Towards a Vision of Sustainable Urban Design: Cities for Nature

Wrriten by: Jorge Gerini | April 11, 2019

You can read this article in: Español | English | 中國

Imagine that we are living in the year 2050: Mexico has more than 150 million inhabitants. This forces us to ask if Mexico is prepared for this level of urban growth. Are we planning our cities so that we can accommodate in a sustainable manner a further 25 million people on top of the 125 million who live in Mexico today? Are we prepared to grow from 384 cities to 961 by the year 2030? (UN Habitat).

At the global level, cities are the determining ecological phenomenon of the 21st century. Despite representing less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, they are the main engine of economic growth and the place where the majority of humankind now lives. Over the past 70 years, the world population has grown from 2.6 billion inhabitants in 1950 to 7.4 billion in 2018, leading to unprecedented urban growth, and bringing with it social and environmental challenges (UN Habitat).

In fact, by 2030 it is estimated that 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Today, cities consume over 75% of natural resources and are responsible for 60% of global CO2 emissions, principally from energy generation, vehicles and industry (UN Habitat).

© Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos. Urban project sktech.

While cities offer opportunities for economic growth in the globalized world, they are also the largest contributors to environmental harm, both within them and beyond their frontiers (Newman and Jennings, 2012). In fact, studies show that cities require an area up to 178 times larger than the surface they occupy to obtain the resources they need (Rees and Wackernagel, 1996).

Today more than ever it is necessary to overcome the view that separates humankind from nature, and create a new vision of building cities only for people, but for nature too. The path towards a sustainable society requires, as well as reestablishing the connection between society and nature, metabolic processes to occur between them. This forces us to question social realities such as social and spatial inequality.

As Molina and Toledo put it: “We have come to a key promise: suppressing unequal exchange within society is the only possible way to create a balance between society and nature.” (Molina and Toledo, 2014).

Cities must become the engine of change that promotes ecological and social regeneration in their region and beyond. To achieve this it is necessary to star with a symbiotic interpretation of the relationship between the city and its bio-region (Newman and Jennings, 2012).

© Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos. Street section for a new urban proposal.

Robert Park spoke the truth when he said that: “The city is man’s most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself.” (Robert Park, 1967).

The city constantly offers us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves; it is on the basis of this philosophy that we construct a new vision of the city. That of a sustainable, humanist city, that is based on regenerative urbanism and is grounded in the need to reestablish the city’s role as an ecosystem. We must return to the human scale and promote community life while remaining aware of the bio-capacity cities are able to support.

© Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos. Radios of action.

Perhaps the most basic question we can ask ourselves in terms of urban design is: what is the city we want? And as David Harvey puts it so well: “the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of life we desire, what aesthetic values we hold.” The answer can only be built out of collective vision and the opportunity to reinvent the city.

In the Urbanism Department at Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos our objective is to explore innovative ways in which cities integrate nature into design at the planning stage, not only to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants but to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy living in cities.


  • Harvey David (2012) Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution,  Verso Books.
  • Newman and Jennings (2004) Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices.
  • UN Habitat (2019), Tendencias del desarrollo urbano en México (Accessed online)
  • UN Habitat (2019), Climate Change (Accessed online)
  • Rees and Wackernagel, (1996) Urban ecological footprints: Why cities cannot be sustainable—And why they are a key to sustainability. Volume 16-4-6. pp. 223-248.
  • Robert E. Park, Ernest W. Burgess, and Roderick Duncan McKenzie (1967) The City. University of Chicago Press.
  • Toledo, Víctor. (2013). El metabolismo social: Una nueva teoría socioecológica. Relaciones.


Jorge Gerini is currently Director of the Urbanism Department at Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos. He is passionate about cities and finding new ways to implement sustainable strategies in our daily lives. Jorge studied architecture at the University of Guadalajara and later studied a master’s degree in sustainable urban planning at the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL in London.

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