Sustainable Cities of the Future: The Behavior Change Driver

Author:Peter Newman
Position:Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia
Imagine a ci ty that uses 100 perc ent renewa ble energy …
where most transport is by electric light rail, b iking, or
walking . . . where the solar office block is filled with green
businesses, where the lo cal farmers’ mar ket sells fresh , biore-
gional produce . . . where parents meet in the parks and gardens
while their children play without fear in streets that are car-free.
This is a reality in Vauban, a new eco-city of 5,000 households
within Frieburg, Germany.1 And in nearby Hanover, a city of
500,000 people h as reduced its gr eenhouse gas emissions by
fifty percent.2
How did these communitie s tra nsform their cultures to
make the transition that every city now faces? Vauban and
Hanover took the opportunity to use every policy lever possible
at every step of the way—from planning to delivery—to ensure
that the goal of sustainability drove each decision. These policy
levers will be outlined and new data will be provided regarding
the ed ucation lever, which involves behavior chan ge and cul -
tural adaptation.
Cities have always been places of economic and social
opportunity. They emerged when hunter-gatherer societies were
transformed into settled societies based on agriculture. Today’s
cities h ave grown large during the industrial era and still pro-
vide the main economic and social opportunities for the world’s
growing population.3 But cities are now having a significant
environmental impact, as they are based around the consumption
of fossil fuels and materials at increasing rates. They must con-
tinue to provide opportunities, but they must also become more
like Vauban and Hanover—sitting lighter on the planet. Indeed,
the key question now is whether cities can not only reduce their
impact on Earth but also contribute to its regeneration.4
Around the w orld, citie s are becoming more sus tainable
through resilient buildings , alternative transportation syst ems,
distri buted and rene wable energy systems, wat er-sensitive
design, and zero- waste systems—w ith all the clevern ess of a
new i ndustrial green revolution. Fr om new ci ties like Masdar
in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates5 to redeveloped areas like
Treasure Island, California in the United States ,6 Vauban a nd
Hanover i n Germany, and BedZED and the new Olymp ic vil-
lage in London, these p ioneers are dramatical ly reducing their
ecological footprints.7
BedZED is a carbon-neutral development and s ocial hous-
ing experiment in inner London.8 It has many ecological innova-
tions: it uses lo cal and rec ycled materials; its energy-effic ient
design is combined with phot ovoltaics (“PV”) an d biomass -
fueled combined heat a nd power; it recycles gray water and
harvests rainwat er; it has local facilities to reduce the need for
travel and is n ear a trai n station; and it h as on-site permacul-
ture gardens.9 When a detailed assessment of residents’ ecologi-
cal footprin ts was made, h owever, a huge variation was found
in how people made use of the area’ s ecological features . The
average footprint for some residents was around 4.4 hectares per
person (still less than the average for London of 6.6 hectares),
yet some residents were abl e to g et their impact down to 1.9
hectares per person.10
Experiences in many early European experiments in urban
ecology may hold the explanation for the variation in residents’
footprint s. Bui ldings and n eighborhoods that are not devel-
oped withi n a community can fail to achieve their design out-
comes. If innovations are imposed on people who do not know
how to us e the new buildings as designed or do not know why
they should use less power, water, or fuel, residents can sim-
ply t ransfer their old consumptive lifestyles to the new “eco”
situations. The growth of sustainable cities will only be main-
streamed when the green transformation involv es all elements
of the policy process—especially the processes that help people
want to change.11
Several ke y g overnment polici es can help cities move
toward sustainability:
• Infrastructure to enable energy, water, transport, and waste
to be managed with minimal ecological impact;
• A design to ensure that the infrastructure is efficiently avail-
able to all;
• Innova tion thro ugh resea rch and developmen t and dem-
onstrations to continually ensure the latest ecotechn ology
becomes mainstream;
SuStainable citieS oF the Future:
the behavior change Driver*
by Peter Newman**
* Based on an article originally published in Worldwatch Institute’s 2010 State
of the World report.
** Peter Newman is the Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth,
Australia. He has been a post doc at Stanford University, and a Visiting Profes-
sor at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Virginia where he was a
Fulbright Senior Scholar in 2006/2007. He is a Lead Author on Transport for the
next round of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) Reports.
8FALL 2010
• Tax incentives to direct investment into these new technolo-
gies an d provide peo ple with a price signal motivation to
change their behavior;
• Regulatio ns to set the sta ndards high enough for sustain-
ability technologies to cover their externalities; and
• Education and behavior change programs to ensure house-
holds and communities want to make the changes needed.
Nowhere is this more evident than in policies about getting
people out of cars.
Car use is easily adopted as a way of life in cities, especially
those that were developed in the past fifty years. U.S. cities use
twice as much transport fuel per person as Australian cities, and
those cities in turn use twice as much as European cities and five
times as much as Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.12 Policy-
makers oft en claim that cities with a high dependence on cars
are impos sible to change. But with cars now being the largest
single technology cont ributing to climate chang e and t he one
growing th e fastest, it is time for decision-makers every where
to see ho w the policy changes just described can bring about a
cultural transformation and get their cities to kick the car habit.13
A first priority is infrastructure. Ca rs are chosen for most
destinations because they are quicker than other more sustain-
able mo des, and peop le do not like to commute more than an
hour a day on average.14 Thus if a modern electric rail system
or bus rapid transit can be installed down an urban corridor that
is faster than the traffic, people move quickly to use it.15 Perth’s
new Southern Rail meets this goal and now has 55,000 riders a
day, compared with 14,000 who used to take the bus; the equiva-
lent of eight lanes of traffic.16 Similarly, a good bicycle system
and walkable urban environment means that in Copen hagen
cars were used for only twenty-seven percent of all work trip s
in 2 003 compared with bicycles on thi rty-six percent of such
The design of the city is totally enmeshed in its infrastruc-
ture priorities. When cities favor sustainable modes of transpor-
tation, land use t ends to clu ster around it.18 But if a city only
builds highways, it generally scatt ers in hig hly car-dependent
patterns. Density and transport fuel use are closely linked.19
Planning cities to be much less car-dependent will be a key part
of any plan to reduce a city’s carbon footprint. For example,
“transit-oriented developments” have been shown to cut residen-
tial car use in half, and resi dents save twent y percent on their
household income by having one less car per household.20
New techno logy to make cities smarter a nd more sustain-
able is appearing and needs government assistance in order to
be facilitated and tested. The new plug-in electric vehicles (for
cars and for transit) need testing, along with the associated smart
grids and renewable energy use that can allow cities to become
100 perc ent renewable.21 Green transit-oriente d developments
that can demonstrate the new technology would seem to be ideal
sites for trials of such technology so that renewable transport can
also lead to reductions in car use.22
Every nation and city has its own way of making the adop-
tion of more planetary lifestyles convenient and easy compared
with lifestyles that are more co nsumptive. Wh en it comes to
cars, however, the more that a city is car-dependent, the harder
it is to use tax incentives to change people’s lifestyles. European
cities have much higher gasoline taxes than American and Aus-
tralian cities, and accordingly they use cars less.23
In the car-dominated cities of North America and Australia,
the major public policy t o reduce the global and local impacts
has been through regulations on vehicles that have forced them
to b ecome cleaner. Following the introductio n of these, most
urban atmospheres have also become cleaner, although fuel use
has contin ued to increase as vehicles have become bigger and
their use has continued to grow.24 Regulations have also been
applied to safety and congestion management, but this will con-
tinue to worsen if increased car use is facilitated.25 Regulations
alone do not change behavior. Neither will a price increase on
gasoline dramatically change behavior as has been proven by the
2008 price rise that just led to people being unable to pay their
mortgages in highly car dependent areas.26
Without an education on climate change and the changin g
role for cars, these necessary policy approaches will be wasted.
For ex ample, som ething know n as the Je vons Parad ox—
increasing efficiency means increasing consumption—has been
found to apply to car use.27 If people buy cars that use less fuel,
they just drive them more—undermining most gains made pos-
sible through the new technology. Thus cultural change to help
people want to drive less needs to be a part of any city’s policy
arsenal if it is to face up to the challenge of growing a sustain-
able city. One such program shows that this is indeed possible.28
Germ an soc iologist Wern er Brö g has devel oped an
approach to travel demand management based on the belief that
cultural chang e toward less car dependence can happen in any
city as long as it is community-based and household-orien ted.
After some trials in Europe, Brög’s approach was adopted in
large-scale projects in Perth, Western Australia.29 It has since
spread across most Australian cities and to other European ci t-
ies, especially in the United Kingdom, and has now been piloted
in six American cities.30
Known as TravelSmart, the approach targe ts indi vidual
households directly (rather than through mass media) i n the
form of a letter from the Mayor or State Minister (funds for the
program are usually a partnership o f the two), asking them to
participate in the program. Follow-up phone calls elicit the resi-
dents’ interest in receiving further information and, for the few
who need extra support, a potential visit f rom a TravelSmart
officer.31 Peop le select information materials to suit their indi-
vidual needs, which are then delivered by staff using bikes and
trailers.32 The infor mation is packaged in specially d esigned
TravelSmart bags and includes walking and transit information
as well as pamphlets on why it is good for health and the planet
for people to get out of their cars more often.33 The information
materials encourage people to start with local trips, especially
the school trip for children, which is no w seen as an essen-
tial part of the healt hy development of y oung people’s sense
of place and belonging in any co mmunity as well as a wa y to
reduce obesity.34
In communities where Tr avelSmart h as been conducted,
people have redu ced t he k ilometers traveled by vehic le by
between twelve to fourteen percent— a result that seems to last
for at least five years after the program ends.35 Although where
transit is not good and destinations are more spread out, the pro-
gram may only reduce car use by eight percent, where these are
good it can rise to fifteen percent.36 This is not a revolution, but
it has many synergistic positive outcomes.37
People invol ved in TravelSmart become real advoc ates of
sustainable transport—telling their friends how much better they
feel after bicycling, walking, or taking the bus or train instead of
driving. They show friends how much money it saves them as
well as how it makes them feel to be doing their bit for climate
change and oil vulnerability. There is evidence in Brisbane, Aus-
tralia, that at least fifty percent more people than those involved
in the initial household i nterviews were actually following the
program when the surveys were done; in other words, people
were spreading the message to their friends and colleagues.38
When people start to change their lifestyles and see the ben-
efits, they become advocates of sustainab le transport policies
in general. Governments find it easier to manage the politics of
transformation to reduced car use and lower oil use when the
communities they serve have begun to change themselves.
The cit y of Perth has been rebuilding its rail system over
the past twenty years follo wing a strong social movement that
demanded a better system.39 The extension of the rail system to
far outer suburbs has been more positive and politically achiev-
able th an expected, with a mass ive ninety pe rcent support for
its last s tage, the Southern Suburbs Railway. In conjunction
with this political process, Perth had some 200,000 households
undergoi ng the Travel Smart program, which seems to have
helped. Indeed, the Southern Suburbs Railway increased public
transport patronage by fifty-nine percent in areas without Trav-
elSmart and by eight-three percent in areas where TravelSmart
was deployed to promote the new rail services.40 Patrona ge on
the rail system has gone from seven million a year to sixty mil-
lion in seventeen years, moving public transport from five to
ten percent of the work journey trips taken in the city. Perth has
become a model across Australia for other cities that are now
determined to upgrade their rail systems f unds to p rovide the
needed infrastructure.41
The Trave lSmart program rec ognizes a fundamen tal prin-
ciple about cultural change: it works bes t when a community
supports the change, when it is part of the development of social
networks that suppor t the chang es in lifes tyle. TravelSmart
develops this social capital around sustainab le transport modes
rather than the dominant culture of the car. It does this through
relationships established with the TravelSmart officer and with
others in the local community who are making the same first
steps to get out of their cars.
In the workplace, TravelSmart is found to work well when a
TravelSmart Club (“TS Club”) is formed that enables people to
share experiences, bring in local speakers, and lobby for facili-
ties like showers for bike riders and tra nsit passes instead of
parking spaces.42 For example, the natural gas company Wood-
side in Perth involved their employee s in planning their new
building and a strong repre sentation from the TS Club led to
good bicycle facilities being provided. The firm now has more
employees biking than driving to work and the subsequent sav-
ing in car parking spaces is considerable.43
The same approach to cult ural cha nge that TravelSm art
uses to positively affect dependency on ca rs can be applied to
other aspects of sustainability at the household level—reducing
energy, water, and waste. The program needs to provid e infra-
structure for the new technologies, an urban design that ensures
the tech nologies are eff iciently avail able for all resid ents,
research and development on the best options available, regu-
lations to set the energy and water use efficiency in buildings
and appliances at the highest possible level, tax incentives t o
push people toward more “plan etary lifestyles,” and education
to motivate people.
As with TravelSmart, the possibility of using educational
programs to underp in these policy area s is critical to achiev-
ing the necessary planetary cultural change. In many cities,
approaches to community-based planetary education are emerg-
ing as t he politics of climate change becomes a major political
Perth has built on its TravelSmart program to create a suc-
cessful household education -based a pproach, known as Liv-
ingSmart, which brings sound and locally relevant material into
people’s homes.45 The eco-coaches who have worked with the
first 15,000 households in a trial run have found enormous enthu-
siasm from people who have been looking for this targeted assis-
tance. Using unsolicited phone calls to residents, the program is
finding that seventy-four percent of households telephoned ar e
interested in making changes to improve energy, water, waste,
and travel sus tainability. Half of the ho useholds contacted sign
up for ongoing coaching for special meters, advice on gardens,
workshops, and home audits.46
Unlike TravelSmart, whe re change tends to occur slowly
and incrementally, the LivingSmart program is receiving reports
from households of instant and radical changes—replacing inef-
ficient lights, for example, or ordering PV, solar hot water, and
gray water recycling systems.47 The program is aiming to reduce
carbon dioxide emission s by 1.5 tons per household a year.48
Australian s on average are re sponsible for fourt een tons per
household.49 T his reduction in car bon dioxide emissions will
save participa nts up to ten percent in their gas, electric, w ater,
and petroleum bills.50
The social capital being built up around these new technolo-
gies and lifestyles is also proving highly infectious and is poised
to become the basis of a major social movement if governments
are prepared to adopt the approach more broadly.
10FALL 2010
The e nd result of house hold prog rams like the ones
outlin ed ab ove, combined with the necessar y pol icy initia-
tives, may be the beginning of a transfor mative sustainab ility
process—not j ust in the actual saving s in fossil fuels and ot her
valuable materials, but als o in the growing sense that house-
holds and communities can ach ieve a transition t o a more sus-
tainable city .
Endnotes: Sustainable Cities of the Future: The Behavior Change Driver
1 Jan Scheurer & Peter Newman, Vauban: A European Model Bridging the
Brown and Green Agendas, in un habitat global report on human Settle-
mentS 2009 4 (2009), available at
2 Id.; city oF hanover, hannover-KronSberg: moDel oF a SuStainable com-
munity (1998), available at
urban_development.pdf; city oF hanover, co2auDit 1991–2001 (2003).
3 peter newman & iSabella JenningS, citieS aS SuStainable ecoSyStemS
(2008); Peter Newman, The Environmental Impact of Cities, 18 envt anD
urbaniZation 275, 278 (2007).
4 Id. at 275.
5 Masdar City is a planned community being developed just outside Abu
Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (“UAE”). Funded primarily by the UAE govern-
ment, the goals of the project include creating a sustainable urban environment
designed to use as few resources as possible and to create a center for research
and academic work. See abu Dhabi Future energy co., maSDar city, http:// (last visited Oct. 13, 2010).
6 The Redevelopment Plan for Treasure Island, between San Francisco and
Oakland, California, calls for high density residential and commercial districts,
convenient public transit systems, sustainable urban design, and remediation
of existing environmental problems. See treaSure iSlanD/yerba buena iSlanD
reDevelopment plan, environmental impact report, at II.4-5 (2010), available at
7 peter newman, timothy beatley & heather boyer, reSilient citieS:
reSponDing to peaK oil anD climate change 14 (2009).
8 Chris Twinn, BedZED, the arup Journal, Jan. 2003, at 10, 11, available
9 Id. at 10.
10 wwF et al., living planet report 2008 32 (2008), available at http://
11 Jan Scheurer, Urban Ecology, PhD Thesis, inStitute For SuStainability anD
technology policy, murDoch univerSity, 2002, available at http://www.istp.; David Beyer,
Sustainable Building and Construction, PhD Thesis, inStitute For SuStainabil-
ity anD technology policy, murDoch univerSity, 2002, 38-40, available at
12 peter newman & JeFFery Kenworthy, SuStainability anD citieS: overcom-
ing automobile DepenDence 70-71 (1999).
13 Id. at 51-52.
14 Peter Newman & Jeffery Kenworthy, Greening Urban Transportation, in
worlDwatch inStitute, State oF the worlD 2007 77 (2007).
15 newman & Kenworthy, supra note 12, at 90.
16 tranSperth pta annual report 2009/09, public tranSport authority oF
weStern auStralian government,
reports/2009/transperth/index.html (last visited October 13, 2010).
17 Newman & Kenworthy, supra note 14, at 68.
18 Id. at 78.
19 Id. at 74.
20 the center For tranSit-orienteD Development, hiDDen in plain Sight:
capturing the DemanD For houSing near tranSit 21 (2004), available at
21 Andrew Went, Peter Newman & Wal James, 100% Renewable Transport, in
100% renewable: energy autonomy in action 205-24 (Peter Droege ed., 2009).
22 Id. at 219-20.
23 gerharD p. metSchieS, Fuel priceS anD vehicle taXation (2nd ed., 2001),
available at
ces2001.pdf; richarD porter, economicS at the wheel: the coStS oF carS
anD DriverS (1999). See also curtin univerSity SuStainability policy inSti-
tute, (last visited Oct. 13, 2010).
24 See newman, beatley & boyer, supra note 7, at 107.
25 Id. at 158-59.
26 Id. at 86.
27 newman & Kenworthy, supra, note 12, at 142.
28 See Randy Salzman, TravelSmart: A Marketing Program Empowers Citi-
zens to be a Part of the Solution in Improving the Environment, maSS tranSit:
SuStainability conceptS, Apr. 2008, at 8, available at http://masstransitmag.; Randy Salzman, Now That’s
What I Call Intelligent Transport…SmartTravel, thinKing highwayS, Mar.
2008, at 26.
29 Colin Ashton-Graham, garnaut climate change review, travelSmart
anD livingSmart caSe StuDy—weStern auStralia (forthcoming), available at (following the link: Home page > All reports &
resources > Case studies > TravelSmart and LivingSmart–Western Australia)
30 Publication and Maps, Department oF tranSport, government oF weSt-
ern auStralia, (last visited Oct. 9,
2010); SalZman supra note 28.
31 About TravelSmart, Department oF tranSport, government oF weStern
auStralia, (last visited Oct. 13,
2010); Ashton-Graham, supra note 29.
32 How Does TravelSmart Household Work?, Department oF tranSport, gov-
ernment oF weStern auStralia,
(last visited Oct. 13, 2010).
33 Colin Ashton-Graham & Gary John, TravelSmart + TOD = Synergy and
Sustainability, tranSit-orienteD Development conFerence Fremantle 3 (2005).
34 TravelSmart to School, Department oF tranSport, government oF weStern
auStralia, (last visited Oct. 13, 2010).
35 Ashton-Graham & John, supra note 33.
36 Id.
37 Id.
38 ian Ker, north briSbane houSeholD travelSmart: peer review anD eval-
uation, For briSbane city council, queenSlanD tranSport, anD auStralian
greenhouSe oFFice (2008).
39 Newman & Kenworthy, supra note 14, at 66.
40 SocialData auStralia, Department oF tranSport, travelSmart houSe-
holD Final evaluation report murDoch Station catchment (city oF
melville 2007) 28 (2009), available at
41 Id.; public tranSport authority, weStern auStralian government, http:// (last visited Oct. 9, 2010).
42 DaviD waKe, reDucing car commuting through employer-baSeD travel
planning in perth, auStralia, 3 (2007), available at
43 Id.
44 Living Smart Home, Department oF tranSport, government oF weStern
auStralia, (last visited Oct. 9, 2010).
45 Ashton-Graham, supra note 29, at 5.
46 Ashton-Graham, supra note 29; SocialData auStralia, Department oF
tranSport, implementation report living Smart JoonDalup anD manDurah
(2009), available at
47 Synovate ltD., livingSmart quality Survey–houSeholD reSponSeS to
energy, water, waSte anD travel DemanD management ServiceS 43 (2009),
available at
48 Ashton-Graham, supra note 29.
49 Living Smart Home, supra note 44. See, e.g. Environmental Indicators:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions, u.n. Stat. DiviSion,
environment/air_co2_emissions.htm (last updated Aug. 2009) (indicating as of
2006, per capita emissions were 19.7 tonnes in the United States, 9.2 tonnes in
the United Kingdom, and 19 tonnes in Australia).
50 Synovate ltD., supra note 47.