A good balance in the functioning of the city can only be achieved with the right mixture of social, economic and physical components. These relate to health, life skills, education, access to the labour market, and income. Sustainable urban life is ultimately facilitated by the physical composition of urban space, buildings and infrastructure. The sustainable, physical dimension concerns the construction of buildings and infrastructure, and has many variables: time (flexibility and adaptation), material (application, purchase, transport, reuse or degradability), energy (consumption, generation and storage), ecology (value to ecosystems), and the smart use of available space – a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce all over the world.
A clear vision of the future increase in our stock of buildings, covering not only ‘how’ but also ‘where’, is therefore vital in arriving at genuinely sustainable solutions. In this respect, concentrating the building volume is the only way forward. Finally, appreciation and connection play a role in securing the right balance. They are the ‘soft’ factors that dictate whether city dwellers want to maintain a particular environment – which largely determines its sustainability. That puts spatial quality and aesthetics back on the agenda, along with the role of the urban designer.