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Updated: Jan 19

Text by Alistair Speirs

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act new. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln

President of the United States

Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

We are long over with the COVID crisis, yet we still have to remind ourselves of the challenges we were trying to find solutions to before we got distracted. Here in Jakarta there are many: air and water pollution, traffic, waste management, and energy efficienc. All the things we associate with being sustainable. But can we really expect Jakarta to become a sustainable city? How do we measure it? Where do we start? A quick and easy way to do that is to see what others have done and see if we can copy them. That’s why I am taking you on a tour of the World’s Most Sustainable Cities, and how they got that enviable title.

What are sustainable cities?

Sustainable cities, also referred to as  Eco-Cities or Green Cities, work towards creating environmentally, economically, and socially resilient surroundings for their citizens without compromising the needs of future generations to thrive in the same environment.

Three Factors used in Evaluation

1.People (social): The people factor looks at the quality of life, assessing areas such as health, education and work-life balance.

2.Planet (environmental): This factor examines areas including energy consumption, renewable energy share and green spaces.

3.Profit (economic): the economic factor looks at the economic environment and economic health of the city. Sub-factors include ease of doing business, GDP per capita and connectivity.

Let’s look at some of the very best cities across the world:

1.Copenhagen, Denmark: Europe's Most Sustainable City

The total number of bikes outnumbers the total number of cars. The benefits of this are twofold, as the city can cut down on carbon emissions and the average health rate will be higher.

  • Aims to become the world’s first carbon - neutral capital by the year 2025.

  • Biking has become part of their culture

  • From 2010, Copenhagen has been integrating green roofs into their infrastructures

  • By the end of 2019, all buses (public transport) in Copenhagen already made the shift to electric engines

  • Planting 100,000 new trees by the end of 2025

  • Upholds one of the world’s best quality assurance test for clean tap water

  • An array of advanced wind farms producing pollution free, fossil fuel free energy.

2.Amsterdam, Netherlands: The City of Bikes

  • Amsterdam is perfect combination of the new and the old.

  • More bikes than people, a major percentage of the population using bicycles to get to work or schools

  • Electric vehicles with over 300 charging stations spread across the city.

  • Homegrown organic food is enjoyed everywhere.

  • The majority of people’s clothes made from eco-friendly materials.

  • They encourage manufacturing processes that do not use any poisonous dyes or agents that could contaminate water.

3.Stockholm, Sweden: The Cleanest City in Europe

  • Aims to be completely fossil fuel free by 2050. Stockholm already has a well-laid out system that keeps it running without using massive fossil fuel reserves.

  • Bio-fuel conversion plants that take sewage to produce biofuel from it.

  • Waste heat produced by data-centres, shops, and stadiums is used for providing heating to the residents of Stockholm.

  • Already one of the cleanest cities in EU.

4.Vancouver, Canada: A City with Lowest Carbon Emissions

  • The least amount of carbon emissions among the major cities of North America. In 2010, the city began supporting cyclists and went on to build separate lanes for them.

Encouraging people to use electric vehicles instead of gas-guzzling alternatives.

Vancouver also makes space for farmers at the Farmer’s Markets all around Vancouver makes sure that residents have access to healthy food.

There are several waste management projects that have started in Vancouver to make the city free from waste and all sorts of contamination.

  • The government hoped to make Vancouver the greenest city in N. America by 2020… has it made it? We need to investigate

5.Curituba, Brazil: A City Utilizing the Power of Recycling

  • Curituba is proudly called as the Green Capital of Brazil. The city recycles 70% of its waste to reusable energy or products.

  • A robust public transportation system that helps commuters to go around the city without depending on their personal vehicles.

Curituba also gives utmost priority to urban planning.

  • The city of Curituba has 14 forests and 16 parks in the urban area.

  • An incentive program that exchanges recyclables and exchangeable items with tokens, snacks, sweets, and cash. It instills a drive in people to keep the city clean.

  • This initiative alone feeds 7000 citizens who are living in poor conditions.

6.Reykjavik, Iceland: A City Aiming to Move Away from Fossil Fuels

The city aims to be free from the grip of fossil fuels by 2050.

Geothermal wells in Iceland power the city. The geothermal heat converts the water into steam, which is then used to generate electricity. Only 0.1% of Iceland’s total electricity is produced from fossil fuels.

Also worth mentioning are:

  • Portland, Oregon: A City that teaches its citizens to embrace nature

  • San Francisco, California: The first American city to ban plastic water bottles

  • Singapore: The greenest city in Asia

  • Cape Town, South Africa: A city practicing effective waste management strategies

But let’s take a look at the challenges we face in becoming sustainable.

We constantly hear about the world is becoming more polluted every day. The oceans, rivers, and even the air we breathe are getting contaminated at a staggering rate. The more we continue to pollute these natural resources, the more it becomes hazardous for our well -being in this world.

Unfortunately, this state of decay isn’t just restricted to any one particular country or a state. We are on the top of a global crisis that will soon render our lands inhabitable if we don’t take effective measures quickly.

To help you understand the gravity of the matter, let us look at some worldwide data data on pollution, taken from different sources at different times:

  • People who live in a polluted area likely to be 20% more prone to lung cancer

  • 40% of America’s waterbodies are unfit for swimming, fishing or sustaining aquatic life because of increased rates of water pollution.

  • Breathing the air in Beijing, China is equivalent to smoking 21 cigarettes a day

  • Half of China’s population does not have access to clean water

  • Close to a 1000 children in India die every day due to extreme water pollution

  • Around 50,000 deaths are caused every year in the US due to air pollution

An eco-city or green city puts a major effort into eliminating the overall carbon footprint of the city whilst embracing nature and investing in eco-friendly projects that help humans and nature to coexist aiming towards sustenance and sustainability.

There are certain practices that need to be followed strictly ti achieve such a goal. The primary being able to find alternative sources of energy rather than depending on fossil fuels.

In the development of such a green city, the efforts are shared between the government and citizens alike. The result should be a city that is modern and also environmentally friendly.

There is a definite link between the whole mass transportation system and the goal of achieving sustainability, as the world’s number one urban motorcycle population Jakarta can never expect to achieve sustainability until we embrace a complete ban on motorcycles, create an integrated and extensive electric bus, tram and underground main transit system and change totally to 100% mandatory recycling in every building, office. If we don’t do that we will never make the list but worse than that lives and our health will not be improved. And that’s what we really need.


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