How will these resources help you? 

Sustainability is at the centre of GCSE and A-Level syllabuses, and with urbanisation increasing rapidly, we cannot discuss cities without their need to be sustainable. The ‘golden thread’ running through many Geography curriculums is that of sustainability, yet students often only recognise its more limited scope of ecology and green energy. These resources will allow you to challenge their misconceptions by expanding this definition to economic activity, transport, and inclusive communities. They explore the components of sustainability and how cities have achieved these, as well as a more solutions-focused view, providing up-to-date innovative strategies that remain equitable to the more disadvantaged. Students can consolidate their learning by assessing their own community as well as others against their own criteria. The resources also show how innovation is leading the way towards sustainability in urban areas. 

What is a sustainable city?

The Sustainable City

by Steven Cohen, published by Columbia University Press, (2017), 9780231182058

This book is an ideal starting point when seeking to understand sustainability in general (the focus of Chapter 1), and, in particular, the challenges cities face due to rapid urbanisation and the management strategies required to meet these sustainably. Management strategies are central in GCSE and A-Level syllabuses, and this book addresses these in the context of energy, water, waste, sewage, food, transport and space in Chapter 2. This makes this resource relevant to studies of units on Resource Management as well as urban environments. After exploring sustainable lifestyles (which can be used at KS3 and whole school projects), the second half of the book focuses on megacity case studies in both HICs (New York), and NEEs (Beijing). Importantly, this book ensures an understanding of sustainability beyond an ecological sense, covering the economy, society and integrated communities. It is essential that students are aware that the very definition of sustainability encompasses these elements.  

How do we achieve sustainability?

Reimagining Sustainable Cities: Strategies for Designing Greener, Healthier, More Equitable Communities

by Stephen M. Wheeler and Christina D. Rosan, published by University of California Press, (2021), 9780520381216

This book is more recently published and is a more practical guide to tackling sustainability challenges in cities. It is a timely resource following COP 26 and the drive towards carbon neutrality. The focus of the book is on how to achieve this equitably and is solution-based in offering global case studies and alternative problem-solving strategies. The book argues that while sustainability has been on the urban agenda for many years, progress has not been fast enough. Chapters such as ‘How do we adapt to the climate crisis?’, and ‘How can cities better support human development?’ have many links across the geography syllabus at all levels. Sustainability can often be misunderstood by students, and this resource will equip teachers in addressing some of their misconceptions, as well as encouraging them to think more creatively in developing management strategies.  

Is Your Community sustainable?

Is Milton Keynes a sustainable community?

by Nikki Flanagan and Matthew Morgan, published by Royal Geographical Society

This virtual fieldwork resource focuses on urban sustainability on a more local level, allowing students to embed the principles of sustainability and apply to a familiar setting at GCSE or A-Level. The resources can be adapted to any urban area. In this instance, the resources focus on Milton Keynes. A detailed article is provided on the first link to revisit the meaning of sustainability and lay out instructions for the task. As well as photo interpretation, of particular interest is the Egan Wheel, given to students as a tool by which to measure the sustainability of the area under investigation.

Audiovisual clip

Planet Oil: The Treasure That Conquered the World - Sustainable cities

published by BBC, (2015)

Professor Iain Stewart takes the viewer on a virtual trip to Masdar in Abu Dhabi, a city aiming at sustaining itself on renewable energy only.

Further materials

London Environment Strategy, Executive Summary by The Mayor of London, published by Greater London Authority, (2018), 9781847816955 Access this resource
The Urban Green by WWF International, (2016) Watch this video
David Newell is Head of Geography at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex. He has held the GA’s Secondary Geography Quality Mark since 2015, and has worked as a Specialist Leader in Education, advising schools on improving their Geography provision.

Text © David Newell, 2022.