In view of the scourge from the rapid rates of urbanisation across cities, coupled with the growing threats of climate change, the central discourse for achieving sustainability focuses on the role of cities and the resultant impacts from the activities of its urban inhabitants. These discussions fundamentally align with the assertion that achieving sustainability is mostly tenable, when the constituent parts of a city’s built environment are sustainable. Furthermore, they affirm the value of individual and collective human activities as key to directing urban sustainability initiatives. Consequently, efforts at addressing sustainability issues within cities are increasingly channeled to the community, district or neighborhood scale; affirming them as the basic components of cities, and the level where human activities meets developmental initiatives. This neighborhood-focused approach to addressing sustainability issues within cities, led to the proliferation of Neighborhood Sustainability Assessment Tools (NSATs).
By employing a combination of sustainability themes, sustainability indicators, and weighting mechanisms, NSATs help steer policy makers and urban planners towards the early adoption of sustainability targets. The adoption of NSATs for assessing sustainability issues within cities has particularly been on the increase in recent times, mostly in response to increasing rates of urbanization. This specifically is the case with urban areas in some Asian cities; which currently holds more than half the world’s urban population, and accounts for up to 80% of the regions’ GDP. Urbanisation in Asian cities is mostly attributed to an increase in rural-urban migration, as a result of economic growth potentials, and instances of rural areas being re-classified as urban areas. Catering for the resulting increase in demand for housing, healthcare, energy usage, and access to an appreciable standard of living further exacerbates the situation, leading to the degradation of the environment. Attempts at addressing these issues have therefore led to an increase in the adoption of NSATs within Asian cities.
Initial applications of NSATs in Asian cities involved adopting third-party NSATs from other regions of the world, and sometimes tailored to assess urban sustainability issues within Asian cities. Foremost examples include: The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development (LEED-ND) from the United States, and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for communities (BREEAM-C) from the United Kingdom. In response to issues of context specificity in the development and subsequent applications of NSATs, Asian cities are increasingly developing NSATs tailored to their urban sustainability needs. Some examples include Japan’s Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency Urban Development (CASBEE-UD), the Green Building Index (GBI) from Malaysia, and the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC).
While these Asian-based NSATs are crucial for assessing and enabling the adoption of urban sustainability targets, the extent to which they are positioned to address sustainability issues vis-a-vis the prevailing conditions within their respective cities, remains poorly understood. This is of particular concern given that the results from sustainability assessments, and the consequent policy initiatives derived, hinges on how assessment tools are formulated and applied. Having a good understanding of the specifics of the formulations for the existing Asian-based NSATs will help provide insight into the sustainability potentials of these tools, and further serve as a guide for the future development of NSATs for other cities within the region. Consequently, this research critically examines the characteristics of eight NSATs developed and currently used by different Asian cities for sustainability analysis. It assesses how these tools are positioned to address the sustainability issues within their respective cities, and further investigates key underlying criteria(s) upon which the weighting processes for the indicators within the NSATs were based. This is aimed at providing insights into these tools and proposing guidelines for other Asian cities to follow in developing NSATs unique to their sustainability needs.
The motivation (and key contribution) from this research stems from recent efforts to develop a sustainability assessment tool for Ningbo city, China. Ningbo is a rapidly developing city with the second largest port in China; boasting of an extensive public transportation system, rapidly developing urban centres, close proximity to the commercial city of Shanghai, and a rapidly increasing population of close to 8million inhabitants. However, the city does not currently have an assessment tool (NSATs) for sustainability analysis; with NSATs development for assessing urban sustainability at the neighbourhood scale still at the initial stages in China. The research study presented in this thesis therefore serves as a foundational study towards the development of a sustainability assessment tool for Ningbo city. The study forms part of a larger research program from the urban innovation laboratory, in the department of architecture and built environment, at the university of Nottingham Ningbo China campus. The research program seeks to develop a neighborhood-scale sustainability assessment tool (NSATs) for Ningbo city, which can be applied to assess urban developmental projects; contributing to the city’s pursuit of its urban sustainability objectives.
This research study adopts a thematic analysis approach and focuses on three key themes within the eight selected Asian-based NSATs, which are found to primarily impact on the level of sustainability in Asian cities including; transportation, spatial planning, and community and welfare.
Structured into two key empirical stages, the research specifically:
1) Conducted a detailed content analysis exercise on the technical manuals and /or official documentations of the eight selected NSATs developed by different Asian cities. This led to the selection and re-categorisation of sustainability indicators into the three key themes of transportation, spatial planning, and community and welfare. Following this, the sustainability pathway model by Dawodu et al., (2017) was used to assess how these indicators, the three themes, and the eight NSATs by extension interprets and apply sustainability principles, in line with the four pillars of sustainability framework.
2) Following from the observed ambiguity of the indicator weighting process within the analysed NSATs from the content analysis exercise above, a simple and transparent survey-based approach was employed to further investigate key underlying criteria for indicator point allocation within the NSATs. The study was carried out in Ningbo City, Zhejiang province Northeast of China. It seeks to ascertain and delineate key issues that informed the indicator weighting processes for the selected NSATs, so as to better optimise sustainability indicator development for NSATs within Asian cities.
Key findings from the study pointed to a re-occurring dichotomy between the numbers of indicators dedicated to addressing urban sustainability issues within an NSAT, and the weights allocated to the indicators. This dichotomy was mostly based on the prevailing contextual sustainability focus in the Asian city for which the NSATs was developed. In light of this, a recommendation that leverages on the result gathered would be to emphasize both depths i.e. the number of indicators dedicated to an urban sustainability issue, and importance of the indicator i.e. the weights ascribed to the indicator. Additionally, multi-dimensional inter-linkages of the four pillars of sustainability were prevalent in indicator developments by the eight Asian-based NSATs. This affords the opportunity to reflect multiple urban sustainability issues within indicators and enhances the ability of the NSATs to adequately and appropriately assess the sustainability potential of urban developmental initiatives. It also increases the possibility for policy makers and planning organizations to achieve sustainable outcomes within cities, in their pursuit of urban sustainability objectives.
Building on the findings from the study, the research presented in this thesis concludes by discussing a pathway for NSAT development and application in Asian cities, vis-à-vis their pursuit of urban sustainability objectives.
|Date of Award
|14 Nov 2020
- Univerisity of Nottingham
|Ali Cheshmehzangi (Supervisor) & Peer Olaf Siebers (Supervisor)