Can Urban Design Play a Role in Urban Sustainability? International developments / local challenges


Professor of Urban Design and Planning, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


There is widespread recognition today that we are living in a period of profound technological, social, economic and political change, and that this process of change is accelerating. Yet, there is less certainty about the nature and meaning of these changes—whether they should be regulated or liberalized, supported or resisted— and the kind of world they are leading to.
Despite these uncertainties and the difficulties of evaluating the significance of events and processes as they occur, four fundamental trends can be identified that are dramatically transforming the contemporary world and are shaping a new world. These trends are the continued rapid urbanization of the world's population, particularly in the developing countries, the globalization of economic, social, cultural and political activities, the intensification and globalization of an ‘environmental crisis’, and the changing relationship of the state to the civil society. Although it is true to say that all cities in the emerging global system are experiencing the effects of these processes, it is perhaps in the cities of the developing countries that the greatest problems and challenges are emerging.
Among many other disciplines and professional activities, efforts have also been made in the field of urban design during the last decade or so to find appropriate ways within the field for dealing with these challenges and to explore the potential contribution urban design can make to change the existing trend and facilitate the achievement of sustainability in urban areas. The degree of success, however, has not been the same in all countries and definitely in all areas. Moreover, the gap between the theory and practice remains critically vast everywhere. Therefore, this paper aims to first review the global achievements in sustainable urban design, both in theory (research) and practice, and then do a critical analysis of the challenges the idea has been facing in the contemporary urban design in Iran. To do so, the study focuses on the major substantive and procedural attributes of urban design at both macro and micro levels, and reveals the purposes they serve towards achieving sustainability in urban areas. At the end, a critical comparison is made between the international achievements in the area of sustainable urban design and the efforts made in Iran in this regard.



1)       Aberley, D., ed., 1994. Futures by design: The practice of ecological planning, Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

2)       Aldous, T., 1997. Urban villages: a concept for creating mixed-use urban developments on a sustainable scale (2nd edition), London: Urban Villagers Forum.

3)       Angel, F.H. U. et al., 2003. A regional-scale sustainable development index: The case of Baja California Sur, Mexico, International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, London: Dec. vol. 10, Issue 4.

4)       Anon, 1990. Climate and site development, Part 3: Improving microclimate through design, BRE Digest 350, BRE, Garston.

5)       Anon, 1999. Guidelines for community noise, World Health Organization.

6)       Anon, 2002. Renewable energy in the built environment, Building Center Trust. London.

7)       Atkinson, A., 1992. 'The urban bioregion as sustainable development paradigm', Third World Planning Review, 14(4): 327-54.

8)       Atkinson, C., Collins, R. and West, J., 1994. 'Use of waste materials in building products', First International Conference on Buildings and the Environment, CIB and BRE, Watford.

9)       Bahrainy, H., 1993. Cities and earthquake, Paper presented to the International Symposium: Experiences, prevention, protection, Iraklion, Greece, 6-8 May.

10)   Bahrainy, H., 1995. The impact of mass production and minimum housing policy on quality of environment in urban areas, Regional Seminar on the interaction between environment and population issues and their impact on urban and rural sustainable development, 3-5 Dec., University of Tehran, Iran.

11)   Bahrainy, H., 1996a. Urban space analysis and design in relation to users' behavior patterns, Tehran: University of Tehran Press (in Persian).

12)   Bahrainy, H., 1996b. Development and sustainable development: A theoretical analysis, Proceedings of a Seminar on Urban Sustainable Development, Department of Urban Planning, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Iran (in Persian).

13)   Bahrainy, H., 1996c. Third World urban planning in the21st. century: Urgent need for a new paradigm of sustainability, NETTLAP Regional Conference on Professional Development of Environmental Managers: A vision of the 21st. century, 10-13 Dec., Pattya, Thailand.

14)   Bahrainy, H., 1997. Application of meteorology of air pollution in urban design of city of Tehran, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 22, no. 18, March (in Persian).

15)   Bahrainy, H., 1998a. City, urban planning and environment, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 23, no. 20, March (in Persian).

16)   Bahrainy, H., 1998b. Urban design and planning in a seismic-prone region, the case of Rasht in Northern Iran, Journal of Urban Planning and Development, ASCE, Dec., vol. 124, no. 4.

17)   Bahrainy, H., 1998c. Urban Planning and sustainable development, Rahyaft, no. 17, Winter, pp. 28-40 (in Persian).

18)   Bahrainy, H., 1999a. Exploring sustainability concepts in traditional settlements, Paper presented to The First Congress on Cultural and Natural Heritage, University of Tabriz, Iran (in Persian).

19)   Bahrainy, H., 1999b. Indicators for urban unsustainability: The key to a change, Paper presented to a Seminar on Environment and sustainable development, University of Tehran, Oct. (in Persian).

20)   Bahrainy, H., 1999c. Modernism, post modernism, and after in urban planning, Tehran: University of Tehran Press (in Persian).

21)   Bahrainy, H., 2001. Housing, environment and sustainable development, Proceedings of the Eight Seminar on housing development policies in Iran: Human Settlement, employment and sustainable development, Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Oct. 13-14, Tehran.

22)   Bahrainy, H., 2003. Natural disaster management in Iran during 1990's—the need for a new structure, ASCE, Journal of Urban Planning and Development, vol. 129, No. 3, pp. 140-160, Sept.

23)   Bahrainy, H., 2003. Unsustainable urban design: the case of the Navab Project in central Tehran, Iran, Paper presented at the 5th International Conference on Humane Habitat, Jan. 31st-Feb 2nd, Mumbai, India.

24)   Bahrainy, H. et al. 2001. Guidelines and mechanisms for urban sustainable development, unpublished research report, Scientific Research Council of Iran (in Persian).

25)   Bahrainy, H., 2006. Urban sustainable development agenda, unpublished research report, prepared for the Ministry of Interior (in Persian).

26)   Bahrainy, H. and M. Ahmadi Torshizi, 1999. Recognition of the homeostasis mechanisms in the spatial-physical structure of the city, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, University of Tehran, vol. 25, no. 23, Sept. (in Persian).

27)   Bahrainy, H. and Amini, F, 2001. The role of environmental non-governmental organizations in citizen participation for environmental protection in Iran, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 26, no. 26, March (in Persian).

28)   Bahrainy, H. and B. Aminzadeh. 2007a. Urban design in Iran: a new approach, HONNAR-HA-YE-ZIBA, Journal of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, No. 26. Summer, pp. 13-27.

29)   Bahrainy, H. and B. Aminzadeh., 2007b. Autocratic urban design: The case of Navab Regeneration Project in Central Tehran, IDPR, Vol. 29, No. 2. pp. 241-270.

30)   Bahrainy, H. and B. Aminzadeh., 2007c. Evaluation of Navab Regeneration Project in Central Tehran, Iran. Int. J. Environ. Res., 1(2): 114-127, Spring.

31)   Bahrainy, H. and M. Azizkhani (forthcoming), Institutional barriers to the application of urban village as a tool for achieving urban sustainability in developing countries—the case of Asheghabaad, Isfahan, Iran, Armanshahr Journal.

32)   Bahrainy, H., Barakpour, N. and Khoshpour, H., 1996. An analysis of heat islands in Tehran, the role of land uses and its impact on air pollution in the City, The First Regional Conference on Climate Change, Tehran (in Persian).

33)   Bahrainy, H. and Maknoon, R., 2001. Sustainable urban development: From ideas to actions, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 27, no. 27, Sept., pp. 41-60.

34)   Bahrainy, H. and Mobarghai, N., 1997. Evaluation of higher education in environmental fields in Iran, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmnetal Studies, Universtiy of Tehran, vol. 23, no. 19, Sept.

35)   Bahrainy, H., Khoshpour, H. and Barakpour, N., 1999. The role of land use in the formation of heat islands and the resultant air pollution in the city of Tehran, Quarterly Journal of Man and Environment, Iranian Society of Environmentalists, No. 3 and 4, Spring and Summer.

36)   Bahrainy, H. and Tabibian, M., 2000. A model for evaluation of quality of life in urban areas, MOHIT SHENASI, Journal of Environmental Studies, Vol. 24, No. 21, pp. 41-56.

37)   Bahrainy, H. and Tajbakhsh, G., 2000. Territory concept in urban spaces and the role of urban design in its realization, HONNAR-HA-YE-ZIBA Journal of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, winter, No. 6, pp. 18-32.

38)   Banister, D., Watson, S. and Wood, C., 1997. Sustainable cities: Transport, energy, and urban form, Environment and Planning and Design, vol. 24, pp. 125-143.

39)   Barnett, J., 2003. Redesigning cities: Principles, practice, implementation, Chicago: APA Planners Press.

40)   Barton, H., ed., 1999. Sustainable communities: The potential of Eco-Village, London: Earthscan.

41)   Beatley, T., n.d. Sustainable planning in European cities. Paper presented to 'Creating sustainable place' Conference, Arizona, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, Jan. 30-31, University of Virginia.

42)   Beatley, T., 2000. Green urbanism, learning from European cities. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

43)   Beauregard, R.A. 1995. Theorizing the global-local connection. In: Knox, P.L. and Taylor, P. J. (eds.). World cities in a world system, pp. 232-48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

44)   Beer, A. R. and Higgins, C., 2000. Environmental planning for site development: A manual for sustainable local planning and design, 2nd edition, London: E & FN SPON.

45)   Berke, P. R., 2002. Does sustainable development offer a new direction for planning? Challenges for the 21st Century, J. of Planning Literature, 17(1), pp. 21-36.

46)   Berg, P. and Daasmann, R., 1977. Reinhabiting California, The Ecology, 7(10), pp. 399-401.

47)   Birkeland, J., 2002. Design for sustainability: a sourcebook of integrated, eco-logical solutions, London: Sterling VA: Earthscan publications.

48)   Blowers, A., ed., 1993. Planning for a sustainable environment, London: Earthscan.

49)   Blowers, A., 2000. Ecological and political modernization: The challenge for planning, TPR, 71(4), pp. 371-393.

50)   Breheny, M. J., ed., 1992. Sustainable development and urban form, London: Pion.

51)   Breheny, M. J. 1995. 'Compact cities and transport energy consumption', Transactions, Institute of British Geographers, vol. 20, pp. 81-101.

52)   Brotchie, J., 1992. 'The changing structure of cities', Urban Futures, Special Issue 5, Feb., pp. 12-23.

53)   Built Environment, 2002. Water management in urban areas, Vol. 28, no. 2.

54)   Buckley, K., Buxton, M. and Mckenzie, F., 1991. 'Towards ecologically sustainable urban development', Urban Futures, vol. 4, pp. 47-54.

55)   Burgess, B., Carmona, M. and Kolstee, T., eds. 1997. The challenge of sustainable cities: Neoliberalism and urban strategies in developing countries, London: Zed Books.

56)   Cairnes, L., 1993. 'Water resources: Planning for sustainable water use', Urban Futures, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 25-29.

57)   Calthorpe, R., 1993. The next American Metropolis, New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

58)   Calthorpe, P. and Fulton, W., 2001. The regional city: Planning for the end of sprawl, Washington D.C.: Island Press.

59)   Campbell, S., 1996. Green cities, growing cities, just cities? Urban planning and the contradictions of sustainable development, JAPA, vol. 62, pp. 296-312.

60)   Chandler, T. J., 1976. 'Urban climatology and its relevance to urban design', WMO, No. 438, Geneva.

61)   Commission of the European Communities, 1990. Green Paper on Urban Environment Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

62)   Dalhuisen, J. M., Rodenburg, C. A., de Groot, H.L.F. and Nijkamp, P., 2000. Metropolitan areas and sustainable use of water: The case of Amsterdam, Amsterdam: Free University.

63)   DETR, 2000. Millennium village and sustainable communities, London: DETR.

64)   Department of Environment, Transport and the regions, 1998. The use of density in Urban Planning, London: DETR .

65)   Dimoudi, A. and Nikolopoulou, M., 2000. Vegetation in the urban environment: Microclimatic analysis and benefits, PREC: Assessing the potential for renewable energy in cities, Centre for Renewable Energy Sources, Pikermi, Greece.

66)   DoE (Iran), n.d., Iranian Committee on Sustainable Development, Tehran, Iran.

67)   Dubourg, R., and Pearce, D. W., 1996. Paradigms for environmental choice: Sustainability vs. optimality. In: Faucheux, S., Pearce, D. and Proops, J., eds., Models of sustainable development, Cheltenham: Edward Eglar, pp. 21-36.

68)   Ecological Design Group, 1996. Specifying benign, Environmentally Benign Building Materials Audit: A bioregion Approach for Scotland, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

69)   Edwards, B. and Hyett, P., 2001. Rough guid to sustainability, London: RIBA Publications.

70)   Elkin, T., McLaren, D. and Hillman, M., 1991. Reviving the city: Towards sustainable urban development, London: Friends of the Earth.

71)   Frey, H., 1999. Designing the city: Towards a more sustainable urban form, London: E & FN Spon.

72)   Gibbs, D., 1994. Toward sustainable local development: The UK experience, International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, vol. 1, pp. 121-9.

73)   Girardet, H., 1992. Cities: New directions for urban living, London: Gaia Books.

74)   Girardet, H., 1999. Creating sustainable cities, Green, Dartingon.

75)   Godschalk, D., 2004. Land use planning challenges: Coping with conflicts in visions of sustainable development and livable communities, JAPA, Winter, vol. 70, no.1, p. 5(9).

76)   Golubev, A., 1993. 'Sustainable water development: implications for the future', International Journal of Water Resources Development, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 127-54.

77)   Goodchild, B., 2003. Sustainable development and the aims of planning, a'Lafraccuse, TPR, vol. 74, no. 2, pp. 239-245.

78)   Gordon, D., ed., 1990. Green cities: Ecologically sound approaches to urban space, Montreal: Black Rose Books.

79)   Gordon, P. and Richardson, H. W., 1997. Are compact cities a desirable planning goal? JAPA, vol. 63, pp. 95-106.

80)   Grainger, A., 1999. The role of spatial scale in sustainable development, The International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, vol. 6, no. 4, Dec., pp. 251-264.

81)   Gustavson, K., Lorengen, S. and Ruitenbeek, J., 1999. Selection and modeling of sustainable development indicators: a case study of the Fraser River Basin, British Columbia, Ecological Economics, vol. 28, pp. 117-32.

82)   Haq, G., 1997. Towards sustainable transport planning: A comparison between Britain and the Netherlands. Avebury, Aldershot.

83)   Hewitt, K., 1995. Sustainable disasters, perspectives and powers in the discourse of calamity, in: Crush, J., ed., Power of development, Rutledge, London.

84)   High Council for Environmental Protection, National Committee on Sustainable Development, 2000. Bulletin no. 6, Nov.

85)   High Council for Environmental Protection, National Committee on Sustainable Development, 2002. Iranian National Report on Sustainable Development presented to the Sustainable Development Summit, Johansburg.

86)   Hobbs, G. and Collins, R., 1997. Demonstration of reuse and recycling of materials: BRE energy efficient office of the future, IP3/97, BRE, Garston.

87)   Hoagland, W., 1995. Solar energy: Key technologies for the 21st Century, Scientific American, Sept, pp. 136-139.

88)   Houghton, G. and Hunter, C., 1994. Sustainable cities. Regional policy and development, series 7, London: Regional Studies Association.

89)   Housing Foundation of I.R.I., 1997. Fundamentals and principles of rural sustainable development, Unpublished paper.

90)   Intergovernmental panel on climate change, 1996. Climate change 1995: Second Assessment Report, Cambridge University Press.

91)   International Atomic Energy Agency, 2002. Indicators for Sustainable Energy Development, IAEA Information Series, Division of Public Information, 02-01570/FS Series 2/02/E.

92)   International Energy Agency, 2001. Toward a sustainable energy future, OECD.

93)   I.G.U., 2001. "International Geographical Union, Commission on Hazard and Risks", Round brief Geography , vol. 168, pp. 15-16.      

94)   Jenks, M., Burton, E. and Williams, K., 1996. The concept city: a sustainable urban form?, London: E&FN Spon.

95)   Jepson, E. J., 2004. The adoption of sustainable development policies and techniques in U.S. cities: How wide, how deep, and what role for planners, Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol. 23, pp. 229-241.

96)   Krier, L., 1998. Architecture: Choice or fate, Windsor, Andreas, Papadakis.

97)   Krizek, K., and Power, J., 1996. A planner's guide to sustainable development (PAS Report 467), Chicago: APA.

98)   Kunstler, J. H., 1994. The geography of nowhere, New York: Simon and Schuster.

99)   Landsberg, H. E., 1981. The urban climate, New York: Academic Press.

100)          Leitman, J., 1999. Sustainable cities: Environmental planning and management in urban design, New York: McGraw-Hill.

101)          Littlefair, P. J. et al., 2000. Environmental site layout planning: Solar access, Microclimate and passive cooling in urban areas, B.R.E., Garston.

102)          Littlewood, J., 2002. Recycling concrete—a hard grind, Building, vol. 267, no. 1, p. 33.

103)          Maknoon, R., 1996. National strategy for sustainable development, Paper presented to the 'Sustainable Development and Environment Seminar, University of Tehran. Nov.

104)          Mangold, D., 2001. Solar in the city, Renewable Energy World, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 100-111.

105)          May, A. D. et al., 1996. The quantifiable city: The development of a modeling framework for urban sustainability research, presented to Workshop on Information Systems and Processes for Urban Civil Engineering Applications, Nov., Rome, cited in: Grainger, 1999.

106)          McLaren, V. W., 1996. Urban sustainability reporting, JAPA, vol. 623, pp. 184-202.

107)          McGinnis, M. V., ed., 1999. Bioregionalism, London: Routledge.

108)          Meyer, W. B., 1991. 'Urban heat island and the urban health: early American Perspectives', Professional Geographer, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 38-48.

109)          Mitchell, G., Mary, A. and McDonald, A., 1995. PICABUE: A methodological framework for the development of indicators of sustainable development, International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, vol. 2, pp. 104-23.

110)          Moughtin, C., 1996. Urban design: Green dimensions. Oxford, Boston Butterworth Architecture.

111)          Nijkamp, P. & Perrels, A., 1994. Sustainable cities in Europe, London: Earthscan.

112)          Owens, S. and Cope, D., 1992. Land use planning and climate change, London: HMSO.

113)          Owens, S.  and Cowell, R., 2002. Land and limits: Interpreting sustainability in the planning process, London: Routledge.

114)          Pike, A., 1998. World class cities offer 'key to regional success', Financial Times, 6 April, p. 8.

115)          Rees, W. E. and Roseland, M., 1991. 'Sustainable communities'. Planning for the 21st Century, Plan Canada vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 15-26.

116)          Roberts, T., 2002. The seven lamps of planning, TPR, vol. 73, no. 1, pp. 1-16.

117)          Rudlin, D. and Falk, N., 1999. Building the 21st Century Home: The sustainable urban neighborhood, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

118)          Seymour, J., 1979. The self-sufficient Gardener, Quoted in: Heinberg, R., 2004, Power down: options and actions for a post-carbon world, New Society Publishers.

119)          Smith, M., Whitelegg, J. and Williams, N., 1998. Greening the built environment, London: Earthscan.

120)          Smith, P. F., 2001. Architecture in a climate of change: a guide to sustainable design, Oxford, Boston: Architectural Press.

121)          Steemers, K., 2001. Urban form and building energy, In: Echenique, M. and Saint, A., eds., Cities for the New Millennium, Spon, London.

122)          St. John, A., ed., 1992. The sourcebook for sustainable design: a guide to environmentally responsible building materials and processes, Boston, MA: Architects for Social Responsibility.

123)          Stone, B., 2003. Air quality by design, harnessing the Clean Air Act Manage Metropolitan growth, Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol. 23, pp. 177-190.

124)          The Urban Task Force, 1999. Towards an urban Renaissance, E &FN Spon, London.

125)          Thomas, R. and Fordham, M., eds., 2003. Sustainable urban design: An environmental approach, New York: Spon Press.

126)          Tourane, C. N. et al., 2003. Assessing sustainability: An assessment framework to evaluate Agenda 21 actions at the local level, International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, London, vol. 10, no. 3.

127)          U.N.C.H.S. (Habitat), 1993. Promoting sustainable construction industry activities, Paper presented at the First Consultation on the Construction Industry, Tunis, Tunisia, 3-7 May.

128)          U.N.D.P., 1991. A strategy for water sector capacity building, UNDP. Delft.

129)          U.N.D.P., 2001. Human Development Report 2001, New York: Oxford University Press.

130)          U.N.E.P., 2001. Annual Report.

131)          Unwin, N. and Searle, G., 1991. 'Ecologically sustainable development and urban development', Urban Futures, Special Issue 4, November, 1-12.

132)          U.S. E.P.A., 1992. 'Cooling our communities, a guide book on tree planting and light-colored surfacing', Washington, E.P.A.

133)          Van der Ryn, S. and Cowan, S., 1996. Ecological design. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

134)          Van Diepen, A. and Voogd, H., 2001. Sustainability and planning: does urban form matter? International Journal of Sustainable Development, vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 59-74.

135)          Alexey, V., 2007. Understanding and communicating sustainability: global vs. regional perspectives, Journal of Environment, Development and Sustainability, pp. 487-501. Feb.

136)          Wackernagel, M. and Rees, W., 1996. Our ecological footprints: reducing human impact on Earth, New Society Publishers, British Columbia.

137)          Whitelegg, J., 1993. Transport for a sustainable Future: The case for Europe, Belhaven, London.

138)          Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Center for International Earth Science Information Network, 2000. Environmental Sustainability Index.