The largest US cities—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—score best in economic factors but are hindered by poor transportation infrastructure, lack of green spaces and diminishing affordable housing, according to the inaugural Sustainable Cities Index by ARCADIS, a leading global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm.
Well established European cities come top of the overall rankings, with Frankfurt in first place, followed by London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Asian cities show the most divergence, with Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore in the top ten and Manila, Mumbai, Wuhan and New Delhi forming four of the bottom five cites. No North American city makes it into the top ten. Toronto is the highest ranked at 12th; Boston (15th) and Chicago (19th) are the most sustainable US cities.
|Overall rankings. Source: ARCADIS. Click to enlarge.|
This sustainability index, which was conducted by the UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), explores three key demands—social (People), environmental (Planet) and economic (Profit)—to develop an indicative ranking of 50 of the world’s leading cities based on 20 key indicators.
A sustainable city should meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The 2015 index finds that while no utopian city exists, city leaders are managing a complex balancing act of generating strong financial returns and maintaining an attractive place for people to live and work while limiting damage to the environment.
Cities in the US and Canada perform significantly better on Profit factors than in the other sub-indices, the result of strong performance on GDP per capita and the ease of doing business. But the cost of doing business in the US is high, tempering the strong performance delivered in most Profit factors measured. San Francisco ranked the highest in this category at 7th place, while all US cities studied appear in the top half of the Profit sub-index.
However, while greater income allows some cities to improve their rankings, higher economic development does not guarantee greater sustainability. Every North American city in the Index sits in the bottom half of the rankings on carbon emissions (Los Angeles ranked last among the US cities). This is the same for cities in the Middle East.
Other findings of the inaugural index report include:
The trade-off between Planet and Profit is most starkly seen in the Middle East where Dubai and Doha score much higher in Profit than Planet sustainability where they rank in the bottom four.
The German cities of Frankfurt and Berlin lead the way in the Planet sub-ranking, scoring well for waste management and low levels of air pollution in particular. Frankfurt also leads the Profit ranking, along with London and Hong Kong.
Cities in the Middle East have seen the highest real term population growth over the past five years, with Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi experiencing a rise of over 30%.
The least sustainable cities include some of the fastest growing cities on the Asian continent Jakarta (45th), Manila (46th), Mumbai (47th), Wuhan (48th) and New Delhi (49th).
City leaders in all 50 cities must plan for population increases over the coming 15 years, but the pressure on some is immense. Whilst Tokyo’s citizens are expected to increase by just 1% by 2030, Nairobi’s population will grow by 121% and Shanghai will grow by 54% to over 30 million people.
Approximately half of the world’s population now lives in cities and urban areas. Yet, across the world, the index finds cities are more sustainable for Profit and Planet purposes than they are for People factors.
Many of the world’s economic powerhouses are becoming less affordable for their citizens, with the cost of property in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong penalizing their rankings. There is also a trade-off globally between strong education and poor work-life balance, particularly demonstrated in Hong Kong, Seoul and New York.
City leaders need to find ways to balance the demands of generating strong financial returns, being an attractive place for people to live and work in, while also limiting their impact on the environment. To truly understand how sustainable a city is, we must understand how well it balances the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit. Only then can city leaders determine their priorities and develop a roadmap to urban sustainability – for the good of this generation and the next.—John Batten, global cities director at ARCADIS
Methodology. The research was conducted by CEBR examined 50 cities from 31 countries ranking them across a range of indicators to estimate the sustainability of each city. The cities included within this report were selected to provide an overview of the planet’s cities, providing not only wide-ranging geographical coverage, but also a variety of levels of economic development, expectations of future growth and an assortment of sustainability challenges.
CEBR derived a detailed, evidence-based metric to quantify each city’s performance. The headline ranking was then be divided into three broad subcategories: People, Planet and Profit. These correspond to three dimensions of sustainability—social, environmental and economic—and can be described as the triple bottom line.
The People sub-index rates transport infrastructure, health, education, income inequality, work-life balance, the dependency ratio and green spaces within cities. These indicators can be broadly thought of as capturing quality of life for the populace in the respective cities.
The Planet sub-index looks at city energy consumption and renewable energy share, recycling rates, greenhouse gas emissions, natural catastrophe risk, drinking water, sanitation and air pollution.
he Profit sub-index examines performance from a business perspective, combining measures of transport infrastructure (rail, air, other public transport and commuting time), ease of doing business, the city’s importance in global economic networks, property and living costs, GDP per capita and energy efficiency.