Sustainable Cities Initiative


  • Sustainable cities are resilient cities that are able to adapt to, mitigate, and promote economic, social, and environmental change.
  • Sustainable development encompasses all aspects of a city’s healthy development and should address economic/financial, social, and environmental issues.
  • The Sustainable Cities Initiative supports cities and governmental programs in pursuing an agenda that enhances the sustainability of cities across Europe and Central Asia.

In Europe and Central Asia, more than two-thirds of the population resides in urban areas. Consequently, the range of challenges posed by climate change, economic transformation and demographic shifts in the region is formidable, with governments and city mayors facing increasing pressure to find sustainable solutions.

Chief among these challenges is transforming urban centers into resilient and sustainable communities that benefit residents by reducing energy costs, improving quality of service, reducing waste, providing better urban environments, and creating economic opportunities.

The Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI) is a multi-year program designed to support cities and governmental programs at the national level in pursuing an agenda that enhances the sustainability of cities across Europe and Central Asia (ECA).

The main premise of the Initiative is that cities in ECA can learn a great deal from their Western European neighbors, who can share practical examples of how to promote policy changes and investments that will help cities in ECA better prepare for urban development challenges in the future.

Applied Knowledge Framework

SCI aims to optimize the economic, financial, social, and environmental sustainability goals of cities. The Initiative is organized around 4 core activities, collectively called the Applied Knowledge Framework:

  • Orientation, awareness, and exposure workshops,
  • Development and implementation of local diagnostic tools,
  • Policy reforms and investment strategies,
  • Project financing, technical assistance and implementation support.

The Applied Knowledge Framework approach is also applied across 10 sustainable development modules or themes:

1. Historic City Conservation and Regeneration

Conservation of historic urban centers and the regeneration of places of historic significance can be coupled with investments in improved energy efficiency. Examples of improved energy efficiency include energy efficient street lighting, retrofitted buildings of historic character, adaptive reuse of built assets, and reduced water consumption through improved building standards and urban design.

2. Energy Efficiency and Climate Change

Globally cities account for more than 70% of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, a reality that places cities at the forefront of the climate change and sustainability agenda. In terms of energy consumption, cities generally account for about 60-80% of a country’s demand, either directly or indirectly. Consequently, the way cities are planned, financed and managed has a determining effect on sustainability outcomes and on the lives and livelihoods of city residents.

3. Brownfield Development

Brownfields are derelict or underused sites with real, or perceived, contamination problems that create an obstacle to their development potential. As such, these sites represent both a problem and an opportunity. They pose a threat to humans and to the environment because they often house poorly contained contamination. On the other hand, redeveloped brownfields can become engines for economic development and an improved quality of life for the cities and communities where they are located.

4. Municipal Finance

Decentralization in most parts of ECA has given municipalities increased autonomy and shifted more responsibilities and resources to local governments. Municipal discretion has expanded significantly and with it the amount of public funds managed at the local level. An ever growing share of public investment decisions are made by local authorities. Municipalities, and public utilities reporting to them, manage large and important infrastructure assets and need to secure financing for operation, maintenance, and capital renewal.

5. Solid Waste Management

Municipalities can improve the economic sustainability and financial viability of a solid waste management, a key municipal service, by reducing the negative environmental impacts of waste generation. Integrated solid waste management systems encourage municipalities to cooperate at a regional level to reduce cost of waste disposal and treatment, optimize collection and transport services, and maximize resource recovery through sorting and recycling.

6. Water and Wastewater

Urban centers in ECA are undergoing a process of rapid modernization, which requires an adequate response in the provision of urban infrastructure and services, including water supply and wastewater. Large efforts have been put into capital investments and infrastructure upgrading, often with significant donor support, including from EU accession and pre-accession grant funding.

7. Urban Transport

In the past, many ECA cities had well developed public transportation systems, but the transition years saw a continuous deterioration of the public transport infrastructure. As cities in the region become increasingly congested and polluted, local authorities now recognize that improvements in urban transport are crucial to making cities more socially inclusive.

8. Social Inclusion

With a focus on inclusive urban development, this module addresses: 1) marginalization of socially excluded groups and inequalities; and 2) social accountability and participation. Specific marginalized groups in ECA, like the Roma communities, often live in informal settlements with limited or no access to sanitary housing, water, electricity, and other essential public services. Cities provide better services to the poor when social accountability mechanisms are in place, linking communities, service providers, and policy makers.



Yarissa Lyngdoh Sommer (Email: Phone: +1 (202) 473-1627

Delphine Hamilton (Email: Phone: +1 (202) 473-7208