Overpopulation and overcrowding are among the top urban and land use concerns for established megacities and budding metropolises alike.

Rural areas wanting to urbanize and suburban regions looking to ramp up efforts to make their space more attractive must consider the big picture — where will all these people go? The answer lies in sustainable vertical urbanism.

Offering jobs and enticing tourism are part of a growing area’s vision, but cities don’t sustain growth through temporary, mobile populations. With land becoming scarce, cities must look skyward and underground for sustainable development, changing the scope of urban design forever.


What Is Sustainable Vertical Urbanism?

Humans have unequivocally shaped the planet to benefit the species. Almost 15% of the world has undergone changes to sustain urban projects or manipulate natural lands for resource extraction — regions like West Virginia because of excess coal mining and the Nile’s delta for desired coastal living highlight how a home and utility bill shape environments permanently.

A large fraction of the world constitutes arable land that humans need to keep feeding growing populations, and other portions are governmentally protected environments. These numbers combined demonstrate a piece of the global property pie that’s minimizing horizontal urbanization. Vertical urbanism — or vertical green spaces (VGSs) — solves this by constructing upward instead of manipulating or destroying more landscapes.

The sky’s the tangible and metaphorical limit for urban planners as skyscrapers bear more weight, literally and environmentally. Underground is an option, too, as countless public transit systems have already proven.

Humans could run out of space if they don’t pursue vertical urbanism seriously. The mentality to look up instead of across wouldn’t be possible without the technological and structural innovations and advancements humans have spent millennia perfecting, like environmentally aware heating and cooling — though there are still missions to execute to make it wholly sustainable.


How Will Vertical Designs Improve Cities?

Currently, construction uproots habitats, fragments species, releases pollutants and releases tons of greenhouse gasses. Cities would otherwise purchase expensive properties in a volatile market to maintain demand, but vertical options reduce these adverse outcomes.

Several urban Australian municipalities, including Melbourne, have implemented biophilic urban designs. An update to the Victorian Planning and Environment Act called the Sustainable Building Design Planning Scheme Amendment prioritizes eco-friendly infrastructure, like tree canopy cover. It might lead to retrofitting buildings desperate for a green makeover while beautifying in-operation structures. Manhattan’s park, The High Line, is atop a defunct rail line — a combination of green, circular and vertical thinking.

The benefits of natural shade on top of VGSs with installations like rooftop gardens reduce the urban heat island effect while lowering utility costs and improving air quality citywide. Legislation will force buildings of specific sizes to make 75% of their site area green infrastructure — a powerful, progressive ask for public and private companies. Air quality and temperature control have a butterfly effect on other climate-related issues like government spending on fossil fuels.

Vertical designs also improve cities by aligning sectors toward an environmentally symbiotic, diverse and inclusive mentality. Sustainable urban design needs more than construction workers — biotech engineers, data scientists, health care professionals and creative innovators to develop beneficial, productive and cost-effective buildings that withstand time’s influence for greener tomorrows above and below ground.


What Are Examples of Sustainable Vertical Designs?

Australia is already noticing how adding greenery to the outside of a building helps cities. Green envelope design catalyzes these initiatives, which places a priority on internal structure, too. It describes a construction strategy that makes structural necessities like cladding and insulation greener to compound the temperature-reducing effects of outdoor greenery. Towering, glass office buildings are their microclimates, with a potentially 10-15 degrees difference from outside — green envelopes help indoor climate control. They could reduce outside air temperature by three degrees in large cities.

Building vertically eliminates many natural resources that would otherwise sink into a new build, but green materials can make buildings taller even more thoughtfully. Builders can eliminate toxic, infrequently recycled materials like PVC and expanded polystyrene — only about 3.6% combined in the US and Europe — as a focal point of blueprints in lieu of myco-materials. It is a construction powered by fungi.

Biotechnological advancements birthed mycelium composite materials, which stack heroically against other options like wood, which have struggled to maintain relevance as their prices soar in a post-COVID-19 world. Easy to grow and quick to reproduce, these foam-like slabs could quickly erect tall buildings with strength because of a solid flame spread and heat resistance that could make building components resilient yet biodegradable.

A related design shift that will happen as a part of sustainable vertical urbanism will be on the ground. Rising cities will eventually cause visual pollution and sun blockages. Humans crave sunlight for mental and emotional health, and urban designers must consider these side effects as they build higher.

It will involve creating more accessible and diverse infrastructure so all people, regardless of mobility or neighborhood, can access bright areas within vertical cities or an easy way out to sunnier pastures. It can manifest as rapid, renewable public transportation to outdoor pools and recreational areas exposed to the elements.

Investing and Building Sky-High Sustainability

Sustainable vertical designs will make cities more resilient against climate change and natural disasters while homing growing populations. The current visage of a city isn’t the long-term solution, especially when they don’t synergize with environmental processes and modern design methods abuse habitats and exploit fossil fuels.

Sustainable vertical design facilitates symbiotic relationships with environments by preserving more land while accommodating housing. New technologies and green investments will make these construction projects even more eco-conscious, solid and effective for an eco-friendly future.