Urban areas often have high population densities, intricate transport networks and dense commercial and industrial areas, which can compound existing environmental and health issues, and exacerbate social inequalities. At the same time, cities have the capacity to shape the transition to a more sustainable future.

EEA's conceptual framework for urban sustainability

Europe is a highly urbanised continent. The urban landscape of Europe is heterogenous and characterised by a diversity of mostly small and medium cities.

Despite this diversity, it is clear that cities will need to play a key role in achieving sustainability in Europe.

With the support of urban stakeholders, the EEA developed a conceptual model and selected six observation and analysis lenses to assess the role of cities in urban transitions towards environmental sustainability, within the broad European Green Deal framework and the EU Urban Agenda.

Which European city has the cleanest air? What about your city?

Islands in cities: heat islands

In cities, the ground is often covered by asphalt, pavement and buildings, which absorb and retain heat. The temperature is higher and that becomes dangerous for health. This is the urban heat island effect.

Increasingly frequent, long and intense heatwaves in combination with an ageing population and growing urbanisation mean that more vulnerable populations are exposed to high temperatures, particularly in southern and central Europe.

Reducing the health impacts of heat requires implementing a wide range of solutions, including effective heat health action plans, creating more green and shaded areas in cities, appropriate building design and construction, and adjusting working times and conditions so people are less exposed. 

Unequal access to green areas

Environmental inequalities in cities are reflected in the levels of pollution and noise that people are facing, but also even in the access to green areas, which offer great benefits for children and the elderly:

  • Cities in the north and west of Europe have more total green space within their area than cities in southern and eastern Europe.
  • Within cities, the degree of greening varies across neighbourhoods, with less and lower quality green space typically found in communities of lower socio-economic status.

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