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ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index: US cities held back by transportation, environmental factors

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.



Here is a link that predicts good things for cities by 2030:


The problem with these indices is that the 'professionals' who develop them often have very little in-depth knowledge of the individual or trans-discipline nature of the topics they are trying to piece together - perhaps in hope of some action, however undertaken, is better than no action at all - the call of the mob. Small-system economics, urban ecology, sociology, urban design, and whatever 'sustainability falls under' are very conflicting, with a measure of success that is not transferrable between them. Take the utterly absurd word of 'sustainability', even with the marginally-more-useful descriptor of 'meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. What does this mean? - conservation-based (use less, do less, be less)? techno-solution-based (solar, wind, non-GMO)? socio-economic-based (policies, programs)? These are very different and very conflicting - one cannot simply 'blend' them. Then there is green space and transit and bike lanes - very expensive to build, maintain, and plan - with a consistently negative return financially and questionable psychological benefit beyond having a low level and limited access to all - a type of service welfare - which I don't disagree with - but when does meeting the need extend into creating a separate 'culture' for it. Transit, bikes, and parks should be needs-based not culture-based. How often has income and productivity of a city spiked when the minimum level of transit access to everyone - buses at 16 hrs per day at 30min intervals - has been exceeded? never. How often has income, property value, and productivity spiked when subway access and car access (increased circulation and parking) has been increased? always. down side (if it could be defined that way) - gentrification. I would bet that if you modelled this graph 100% success on a new from-scratch city you would get Green-Disneyworld on day 1 (or a small Italian village overlooking the sea with no jobs) and Detroit 2011 on day 1, year 20. The basic problem is that the city one wants to live in on a daily basis does not lead to the city one wants to live in 20 years down the road - human nature conflict. The only way to define whether a city has improved is if the potential of its citizens to contribute has increased (and hopefully the number of those citizens) - that is by work, spend, and inhabit - everything else is welfare. A small park to have a coffee, walk your dog, and chat 30minutes a day for 5 days in a week less than 20 minutes walk away - yes. A billion dollar boardwalk or theme building that will never proportionately increase the tourism dollars to cover costs, but gives the city character - no. Tip to John Batten ARCADIS - design us your 100% city first, model all the scenarios over 20 years and get positive feedback from a 1000 experts from all walks of life - and then compare world cities to yours - i think you'll find a vastly different ranking and a real insight into 'true human-nature-style sustainability'. Not the current 'feel-good' fluff that currently passes for sustainability theory. We all want a diverse, intense, and safe world, but that needs to come from a population of people who are happy, challenged, and have productive milestones - sustainability will flow from that.


Jer, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are pretty ugly places because the leaders have failed. These cities have not fallen to the level of Detroit only because the people of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are too lazy to move away like they did in Detroit. No amount of growth will fix these cities. Don't worry though, most people are easily convinced by TV that they live in the best place on the planet, even if it is Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. The down side to that however is that the people are not smart and thus also not efficient and mostly not hard working.

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