Smart Growth: A Powerful Tool for Creating Sustainable Cities

By Isabel Serna Published on Apr. 11, 2023

According to the United Nations projections, by 2050, 68% of the world's population will live in cities, and urbanization is expected to grow to another 2.5bn. As cities become increasingly populated and resources more and more sparse, it’s essential to have a sustainable plan for the cities of the future.

Here’s where smart growth comes in. This new concept aims to achieve this goal by planning and developing strategies to improve quality of life while promoting economic development, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

This article will explore how businesses, entrepreneurs, governments, and citizens can use new approaches to achieve their goals while protecting our planet and ensuring a sustainable future for all.

Smart growth - why is it important?

Smart growth is an approach to urban planning that aims to foster sustainable communities by designing efficient and innovative urbanizations that promote economic development while preserving wildlife. It uses existing infrastructure and resources more efficiently, creating cost-effective cities that reduce pollution and provide better access to critical services such as public transport.

The principles of smart growth

The new concept is based on three main principles:

  • Compact building design: This innovative solution aims to accommodate more on less. It uses the least amount of land to develop and support infrastructure, which helps preserve natural areas and requires less funding for building infrastructure
  • Sustainable transportation: Having a wide range of transportation options promotes the use of public transport, cycling, and walking over single-occupancy vehicles
  • Mixed-use development: This principle focuses on creating walkable communities that combine residential, commercial, and retail development. Its main objective is encouraging economic investment while reducing vehicle dependency, traffic congestion, and air pollution

The power of smart energy solutions

It’s no longer enough to hope for our planet's healthy and sustainable future; we need concrete steps to ensure it.

Innovative energy strategies are essential for businesses, governments, entrepreneurs, and citizens to help create lasting solutions, such as preserving habitats, conserving energy, and making intelligent decisions about reducing water waste, amongst other things.

By embracing technological energy initiatives on a large scale, cities worldwide can drastically reduce their carbon footprints to preserve the environment for future generations.

Now, to promote and implement innovative strategies for our collective future, we must have a greater understanding of its benefits:

  • Environmental: By reducing urban sprawl and boosting compact development, smart growth can help preserve natural resources and habitats. Cities that adopt this approach can conserve energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Social: One of the most significant advantages of this approach is that everyone has access to affordable housing, public transportation, and essential services
  • Economic: As previously mentioned, smart energy promotes economic growth by creating mixed-use urban areas that foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and resource conservation. It also leads to the preservation of land and open space

This new way of achieving sustainable growth has the potential to revolutionize societies, turning the economy toward a new era of productivity and sustainability. Through intelligent development, communities will have better access to fresh ideas across industries, providing economic freedom and opportunity outside of traditional markets.

How can technology be used to create more sustainable cities?

With the rise of global warming, creating smart sustainable cities has become crucial for our well-being. By implementing advanced technology, these cities can enhance operational efficiency, urban services, and competitiveness while addressing the economic, social, and environmental concerns we are currently facing, becoming sustainable and smart.

There are two key areas where technology has played a vital role in creating sustainable cities:

Workforce transformation

In many ways, the global pandemic has forced us to rethink the future of our cities. The necessity to adapt has led organizations to shift their focus to digital tools to keep their businesses running smoothly, which made many realize that a connected workforce means efficiency improvements.

But this shift towards digitization also means that outdated systems, such as spreadsheets, are being replaced by modern software solutions, like software-as-a-service, commonly known as SaaS, streamlining workflows and making distribution easier.

Transforming how cities and organizations operate means building a connected workforce that can operate remotely while still having centralized access to data and information. The pandemic forced us to rethink how we work, resulting in a more connected and sustainable future.


Transport innovation

Even though we have a long way to go, smart mobility remains one of the main focuses of smart growth. As consumers' demand for greener alternatives increases and new technologies emerge, the transportation industry is pressured to reach net-zero targets and transition into a cleaner economy.

In addition to the long-term desire to save fuel costs, people worldwide are turning to electric vehicles to protect the environment. According to CNBC, by 2030, electric cars are expected to increase from three mn to 125mn. With time, experts predict electric vehicles will penetrate the market and most likely become the preferred transportation choice.

The impact of smart sustainable cities in 2023

The idea of smart sustainable cities may sound far away, but the future is happening now.

While most of the world has catching up to do, some cities are using the Internet of Things to meet their current and future needs. Here are three European cities using innovative technologies to stay connected and become more sustainable:

Copenhagen, Denmark

In pursuit of its goal to become the first carbon-neutral city in the world by 2025 and a fossil-fuel-free country by 2050, Copenhagen has launched multiple initiatives to combine technology and sustainability to create a healthier environment.

A great example of this initiative is Copenhill, one of the city's significant landmarks, which is an energy plant that efficiently transforms waste into energy that can power houses and buildings.

In addition to its sustainability initiatives, Copenhagen also uses technology to maintain the city's infrastructure closer to real-time. By using wireless data from mobile devices, GPS in buses, and sensors in garbage cans, the city can monitor its state and make improvements to decrease traffic, air pollution, and CO2 emissions.

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich is one of the leading smart cities when it comes to sustainability. In 2018 the city launched "Smart City Zurich" to meet its long-term goals of promoting innovation and transforming it into a Smart City. Zurich’s initiatives mainly focus on education, efficient public transport, upgrading the city's digital infrastructure, waste reduction, and using renewable energies.

To this day, Zurich can produce 80% of its electricity with renewable energy sources, and over 40% of its waste is recycled.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

In 2009, Amsterdam launched the “Amsterdam Smart City” initiative, marking the beginning of the city's environmental activities. Planning to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% in 2025, the program uses cutting-edge technologies to meet its environmental goals.

This city has installed sensor-based intelligent meters in its buildings, allowing residents to monitor their energy consumption in real-time. Meanwhile, public facilities are fitted with sensors to prevent energy waste, activating heating, cooling, and lighting based on occupancy, paving the way toward a greener future.

The key to achieving a sustainable future

As businesses, entrepreneurs, governments, and citizens, our collective duty is to ensure a sustainable and equitable future. With the proper support and infrastructure, smart cities can create more sustainable societies for future generations.

Plug and Play Tech Center is committed to empowering cities worldwide to partner with businesses and startups to become more sustainable and prosperous. Our innovation platform continues to research and develop smart solutions to tackle global sustainability challenges for the cities of the future.