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Sustainable Cities Index – No Utopia


Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 10:32 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
Across the world, cities are failing to meet the needs of their people, according to an inaugural Sustainable Cities Index which mirrors the business concept of the triple bottom line.

Wednesday, 25th March 2015
at 10:32 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Sustainable Cities Index – No Utopia
Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 10:32 am

Across the world, cities are failing to meet the needs of their people, according to an inaugural Sustainable Cities Index which mirrors the business concept of the triple bottom line.

The Index, from global consultancy firm ARCADIS, was conducted by the Center for Economics and Business Research and explores the three demands of social (People), environmental (Planet) and economic (Profit) to develop an indicative ranking of 50 of the world’s leading cities including Sydney and Melbourne.

The 2015 report finds that no utopian city exists, with city leaders having to manage a complex balancing act between the three pillars of sustainability.

Overall the top ten and bottom ten cities in the 2015 ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index are:

Top ten                                                           Bottom ten

1. Frankfurt                                                     41. Rio de Janeiro

2. London                                                        42. Doha

3. Copenhagen                                               43. Moscow

4. Amsterdam                                                 44. Jeddah

5. Rotterdam                                                  45. Riyadh

6. Berlin                                                          46. Jakarta

7. Seoul                                                          47. Mumbai

8. Hong Kong                                                 48. Wuhan

9. Madrid                                                        49. New Delhi

10. Singapore                                                 50. Nairobi

Both Sydney (ranked 11th ) and Melbourne (ranked 17) were just outside the Top Ten cities but scored higher in the sub-indexes.

The Index shows that well-established European cities come top of the overall rankings, taking seven of the first ten places. Frankfurt leads the world, followed by London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Frankfurt also takes first place on the Profit sub-index, just ahead of the UK’s capital city.

Rotterdam tops the People sub-index due to broad success including high literacy and a good work-life balance.  Both Sydney (ranked 4th) and Melbourne (ranked 8th) make it into the Top Ten for the People sub-index.

Top ten – people factors                                   Bottom ten – people factors

1. Rotterdam                                                     41. Johannesburg

2. Seoul                                                             42. Riyadh

3. London                                                          43. Mexico City

4. Sydney                                                          44. Jakarta

5. Copenhagen                                                 45. Wuhan

6. Hong Kong                                                    46. Rio de Janeiro

7. Amsterdam                                                    47. Manila

8. Melbourne                                                     48. Mumbai

9. Frankfurt                                                        49. New Delhi

10. Berlin                                                           50. Nairobi

Meanwhile two German cities – Frankfurt and Berlin – lead the way on Planet factors, scoring particularly well for waste management and low levels of air pollution.

The Index authors said although mature cities achieve the best balance, they cannot rely on historic investment.

“In a rapidly urbanizing world, the way in which cities are planned, built, operated and redefined has a huge social, environmental and economic impact,” Global Cities Director at ARCADIS, John Batten said.

“Our world is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Developing technology, population growth and the emergence of a truly global economy mean that the notion of national borders is becoming less relevant. Instead, we see the concept of the ‘global city’ taking hold.

“The Sustainable Cities Index highlights the areas of opportunity for cities, to inform decision-making and hopefully make them more sustainable economically, environmentally and for the welfare of their inhabitants.”

As well the Index shows that across the world, cities are performing better for being 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 penalising their rankings. There is also a tradeoff globally between strong education and poor work-life balance, particularly demonstrated in Hong Kong.

“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, whilst also limiting their damage to the environment. To truly understand how sustainable a city is, we must understand how it ranks in People, Planet and Profit. Only then can city leaders act to assess their priorities, and the pathway to urban sustainability – for the good of all.”

Top ten – planet factors                                     Bottom ten – planet factors

1. Frankfurt                                                        41. Moscow

2. Berlin                                                             42. Dallas

3. Copenhagen                                                 43. Los Angeles

4. Madrid                                                           44. Abu Dhabi

5. Rotterdam                                                     45. Nairobi

6. Amsterdam                                                   46. Beijing

7. Singapore                                                     47. Dubai

8. Rome                                                            48. Wuhan

9. Toronto                                                         49. New Delhi

10. Birmingham                                                50. Doha

Top ten – profit factors                                   Bottom ten – profit factors

1. Frankfurt                                                     41. Jeddah

2. London                                                       42. Buenos Aires

3. Hong Kong                                                 43. Jakarta

4. Amsterdam                                                 44. Riyadh

5. Melbourne                                                  45. Moscow

6. San Francisco                                            46. Rio de Janeiro

7. Seoul                                                          47. Mumbai

8. Singapore                                                   48. New Delhi

9. Brussels                                                      49. Nairobi

10. Madrid                                                       50. Wuhan

No North American city makes it into the Index’s top ten, with Toronto ranking the highest overall at twelfth place. Boston and Chicago (at fifteenth and nineteenth respectively) are the most sustainable of all US cities studied.

Cities in North America perform significantly better on Profit factors than those in the other sub-indices, this is a result of strong performance on GDP per capita and the ease of doing business. San Francisco is the highest ranked at seventh place while all US cities studied appear in the top half of the sub-index.

However, whilst 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, alongside cities in the Middle East.

The Index shows that cities in Asia demonstrate the greatest divergence: Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore all make it into the top ten of the overall ranking, while New Delhi, Wuhan, Mumbai, Manila and Jakarta sit at the bottom.

Seoul performs particularly well on the People sub-index, reaching second place globally. In part this is due to strong performing transport infrastructure, which is second only to another city in the region, Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong leads the way on university education and life expectancy, and offers its people the highest percentage of green space.

The Index shows that city leaders in all 50 cities must plan for population increases over the coming years, but says the pressure on some will be immense.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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