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Chapter 4 - The Built Environment


This Chapter of the course will examine sustainability in the built environment. This will first be done first at the individual and household level (e.g. water use in a household). The concepts and practice of green building will be discussed. Past, present and future developments in urban transportation will be examined. The issue of environmental sustainability (air, water, soil) will be explored in detail. A systems analysis of sustainable environments and the efforts of parallel public processes involving groups of people will be used to illustrate the dimensional modes of sustainability in this context. Students will analyze sustainability in public administration and urban life; in public health; in education; in commerce; as well as sustainability in energy consumption and land use in the urban space.


Chapter Parts

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 1 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 1 - Green Urbanism

There is a challenging reality of our human history that urban cities, especially those with high population density and long histories of unplanned development, are perhaps the least sustainable environs of human society when our current considerations of "sustainability" are applied. The characteristics of cities that exemplify green urbanism include a linkage with their ecological footprint, biophilicity, closed metabolism, self-sufficiency, and a focus on sustainable lifestyles, health and quality of life (Beatley, 2000: Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities).

"Green Urbanism makes every effort to minimize the use of energy, water and materials at each stage of the city’s or district’s life-cycle, including the embodied energy in the extraction and transportation of materials, their fabrication, their assembly into the buildings and, ultimately, the ease and value of their recycling when an individual building’s life is over. Today, urban and architectural design also has to take into consideration the use of energy in the district’s or building’s maintenance and changes in its use; not to mention the primary energy use for its operation, including lighting, heating and cooling." (Steffen Lehmann, 2005/2010).

green urbanism figure outline int he component parts

Figure 1. Above: The three pillars of Green Urbanism, and the interaction between these pillars. Figure 2. Above: The holistic concept of Eco-City has again a balanced relationship between the urban area (city) and the rural area (countryside). Both diagrams by Steffen Lehmann, 2005/2010.


  • green urbanism
  • ecocity
  • urban stainability
  • zero fossil-fuel energy use
  • zero waste
  • zero emissions
  • embodied energy
  • poly-centric cities
  • passive design principles


  1. Steffen Lehmann, "Green Urbanism: Formulating a Series of Holistic Principles", S.A.P.I.EN.S, 3.2 | 2010, [Online], Online since 12 October 2010.
    URL : http://sapiens.revues.org/1057.


Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 2 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 2 - Community Sustainability

At the global level, two trends are converging. On one hand, natural systems are deteriorating throughout the world. On the other hand, population and consumption are increasing. The majority of this population growth is in developing countries even though developed countries are the primary consumers of natural resources and global wealth. Twenty percent of the world’s population consumes 70 percent of its material resources and holds 80 percent of the world’s wealth. An average American has an ecological footprint of 24 acres versus the average world citizens’ footprint, which is 5.6 acres. As these two trends—rising population and consumption and declining natural systems—converge like two sides of a funnel, the margin for action diminishes.

We are on a trajectory of exponential population growth, overconsumption and environmental degradation that has severe negative and possibly irreversible effects. It is from this realization, that several communities around the world have initiated various sustainable community action agendas, projects, and plans to reorganize their cities and towns to reprioritize sustainable living practices, preserve their local environment and to sustain their health and social well being.


  • local society
  • local ecology
  • local solidarity
  • Agenda 21
  • urban sprawl
  • smart growth
  • land use planning
  • The Natural Step
  • mixed development

Suggested Reading

  1. University of Wisconsin Extension, Toward a Sustainable Community: A Toolkit for Local Government.
Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 3 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 3 - Green Building

LEED words inclduing green, renewable, ecology, architectureBuildings have an impact on many aspects of Earth. The environment, the habitat where they are located, and natural resources are three components of the natural world that are impacted by man-made structures. Green building is the creation of a structure where each aspect of the design, construction, renovation, and operation pays attention to use and reuse of materials in a resourceful and environmentally sound manner.  

Green building is receiving attention at a global level. The practices of constructing a building are changing in ways that help maintain the ecology of the surrounding site and minimize damaging effects on nature. Green buildings are sensitive to the natural environment, provide comfortable air quality and temperature, are effective with resources, including water, energy and material, and many other positives in comparison with standard buildings. With the addition of many new technologies, materials, and programs in the past decade, green building has become an achievable possibility, and one that will likely make up the future of all buildings.

Today, buildings contribute roughly 40% of primary energy use, 72% electricity consumption, 39% carbon dioxide emissions, and roughly 13.6% potable water consumption. Additionally, building construction accounts for a large portion of money spent globally annually, with nearly five trillion dollars spent each year. However, with many new options and improvements for green building, a residential demand for green living, and many new government initiatives to transition toward green buildings, the utilization of green construction in buildings has risen, and it is expected to continue to rise.  

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  • green building
  • US Green Building Council (USGBC)
  • LEED
  • LEED Certified
  • Smart Location & Linkage
  • Neighborhood Pattern & Design
  • Green Infrastructure & Buildings
  • Energy Star
  • green roofs
  • chilled beams
  • integrated photovoltaics
  • permeable paving
  • bamboo
  • aerated concrete blocks
  • structural sheathing panels
  • graywater reuse


  1. World Green Building Council, "What is Green Building"


(Photo credit: Warchi, 2010)

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 4 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 4 - The Urbanization of Poverty and Slums: Challenges for Sustainability

Kibera slum hphoto of man stand in a metal roofed small homeCities are focal centers for sustainability. The world's future is an urban future. The majority of global future population growth will occur in urban areas, and the infrastructure to support this growth in many developing areas is limited. This can result in the acceleration of unstable housing developments called slums, shanty-towns, squatter communities, and illegal or informal settlements. These areas are manifestations of urban poverty, and they are common in many rapidly growing urban centers around the globe. These areas typically lack basic services such as water and sanitation leading to poor health, disease, and higher rates of mortality and morbidity. The informal economies and lack of community services such as education and health care contribute to a chronically challenging life for those living in these high-density living areas.

Slum upgrading is a successful urban renewal approach to help in the provision of basic services and a pathway to stable housing and land tenure. Present and future urban planning will need to address the reality of rural to urban migration with sustainable, cost effective approaches to accommodating the population growth experienced by urban centers.


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  • Urbanization
  • Sustainable urbanization
  • Urban poverty
  • Slums
  • Sustainable development
  • Resilience
  • Urban planning
  • Rural to urban migration

Suggested Reading

  1. UN Habitat - World Cities Report 2020 - The Value of Sustainable Urbanization - Key Findings and Messages, pp xv-xxxvii

  2. UN Habitat - World Cities Report 2020 - The Value of Sustainable Urbanization - Chapter 1: Urbanization and Cities, Trends of a New Global Force, pp 1-42


(Photo credit: UN Photo)

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 5 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 5 - Urban Heat Island Effect

What is Urban Heat Island?
themal image of urban atlanta Urban heat island (UHI) is a term used to describe the increased temperature of city centers compared to rural surroundings. UHI is a result of high anthropogenic activity in densely populated areas. UHI is caused by an increase in impervious surfaces like asphalt, concrete, and buildings which have replaced the natural landscape and vegetation. During the daytime built surfaces absorb heat causing the surface temperature to increase. Typically, built surfaces have low heat emittance, therefore during nighttime heat is released causing not only an increase in day temperatures but at night as well (Fruh, 2010). In addition to the surface heat absorption/release, anthropogenic activities like space heating, air condition, transportation, cooking and industrial processes also introduce heat into the urban centers (Wilby, 2008).

Urban heat island does not only affect temperature. Due to the unique geometry of urban centers, the built environment can obstruct wind speed and reduced convective heat losses. The most important determinants of UHI have been summarized into eight different controls, which effect UHI magnitude and structure (Wilby, 2008):

  1. UHI intensity decreases with increasing wind speed.
  2. UHI intensity decreases with increasing cloud cover.
  3. UHI intensity is greatest during anticyclonic conditions.
  4. UHI intensity is best developed in the summer or warm half of the year.
  5. UHI intensity tends to increase with increasing city size and/or population.
  6. UHI intensity is greatest at night.
  7. UHI may disappear by day or the city may be cooler than the rural environs.
  8. Rates of heating and cooling are greater at rural sites than the city.


Section b) Why is Urban Heat Island a concern? (NEXT)

Section c) How Climate Change will affect UHI

Section d) Measuring the Urban Heat Island Effect

Section e) How can Urban Heat Island be Remediated?

Section f) Mitigation at Local/Regional/National Level

Section g) Conclusion

Section h) References



  • urban heat island (UHI)
  • anticyclonic
  • heat wave
  • climate change
  • thermal wavelengths
  • green roofs
  • cool roofs
  • cool pavements
  • surface and near-surface air temperatures
  • albedo

Suggested Reading

  1. USEPA Heat Island Effect Website

  2. USEPA Heat Island Compendium

(By Kiersten Lee/Gregory Möller)

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment, Part 6 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 4 - The Built Environment

Part 6 - Sustainable Transportation I

The twentieth century rise of the automobile has helped shape our lives, our cities and towns, and our commerce.  Reflecting on this history as we look ahead will help us design practical and efficient transportation systems, that maintain and improve quality of life, while minimizing impacts to our already degraded environment. A shift in our energy future that will become a reality in a few decades as we reach peak oil and liquid fuels become more challenged, demands our attention and our creativity. 

Our built environment will change with the change in methods and modes of transportation that will be driven by our energy future. Efficiencies in transportation will require design of a built environment that serves the needs of a growing population and their requirements for mobility and the commerce that serves them. Transportation costs will most certainly rise with the increased costs of energy that are predicted in our near future. Hence, we must have solution in design and technology that allows for a high quality of life with a more sustainable transportation system.

New ideas are surfacing and new approaches meeting the goals of sustainable transportation are beginning to take shape across the globe.  We have much to learn and even more to discover, as we move ourselves into our transportation future. 


Suggested Reading

  1. Executive Summary pp vi-vii, UN Interagency Report for Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference (2021)

  2. US DOE Sustainable Transportation
  3. UN Interagency Report for Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference (2021)

  4. International Transport Forum (ITF, 2018) Transport CO2 and the Paris Climate Agreement: Reviewing the Impact of Nationally Determined Contributions


(Photo credit: "Heavy Traffic" Drouu, 2008)