A Universal Charter for Creating Healthy, Sustainable, Just Cities and Settlements

IMCL’S definition of a sustainable city or settlement is one that is livable, healthy, economically and socially just.

1.     Fundamental values:
The economy-based GDP is not the best measure of the success of a city or settlement. It is a flawed accounting system. It measures only the current economic value of the city and counts many health and well-being costs (ill health, crime, etc.) as economic benefits (for the health industry, prison industry, etc.). Many long-term costs of development (e.g. air and water pollution) are deferred to future generations.

The measure of any truly livable city or society must begin with an independent evaluation of its health, beauty, equity and overall sustainability. The costs and benefits of every new project or program must be carefully evaluated with regard to all of these criteria.  

2.     Planning:
Planning for new development must be based on creating human-scale mixed-use urban villages that create a microcosm of the larger city, where varied residential, commercial, workplaces, services, recreational facilities and parks are within close walking distance for the majority. Various age groups, ethnicities and income groups need to be integrated to ensure that the poor do not become “invisible” to the wealthy, and to provide mutually beneficial work-related proximity. Planning, architecture and urban design solutions must not increase economic inequality.

Existing cities should establish an urban growth boundary. Within this, emphasis should be on creating appropriate infill while, at the same time, developing social infrastructure tools (e.g. land trusts, secure land tenure, cooperative arrangements, local capacity building) to protect the existing community, especially the poor, from speculation and displacement. Everyone has a right to shelter.

3.     Transportation planning:
Transportation planning must encourage independent, active mobility for all by placing priority on walking, biking and public transportation, making it more economical, pleasant and convenient to make most trips using these modes.

4.     Community Participation:
The approach to designing the public realm should be participatory, inclusive, multi-disciplinary, and evidence based. There should be no intervention without assessment. The design process for public amenities, facilities and policies/regulations must be structured to encourage inclusive and meaningful dialogue between design professionals and a diverse group of citizens representing all of those whose lives will be impacted. Special care must be taken to include members of vulnerable and often under-represented populations, especially elders, youth, and the poor.

Planning, architecture and urban design policies must not be developer-led: this privatizes profits at the expense of the common good, thus increasing economic inequality. Community members are the experts on the ground. They should be educated, equipped, and empowered to articulate insights, and treated as equals in achieving common goals. Communication needs to be two-way, between planners/urban designers and the community. The different needs, values and perspectives of all ethnic, socio-economic and age groups in the community must be represented and considered during the design process.

5.     Architecture and urban design:
Architecture and urban design must emphasize connectivity, walkability, human scale, a sense of place, accessibility, universal design, and the rich variety of experience typical of urban life.  It must foster acceptance and tolerance of those who are different, and promote human health and equity by design. The public realm should be welcoming, comfortable, and meaningful, and designed to accommodate activities and events appropriate to the culture. The design should reflect the culture and context, express identity (individual and collective), inclusiveness and diversity, foster a sense of belonging, and promote ownership and engagement. It should be legible, image-able, perceptually and actually safe, provide access to nature, stimulate the senses, and be ecologically/environmentally sustainable. Buildings and other elements of the urban fabric must be designed for durability, adaptability and true sustainability using local low energy materials and construction methods.

6.    Sustainability:
Long-term sustainable design addresses a multi-dimensional problem that requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Any responsible planning/urban design team must include social scientists, economists, ecological scientists, physical designers and members representing the affected community. Long-term sustainability means social, economic and ecological sustainability for the foreseeable future. Planners and designers must commit to designing cities that enable sustainable lifestyle choices.  The relation between sustainable cities and a sustainable lifestyle is symbiotic. Initial and lifetime costs of high-tech solutions must be weighed against the costs and lifespan of low tech solutions. Wherever possible, lower cost, low tech solutions with a long lifespan should receive priority.

7.     Nature:
Design principles should prioritize nature and foster biophilia. Nature must be fully integrated into the public realm, made accessible to all citizens, and benefit wildlife (e.g. through connected natural spaces, wildlife corridors, waterways). The planning process must give nature a seat at the table by including interdisciplinary / stakeholder representatives charged with conserving and respecting existing natural assets.

The public must be informed as to the many roles that nature can play in creating and maintaining a truly sustainable, healthy and livable city. Planning and zoning regulations must look 40-100 years ahead to create or preserve greenbelts and dedicated planned green spaces. Water use management at every level (including grey water from development, storm water runoff, floodplain exclusions) must receive a high priority in the planning and design process.