Exploring Urban Sustainability

Urban sustevent

On Thursday November 16th, Spire Ås arranged an event to explore urban sustainability. Spire Ås’ Georgia Townend was responsible for the event. She kicked off the evening with an introduction to urban sustainability, and gave some examples from around the world. After her introduction, a panel discussion with input from the audience further explored urban sustainability.

Georgia started her introduction with a review of the term “sustainability”, and what urban sustainability is. She posed the question of whether urban development can be sustainable, with mention of factors such as the planet’s biophysical limits and the likely impossibility of urban self-sufficiency, but on the other hand various technologies that can reduce environmental impacts.  She also spoke about urban inequality: the resource use of urban citizens is immensely different depending on lifestyle. In this first section of the event, Georgia brought up several key issues that outline the complexity of urban sustainability.

Georgia then discussed examples of cities where one has made conscious efforts for sustainability. In Freiburg, Germany, 70% of inhabitants have no car, and they have several solutions in place to lower their overall energy use. Curitiba, Brazil, was planned for sustainability and has for example a rapid bus transit system, as well as trash for tokens “green exchange”. Finally, Georgia mentioned urban sustainability in Oslo, a city where measures such as traffic tolls and heat recovery from the city’s sewage system are in place to lower the city’s environmental footprint.

Thereafter a panel was welcomed to the stage to further explore urban sustainability. The panel consisted of Joakim Gitlestad, the coordinator of Spire’s Urban Committee, NMBU professor of urban planning Petter Næss, and two representatives from VeganBo: a co-housing project in Oslo.


Through a discussion, the panel answered a range of questions from the audience. Among the topics discussed were limits to growth, up-cycling of current infrastructure as a less consumptive alternative to city development, and initiatives for sharing as an alternative to owning. The rebound effect in consumption was also discussed: if we reduce consumption in one part of life, will we increase consumption in another? Could reduced consumption in cities promote more air travel, for example? Co-living was discussed quite a bit, both in the context of Nordic cities such as Oslo and Aalborg, and with reference to slums as an example of mass co-living. Finally, green spaces were brought up as a tool to build community and ownership to food, but also with reference to the conflict between in-city green pockets, and densification to protect peri-urban areas.

Audience may conclude that a core challenge of urban sustainability is to find solutions which primarily reduce, rather than displace, negative environmental impacts.

Written by Ingvild Haugen

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