbated by weather extremes. Each of these and many more sectors has played a role in producing oppression and each must reckon with that history in developing strategies for transforming social separateness into social cohesion. Future scenarios that are contextualized in a place-based historical awareness—in which people articulate not only the local narratives that form positive community identity and civic pride, but also the exclusions and subordinations that persist today—hold greater potential for shared resilient futures. 
Resilient Urban Futures brings together the knowledge and experiences of 24 interdisciplinary researchers across the UREx network. It provides designers of urban systems and students of engineering, urban planning, ecology, sustainability, and others with conceptual and practical tools for advancing equitable, resilient futures in the context of climate change. Our hope is that while this volume will equip designers with practical tools, it will also promote greater recognition of “future-making” as a form of privilege, and co-production engagement as a way to create more inclusivity in ambitious and long-term agenda-setting practices."

Dr Zoé Hamstead, Assistant Professor of Environmental Planning and Founding Director of the Community Resilience Lab at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, Buffalo, USA.

Recommended Reading

© Springer

Biophilic Cities for an Urban Century

This book argues that, paradoxically, at their moment of triumph and fastest growth, cities need nature more than ever. Only if our urban world is full of biophilic cities will the coming urban century truly succeed.

Sample chapter: The Urban Century

© Springer

Cities as Spatial and Social Networks

This book reports on the latest, cutting-edge scholarship on integrating social network and spatial analyses in the built environment. It sheds light on conceptualization and implementation of such integration, integration for intra-city level analysis, and integration for inter-city level analysis.

Sample chapter: Evaluating China’s Investment Network and Mega-regions

Highlighted Book Chapters

Further book chapters

Publishing a book with Springer

© Springer

Vitor Oliveira © Springer"I have published 3 books with Springer and a further 2 are in preparation. The first of these, Urban Morphology, has been downloaded more than 20,000 times and has 140 citations - four years after publication. Springer, and in particular the team of The Urban Book Series led by Juliana Pitanguy, are effective partners. From the discussion of the first idea for a new project, the submission of a proposal, the referee evaluation process to the completion of the book, everything is framed by excellency and high professionalism."

Professor Vítor Oliveira, Secretary-General, International Seminar on Urban Form

Read what authors are saying about us – and what you can expect.

New Journals

© Springer

Computational Urban Science 

A new open access journal that focuses on the intersection of computational sciences and urban sciences in building intelligent and resilient cities.

Editors-in-Chief: Hui Lin, Jiangxi Normal University, China; Xinyue Ye, Texas A&M University, USA

© Springer

Discover Sustainability

Discover Sustainability aims to support multi-disciplinary research and policy developments addressing all 17 of the UN SDGs. The journal publishes open access research from across all fields relevant to sustainability, including cities and urbanization.

Editor-in-Chief: Walter Leal Filho, Hamburg, Germany

© Springer

npj Urban Sustainability

A new open access, online-only journal, dedicated to publishing high-quality papers that describe the significant and ground-breaking research covering urban environments through the lens of sustainable development, studied across a broad range of research topics.

Editor-in-Chief: Thomas Elmqvist, Professor in Natural Resource Management, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.

© Springer

Urban Transformations

An inter- and transdisciplinary open access journal offering a publishing and discussion platform for people engaged in science, policy and practice, targeting real-life impact. Now accepting submissions.

Editors-in-Chief: Niki Frantzeskaki, Centre of Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia & Marc Wolfram, Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden University of Technology, Germany 

Highlighted Articles

Read further articles

Springer's Urban Studies Collection

Editorial Contacts

We invite you to publish your next project with Springer.  Please contact one of our Publishing Editors with your ideas or for further information:

Juliana Pitanguy © Springer

Juliana Pitanguy

Editor, Books

Paula Teti

Paola Teti

Associate Publisher, Journals

More information about the benefits of publishing with Springer.           More titles in Urban Studies.

SDG 11 Hub

dh urban SDG11 hub image for SV © SpringerSpringer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals Programme - Visit the new SDG 11 hub 'Sustainable Cities & Communities'.

As a champion of both fundamental research and research intended to have a direct impact on societal challenges, we at Springer Nature are proud of the attention our authors, editors and publishers pay to the future of cities. 

Much important research is focused more regionally, or on individual cities. Such research may be conducted by working directly with city officials, or with networks of city planners. It can make an immediate difference to the health (in the broadest sense) and other needs of people who live and work in cities, as well as to the development of more sustainable aspects of citizens’ lives. SDG 11 includes targets for cities that Springer Nature’s publications speak to directly.