Sustainable Cities and Communities

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Liveable City: Towards Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Well-being

  • Krishna RokaEmail author
Living reference work entry


Livability can be defined as the “quality of life” as experienced by the member of the community or a city. Here, livability is seen as improving the economic, social, cultural, and environmental well-being of present and future residents (Timmer and Seymoar 2005). In urban areas livability can be seen as principles that promote equity, dignity, accessibility, conviviality, participation, and empowerment. It can also be measured under three themes in a community, (1) social space, (2) talent attraction and retention as well as economic dynamism, and (3) the overall amenability. In 1997 Hahlweg defined livable city as (in Timmer and Seymoar 2005: xx):

A livable city is a city where I can have a healthy life and where I have the chance for easy mobility – by foot, by bicycle, by public transportation, and even by car where there is no other choice…The livable city is a city for all people. That means that the livable city should be attractive, worthwhile, safe for our children, for our older people, not only for the people who earn money there and then go and live outside in the suburbs and in the surrounding communities. For the children and elderly people it is especially important to have easy access to areas with green, where they have a place to play and meet each other, and talk with each other. The livable city is a city for all.

While Salzano (1997) defined livable city as (in Timmer and Seymoar 2005: 3):

The livable city is a link between the past and the future: the livable city respects the imprint of history (our roots) and respects those who are not born yet (our posterity). A livable city is a city that preserves the signs (the sites, the buildings, the layouts) of history… A livable city is also a city that fights against any waste of the natural resources and that we must leave intact for the humankind, that is, for our posterity… Therefore, a livable city is also a ‘sustainable city’: a city that satisfies the needs of the present inhabitants without reducing the capacity of the future generation to satisfy their needs…. In the livable city both social and physical elements must collaborate for the wellbeing and progress of the community, and of the individual persons as members of the community… A livable city is a city where common spaces are the centers of social life and the foci of the entire community. A livable city must be built up, or restored, as a continuous network – from the central areas to the more distant settlements – where pedestrian paths and bicycle-paths bind together all the sites of social quality and of the community life.

The city of San Francisco defines livability consisting of five components – robust and complete neighborhoods, accessibility and sustainable mobility, a diverse and resilient local economy, vibrant public spaces, and affordability (


Livability is a broad concept where it means meeting essential needs ranging from food and basic security to beauty, cultural expression, and a sense of belonging to a community or a place (NAP 2002). It started in the 1960s as a concept for quality of life, which questioned the relationship between economic and social well-being. Quality of life was discussed in relation with a citizen’s satisfaction with residential environments, traffic, crime rate, employment opportunities, or the amount of open space. In recent years, livability relates to sustainability where our present consumptive patterns can be sustained for future generations. Livability linked to sustainable development attempts to offer an alternative development model to the rapid suburbanization and the high cost to ecological, economic, and social capital (Ling et al. 2006). Livability is also seen as a crosscutting concept that looks at the cumulative impacts of public and private actions and failures to act and attempts to explore the externality values by market mechanisms.

Some of the reasons for increased interest in livability in the USA and in other countries include the public’s concern for the quality of employment (full time, part time, wage rate, health insurance, retirement benefits), the increasing inequality and its relation to the residential environment (bad quality of life in areas poor live), and the concerns of urban life and consumption pattern that has resulted in pollution-linked health problems and our dependency on automobiles for transportation (NAP 2002). Similarly, at the global level, the integration of globalization and urbanization has transformed cities with the convergence of economic, cultural, demographic, technological, and political changes at a rapid rate. According to the United Nations (UN), “global flows of people, money, innovation, images, and ideas have changed people’s expectations about the qualities of their lives and the way they anticipate the future” (2017: 161). Overall, the welfare of the people worldwide keeps improving every year; however, the gain in well-being is not distributed equally across nations and cities. As a result, some cities appear as sites of opportunity, while others are sites of growing risk. These concerns have increased the demand for a livable concept in urban areas.

A metaphor widely used for livable city is seeing it as a living organism. In this model it consists of the (1) brain and the nervous system, which are the governance and participation where the city designs visions and plants, monitors and adjusts to the changing circumstances; (2) the heart is the common value and public space of the city that gives its identity; (3) the different organs or parts are the neighborhoods, industrial clusters, downtown, parks, and the other structures; and (4) the circulatory and nervous systems include the transportation routes, infrastructure, waste disposal, communication lines, water flows, and green space (Timmer and Seymoar 2005: 5).

Basically, livability depends on three key dimensions: the economy, social well-being, and the environment. The economy should supply jobs and income, which would help the residents’ health and meet their basic needs. Social well-being addresses the justice issues looking at the spatial distribution of economic and environmental resources as a fair system. Environment is critical as it provides natural resources, assimilates waste, and balances the relationship between people and the natural world. When one or more dimensions cease to function, society deteriorates resulting in population loss, poverty, social conflict, and rampant environmental health problems. Under this framework, livability is just another form of sustainable development.

Indicators of Livability

Many cities have embarked on the livability momentum and have created plans and programs to implement them. The indicators intersect the three dimensions of the livability concept (Table 1). In the USA, one of the earliest plans was the Envision Utah started in 1997 to promote livability in the northern Utah region. It was developed to support a growth strategy, a common vision for the future to guide residents, businesses, and government agencies in the state. It identified six primary goals, (1) enhancing air quality, (2) increasing mobility and transportation choices, (3) preserving critical lands, (4) conserving and maintaining availability of water resources, (5) providing housing opportunities for a range of family and income types, and (6) maximizing efficiency in public infrastructure investments to promote the other goals (NAP 2002: 29). Some of the strategies the plan employed to achieve these goals included:
  • Promoting walkable development by encouraging new and existing developments to include a mix of uses with pedestrian-friendly design.

  • Promoting the development of a region-wide transit system that could utilize buses, bus ways, light rail, lower-cost self-powered rail technology, commuter rail, and small buses to make transit more effective and convenient.

  • Promoting the development of a network of bikeways and trails for recreation and commuting.

  • Fostering transit-oriented development such as housing and commercial developments that incorporate and encourage various forms of public transportation.

  • Preserving open lands by encouraging developments that include open areas and providing incentives for the reuse of currently developed lands.

  • Restructuring water bills to encourage water conservation.

  • Fostering mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable neighborhoods to provide a greater array of housing choices.
    Table 1

    New-generation livability indicators (NAP 2002)




    Hours of paid work at the living wage

    Students trained for local jobs

    Use of toxic materials in economy

    Diversity of job base

    Voting rate

    Vehicle-miles traveled

    Wages paid and spent locally

    Percentage covered by health insurance

    Percentage of recyclable products used

    Percentage of local economy based on renewable resources

    Welfare-to-workers above poverty

    Ratio of renewable to nonrenewable energy

Livability Index

In 2012, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) published the best cities ranking in the world (Table 2). The EIU used a livability index to rank cities on six categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, infrastructure, and spatial characteristics. The sixth category included spatial aspects of city life such as urban form (sprawl, green space), the geographical location of the city (natural assets, isolation, and connectivity), cultural assets, and pollution (EIU 2012). The ranking focused on the spatial characteristics because the researchers believed in a democratic system all residents can benefit from the natural assets and all can suffer from high air pollution. As the lead author of the report wrote, “it is an aspect of city life that can be enjoyed by all and escaped by none” (p. 7). This was directly related to the definition of livability and included the following parameters.
  • Green space: Distribution of green spaces within the metropolitan region, the number of local green spaces, and the number of metropolitan scale green spaces.

  • Sprawl: It is the excessive spreading out of the urban fabric and is seen as having a negative impact on the quality of urban life – it decreases accessibility, encourages private automobile use, makes public transport expensive, and degrades the quality of the natural environment around the city.

  • Natural assets: These include natural areas like sea, river, lake, mountain over 500 m, and protected areas within a radius of 50–100 km.

  • Cultural assets: This was measured by counting the number of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites within the city or its vicinity.

  • Connectivity: This looked at the city’s connectivity with the rest of the world such as number of other cities that can be reached by plane from the city and average number of daily flights leaving from the city.

  • Isolation: This is a negative impact on the livability of the city. It was measured by the number of other large cities with a population of over 750,000 in a 200 km radius.

  • Pollution: Air pollution was measured as the concentration of particulate matter of over 10 micrometers (PM10).
    Table 2

    The ten best cities and ten least livability cities (EIU 2018)

    Best livability cities

    Livability index score

    Least livability cities

    Livability index score



















    Port Moresby






















Principles of Livability

Livability has emerged as an important concept in urban planning. It is applied in wide variety of contexts such as transportation, community development, resilience, and sustainability. Livability first appeared in the 1950s; however, it was widely adopted after the 1999 Livability Agenda, which proposed to preserve green space, ease traffic congestion, and implement smart growth strategies (Herrman and Lewis 2015). In the USA, the AARP adopted livability at the community level and defines it as “A livable community is one that has affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate mobility options, which together facilitate personal independence and the engagement of residents in civic and social life” (AARP 2005: 2). The earliest principles for livable city were developed by Lennard in 1987 which states:
  • In the livable city, all can see and hear each other. As opposed to the dead city, where people are segregated and isolated.

  • In a good city, dialogue or conversation is important. As Lewis Mumford said, the city is “a place designed to offer the widest facilities for significant conversation.” These dialogues bring people together and install a sense of belonging and ownership.

  • In a livable city, the public realm offers many activities, festivals, and events that bring residents together.

  • A good city is not dominated by fear, especially, from disturbances or troublesome behavior of the young people.

  • A good city offers the public space as a place of social earning and socialization, where the adults and citizens can serve as models and teachers. For example, children “can only learn human competencies, social skills and functional values through contact with their fellow city inhabitants” (p. 16).

  • A livable city meets many functions – economic, social, and cultural. A good city does not favor one function at the expense of other functions, e.g., roads for cars over pedestrians. It does not sacrifice one group for the sake of other groups. As a result, to make the city whole requires inclusion of all groups.

  • In a good city, all residents confirm and value each other. Each person is valued for their uniqueness and contribution to the community.

  • In a good city, aesthetic considerations, beauty, and meaning of physical environment have high priority. The physical and social environment are two sides of the same coin; it should be treated as opposite reality.

  • In a good city, the wisdom and knowledge of all people are appreciated and used (participatory decision-making process). People are not intimidated by experts.

Recently, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities has developed six livability principles (Herrman and Lewis 2015: 2–3):
  1. 1.

    Provide more transportation choices: Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

  2. 2.

    Promote equitable, affordable housing: Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

  3. 3.

    Enhance economic competitiveness: Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services, and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

  4. 4.

    Support existing communities: Target federal funding toward existing communities – through strategies like transit-oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public work investments and safeguard rural landscapes.

  5. 5.

    Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment: Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

  6. 6.

    Value communities and neighborhoods: Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban, or suburban.


Livability Framework

Singapore, one of the most livable cities in the world, under the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) has developed the Livable and Sustainable Cities Framework. The framework has three dimensions of livability: a competitive economy, a sustainable environment, and a high quality of life. The philosophy behind the livable city framework was based on the United Nations’ perspective that the social, environmental, and economic needs of a country must be met but in balance with one another. The view posited that if the environment is abused, then the people suffer, and economies decline. On the other hand, if people are poor and the national economy is weak, the environment suffers (CLC 2014). Singapore has developed its own sets of indicators to make the UN’s view a reality and become the most livable city in the world.
  1. 1.

    A competitive economy: Singapore’s competitive economy was crucial to the city’s livability goals. To ensure income to its residents, the city embarked on industrialization and improved its education to produce and retain talent that were vital for a healthy economy. Its economy was about people and their livelihood. The urban areas were planned to assist and move people around using transportation networks and manage essential services like water and sewerage facilities. A stable economy and distribution of prosperity helped Singapore reduce social and political instability.

  2. 2.

    A sustainable environment: From the beginning, Singapore made environmental sustainability its priority. It created strict environmental regulations for companies investing and relocating to the city. The planners created land use zoning that separated industrial areas from other areas. The country did not see environment protection at odds with its economic development. Rather, environmental values were embedded into a larger social and economic narrative to distinguish Singapore from its regional peers.

  3. 3.

    A high quality of life: In its early years, Singapore had slums, squatters, and substandard living conditions; however, in recent years it has succeeded in improving the living conditions of its citizens. Today, Singapore boasts a long list of indicators that contribute to its high livability score. These include home ownership rates, measures of building safety and quality, percentage of users satisfied with the parks, number of people living and working in the central area, percentage of people satisfied with living, working and leisure environment, park provision ration, percentage of public transport ridership, customer satisfaction levels for public transport, minimization of unaccounted for water, access to sanitation, utilization rate of state land, number of days in a year where the Pollutant Standards Index is in the “good range,” level of domestic water consumption per capita, water that meets WHO drinking water quality guidelines, number of air- and water-polluting incidents in a year, recycling rate, access to clean drinking water sources, size of flood-prone areas, and energy consumption levels.


How did Singapore achieve its goals? First, it implemented an integrated master planning development thinking for the long-term that had space for flexibility to innovate with the problems. One example of this planning was its solution to the waste disposal from the city. To manage its waste, a new offshore landfill, the Semakau landfill, was created in 1999 to be used beyond 2040. Steps to minimize the impact on the local environment were taken. In 2005, an assessment revealed no species were lost because of landfill and the government opened some part of the landfill as a natural area for visitors. Other long-term plans included the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System and the electronic road pricing system to manage traffic congestion. An Ethnic Integration Policy was implemented to prevent ethnic ghettos from forming in public housing estates.

Second, the city adopted a dynamic urban governance model where the public leadership interacts with citizens and other stakeholders to make decisions and how to manage physical and environmental resources. For good governance, Singapore adopted five policies – lead with vision and pragmatism, build a culture of integrity, cultivate sound institutions, involve the community as stakeholders, and work with markets. Singapore gives the roadmap toward livability.

Examples of Cities Around the World that Have Applied Singapore’s Livability Framework

Cities that score high on the livability measure have come to adopt the livability framework in their planning and implementation. These cities exemplify the importance of integrated master planning and effective governance to make the city livable. Many cities applied long-term planning to gain a competitive edge on several indicators. Long-term thinking not only provides solutions to many social issues; it also allows cities to anticipate challenges before they arise and to make the necessary adjustments to stay on track. Below is the comparison of New York City and Bilbao, which have implemented the framework to make them livable (Table 3). In addition, examples of cities that have adopted some aspect of the framework are included.
Table 3

Global examples of livable cities (Vaggione and Ludher 2014)

Livability framework indicators

New York City (NYC)


Other cities

Long-term planning for problem-solving and sustained competitiveness

In 1811 the Commissioner’s Plan was designed to ease congestion and population growth. In the two centuries, this plan has been modified to address problems as they arise. The long-term planning continues today with the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Some recent examples include the redesigning of Times Square and Brooklyn Bridge waterfront

In the 1970s, the city lost almost 50% of its industries to other locations. To recover, the city implemented the Revitalization plan in 1989 and had eight long-term pillars – developing human capital; advancing service sectors in industrial region; coordinated, multimodal mobility system; environmental regeneration; updating infrastructure and urban renewal; making culture a symbol of the city; adopting public-private partnership; and social inclusion and the involvement of citizens in the effort

Melbourne, Australia

In 1929, the city’s strategic plan was aimed to protect property values, prevent misuse of land, control traffic congestion, and distribute recreational spaces. Since then several plans were implemented. In 1994, the city initiated the Places for People programmed to build strong communities and livable public spaces in inner city areas. It also launched the Postcode 3000 to redesign Swanston Street. The inner-city population increased from 1600 in 1991 to 15,000 in 2006. The city continues plan for long-term and revealed the Plan Melbourne in 2013 to drive economic growth and livability while protecting its environment and heritage

The integration of agencies empowers transformative solutions

The Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability became the vehicle to coordinate planning and action across city agencies, the City Council, and stakeholders. Such coordination was key for executing the strategic agency for the city. One example of this coordination was the High Line Park, initiated by a civil society group, Friends of Highline

Coordination became indispensable to implement the 1991 Strategic Plan. A public-private not-for-profit agency, Bilbao Ria 2000 was created that spread the decision-making different tiers of government. For example, urban planning at the local government level; fiscal spending at the provincial level; and land was managed by the national government

Tianjin Eco-city

The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city project is an example of cross-border collaboration between Singapore and China. A multitier collaboration structure was created to facilitate collaboration between agencies from both nations for urban planning, water, environment, housing, and transport. The outcome was the principle summarized as “1 axis-3 centers-4 districts, 1 island-3 waters-6 corridors”

Adaptability to changing conditions is essential: Governments must replace their linear model of development with evolving change

NYC has continuously adapted and reinvented itself to the changing times. Times Square, Columbus Circle, and the Triborough Bridge are examples of its flexible planning. The PlaNYC allows future governments to update it every 4 years, thus creating conditions that would enable continuity

It took nearly 20 years for Bilbao to transform from industrial to services economy. Its strategy has evolved from building infrastructure to attracting skilled people. Its newest plan, BM-30, values innovation, professionalism, identity, community, and openness

Cape Town, South Africa

Violence was a major challenge to the city. In 2006, it implemented a project to create safe and sustainable neighborhoods by reducing social, cultural, and economic and institutional exclusions. The project relied on community involvement, and the end results were 20 public facilities, police became community safety officers, and anti-gender violence centers were established

Plans are effective only if execution is embedded in the planning process

From its onset, PlaNYC’s goal of achieving a “greener, greater NYC” was structured in ten categories – housing and neighborhoods, parks and public space, brownfields, waterways, water supply, transportation, energy, air quality, solid waste, and climate change. Nearly 127 initiatives were implemented to reach above categories. For example, to achieve parks and public space goals of having 85% New Yorkers within 400 m of a park, more than 200 acres of parkland was created connecting 74% of residents within 10-min walking distance

The city created the BM-30 plan to implement its strategic plan under four crosscutting themes: (i) the quality of human resources, to assess how human capacity is contributing to well-being and competitiveness; (ii) internationalization, the degree of integration of Bilbao with global economic networks; (iii) knowledge society, evaluating the penetration of technologies and especially information and communication; and (iv) sustainable development, looking at how the benefits and costs of growth are balanced

Ahmedabad, India

The city of Ahmedabad became from one of the most polluted cities to the most livable city in India with the successful implementation of two projects – bus rapid transit system and Sabarmati Riverfront Project. The Sabarmati project revitalized land on both sides of the Sabarmati river and improved the environment through the installation of a water management system, which also control floods. The bus rapid system used 220 environmentally friendly buses leading to a 33% reduction in its operating costs and doubled ridership in 4 months

Innovation is a requisite to stay ahead – without innovation, cities will fall behind

To keep innovated, NYC launched the Applied Sciences NYC in 2010 to create jobs in media, medicine, and urban systems and design. The city has earmarked support funds for the initiative and subsidized city-owned land

The city has transformed its governance toward lateral and bottom-up model to turn ideas of broad stakeholders into policy. Recently, the city has identified its culture as a key dimension and included in its strategic plans. Guggenheim Museum serves as a symbol of its cultural heritage

Copenhagen (a pioneer in innovative urban development)

Copenhagen’s 1947 Finger Plan was a pioneer approach to regional urban planning. A train network became the spine of each finger, with towns built at each station. While the wedges between the fingers were left for farmland, forests, and green spaces. The Finger Plan added a sixth finger in the 1990s. The city continues to lead in innovation as highlighted by its ambitious Copenhagen Climate Plan, whose goal is to make the city carbon-neutral by 2025. For its innovate green solutions, Copenhagen was labeled the 2014 European Green Capital

Governance principles

Leadership connects vision with pragmatism – leadership that puts city interests over partisan agendas

NYC have had 109 mayors since 1665; however, Bloomberg (2002–2013) had a lasting and positive impact on the city. He understood that city centers were becoming desirable places to live. He was successful in tackling crosscutting issues in education, transportation, public health, and public spaces by using a results-based approach. He started the PlaNYC sustainability programs and focused on resilience, climate change, and energy

Bilbao had 89 mayors since 1835. However, mayor Azkuna (1999–2014) was indispensable behind the city’s turnaround during his rule. He was known for his ability to create consensus and his willingness to negotiate common ground and to generate credibility in public administration. For his achievements, he won the World Mayor of the Year award in 2012

Surabaya, Indonesia

Among several exemplary leaders in Indonesia, Tri Rismaharini who became mayor of Surabaya is renowned. She transformed Indonesia’s second largest city into a green and clean city through the revitalization of its public open spaces. Under her leadership, the city engages the public to improve the environment, by creating “waste banks,” where waste is sorted, recycled, or sold, providing income for the sorters. For its efforts in engaging the community in its environmental initiatives, Surabaya was awarded the “CityNet C2C” award for public participation in 2012

Integrity is the foundation of sustained value creation – trustworthiness of the administration is key for city governments

To establish a system of trust and certainty, the city established the Data Transparency Law requiring each government agency to post a compliance plan with all public data. For information sharing, the city created a NYC 311 call center that average more than 50,000 calls a day. The center provides citizens with information on street condition, report noise levels, taxi services and consumer complaints and obtain information on social events. Feedbacks collected from the 311 serves as a real-time indicator of public concerns and enable the delivery of targeted services in NYC

Bilbao ranked the most transparent local government from 2008 to 2012. Under the BM-30 plan, the administration removed barriers to efficiency were identified and made more accountable. These barriers included departmental compartmentalization and hiring of staff for the city

Hong Kong

Corruption’s negative impacts include erosion of public trust, stifling competition, and preventing growth, all affecting livability. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hong Kong was one of the most corrupt cities in the world. In 2013, the city ranked 15th among 177 countries in the Corruptions Perception Index. This success was because of the government’s Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974 which helped reestablish public trust in the administration

A city works as well as its institutions

Two agencies were instrumental in NYC’s urban planning. The Department of City Planning was responsible for the macro-level development that developed framework for physical planning and is responsible for land use and environmental review. The Regional Plan Association, an independent, not-for-profit urban research and advocacy organization, played a role in regional planning that benefitted NYC. The organization is currently working on issues such as climate change, fiscal uncertainty, and declining economic opportunity at the regional level

Two institutions were instrumental in Bilbao’s revitalization. At the strategic level, the BM-30 formed in 1991 carried out planning, research, and promotion activities to revitalize the city. At the execution level, the Bilbao Ria 2000 formed in 1992 assisted the revitalizing efforts by enabling policy, funding streams, and technical projects. Profits from rezoned government lands were reinvested in the regeneration of public space, roads, and other infrastructure projects

Bogota, Colombia

The city is an example of community-driven planning. The Bogota Como Vamos (BCV) was formed in 1997 as public-private partnership. BCV’s goals are to improve quality of life through evaluation of the health, education, housing and utilities, and public finance sectors. Data and feedback collected are used by policymakers for planning. BCV has been replicated in other cities including Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga and in Lima, Peru, and Mexico City

Empowering the community multiplies policy impact – this gives residents a sense of belonging and civic pride

NYC is divided into 59 community districts, each represented by a board. Community-based planning includes projects to preserving neighborhood character, promoting affordable housing, and encouraging new development. The planning office provides technical assistance to community-based organizations to implement projects. In addition, the city launched the NYC Service in 2009, a regional volunteer center that engaged 5.4 million volunteers in more than 38 initiatives. In this structure, volunteer groups get $1000 grants and planning assistance, as well as access to city services

The Bilbao municipality is divided into eight districts. District councils facilitate community involvement and serve as a communication channel for the community to express their concerns. In addition to district councils, the city has created Sector Councils that bring relevant stakeholders, city administration, public and private entities, and independent experts to discuss local issues

Porto Alegre, Brazil

Alegre’s participatory budgeting process has been praised for promoting participatory democracy by the World Bank and the UN. 3.5% of the city’s population take part in the process. Every March, citizens from all 16 districts convene to discuss 5 main themes – transportation, education, leisure and culture, health and social welfare, economic development and taxation, and city organization and urban development. They also select representatives to meet with municipal authorities. This program has increased transparency in budget allocation and reduced tax evasions

The right development policies enable partnerships with the market

NYC has been working with private and nonprofit sector in the revitalization projects, especially in managing its public space. One example of this is the management of Central Park, which managed by the Central Park Conservancy that is responsible for the maintenance and operations of the park and provides 75% of the park’s annual budget. The city funds lighting, maintenance of park roads, and enforcement. This arrangement has prevented over commercialization of the park area and have preserved for public use. In addition, the city has 69 Business Improvement Districts that collect levy from local businesses and landlords and uses the revenue on community projects

The city has sought managerial, financial, and technical expertise from the private sector for the city’s strategic plan. One example of this partnership is the revitalization of the Abandoibarra area, which was a rail yard and has been transformed into a mixed-use destination, with corporate towers, shopping facilities, residential buildings, and hotels

New Taipei, Taiwan

The city since 2010 has worked with businesses and community organizations to deliver social services. Two programs stand out as successful examples of this partnership. The Infant Day Care Centers, to assist parents the city set up 26 public and 77 private infant day care centers. The Eat with Love program provides food to would-be youth shoplifters and is totally funded by the private sector and donations. Nearly, 1970 stores participate in this program

New Urbanism

The United Nation in 2016 released the New Urban Agenda to support the agency’s 20-year sustainable urban development agenda. It is seen as a roadmap for building cities as economic engines and centers of cultural and social well-being while conserving the environment. Leaders of the world are committed to provide basic services to all citizens, ensure all citizens have access to equal opportunities and cleaner cities, and promote green public spaces.

We commit ourselves to promoting the creation and maintenance of well-connected and well distributed networks of open, multipurpose, safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces, to improving the resilience of cities to disasters and climate change, including floods, drought risks and heat waves, to improving food security and nutrition, physical and mental health, and household and ambient air quality, to reducing noise and promoting attractive and livable cities, human settlements and urban landscapes and to prioritizing the conservation of endemic species. (Agenda 67: 19)

The UN-Habitat claims urban agendas promote sustainable development by promoting peace, prosperity, and social justice. These principles should act as guideposts for the much-needed transformation. According to the UN-Habitat (2017), urban areas consist of six dynamic components – geographies, ecologies, economies, cultures, institutions, and technologies – that relate to sustainability of urban development. Each of these components is dynamic and in relation to one another. The interaction of these components affects the structure and resource of a city. For example, less dense areas increase infrastructure costs and energy consumption, affect mobility, transform agricultural land, and push poor out to less desirable areas. Similarly, transforming all components will make urban areas livable, which should be the sole goal of city governments.

The new urban agenda attempts to overcome the problems of the current system and offers principles necessary to make a shift in strategic and policy thinking. It includes five major principles that align with the livable framework (UN-Habitat 2017):
  1. 1.

    Ensuring that the new urbanization model contains mechanisms and procedures that protect and promote human rights and the rule of law: A well-planned and managed urbanization will fulfill essential human rights topics like decent work, healthcare, adequate housing, access to basic services, a voice in public decision-making, transparent institutions, and judiciary systems.

  2. 2.

    Ensuring equitable urban development and inclusive growth: To ensure equity in urban development, all levels of government and development stakeholders must adopt equity-based approaches.

  3. 3.

    Empowering civil society, expanding democratic participation, and reinforcing collaboration: This encourages transformative change through equal and balanced participation by all members of the society (poor indigenous, migrants). This requires a new form of political organization, social participation, and policy changes that benefits the majority.

  4. 4.

    Promoting environmental sustainability: By establishing a connection between environment, urban planning, and governance with issues such as land and resource use, energy consumption, rural-urban linkages, material flows, land fragmentation, and climate, this principle integrated green growth in urban planning and management of cities.

  5. 5.

    Promoting innovations that facilitate learning and the sharing of knowledge: Create an environment for participatory learning when long-term collective, collaborative, and cumulative learning is connected to knowledge generation process to achieve desirable goals and targets.


In addition to the five principles, the New Urban Agenda also considers other elements such as promote smart, greener cities, with adequate use of technology, which establishing critical connections between science, the environment, economic growth, urban planning, and governance (UN-Habitat 2017).


Making livability success depends on the willingness of the city government to adopt it early in the planning state and continue with involving the community, work with grassroot organizations, and integrate the concept into policy, planning, and politics. However, the prospect fails in communities if they do not (Ling et al. 2006):
  1. 1.

    Offer sufficient social space so that effective innovative-based networks develop that support the overall themes of the community, e.g., the research networks found within the Silicon Valley or the sport training networks resulting from the extensive Olympic and other training facilities at Canmore, Alberta.

  2. 2.

    Provide an economic dynamism with a critical mass of entrepreneurs, diversity, and creativity, sufficient to attract and retain talented people.

  3. 3.

    Encourage a culture within local governments to support innovation both in economic and cultural matters.

  4. 4.

    Recognize that if a city is focused around a particular large institution or industry sector, e.g., a university, resource extraction and then sufficient consideration need to be made for service and employment provisions for spouses and family members of those employed by the institution.


The biggest challenge to livable communities is the unequal development or the focus on downtown and wealthier parts of the city, with the fringe areas and less affluent areas left with old development model (Ling et al. 2006).


As more people continue to live in urban areas, making cities livable should be the priority. The current urbanization pattern in both developed and developing nations is not people-friendly but is rather detrimental to social well-being values like public transportation, environmental sustainability, economy, and inclusiveness. The livable framework provides some options for cities to adopt and improve the living conditions for the residents. The current urban sustainability model is conceived and implemented and evaluated one municipality or neighborhood at a time. In this model, urban projects that benefit one district may have negative impacts on other areas. Gentrification is a good example of this. As the neighborhood becomes greener, it becomes expensive because of the amenities like walkability, public transport, farmers markets, and hiking and bike trails. As a result, social displacement can happen, where low- and middle-income residents are forced to less desirable peripheral areas. As such, in cities like New York and Freiburg, greening has come at the expense of community stability and racial and economic diversity and affecting regional environmental goals (Wachsmuth et al. 2016). Another example includes the production and consumption of goods such electronics. Cities like San Francisco that have low-carbon footprints benefits by producing products in other countries and therefore, export their carbon budget to cities in Asia. Nearly 80% of San Franciscans’ greenhouse emission is produced outside the city (Wachsmuth et al. 2016). Therefore, the livable cities should reduce their impact within and outside their boundaries. Doing so will make the society more livable.

Finally, a livable city should be measured in its overall ecological footprint and should be designed to internalize costs and benefits of it socioeconomic activities. Some ways to transform urban sustainability include (Wachsmuth et al. 2016):
  1. 1.

    Urban planners and researchers should supplement neighborhood-specific and city-centric indicators such as walkability or commuting by public transport, with ones that better capture the larger dimensions of ecological sustainability and social equality.

  2. 2.

    Low-carbon policies adopted by large cities that carry out standardized, consumption-based carbon footprint analysis should include the extent to which emissions levels are correlated with class and income.

  3. 3.

    Urban policymakers need to treat social equity and ecological effectiveness as mutually reinforcing dynamics in urban sustainability. This entails including different groups in the policymaking process and making governance inclusive.




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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWinona State UniversityWinonaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luciana Brandli
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Passo FundoPasso FundoBrazil