Forward-thinking cities around the world are increasingly competing - as well as cooperating - to position themselves as 'greener' than each other or to promote some singular quality that makes them stand out.

New York has its PlaNYC, Bristol has its Green Pound, Brighton is a One Planet City and Amsterdam aims to be the world's first Smart City. Masdar City and Dongtan in China are being designed from scratch to run totally on renewable energy - although Danish cities like Aalborg claim to have got there first.

Many, such as Melbourne, have goals to become carbon neutral, and Alberta has frequently topped 'green city' lists for the way it deals with water, pollution and waste.

There are many routes being taken to become an eco-city like these. Masdar City and Dongton result from British architectural firms being commissioned to design them. Others, such as Freiburg in Germany, rely heavily on contributions and participation from existing citizens.

The developers of Dongtan have used the following criteria to determine the sustainability of their project:

  1. Revise land use priorities
  2. Create green, and safe mixed communities
  3. Revise transportation priorities
  4. Favour foot, bicycle, cart and transit over auto
  5. Restore damaged urban environments
  6. Create decent, safe, and economically mixed housing
  7. Nurture social justice and create improved opportunities
  8. Support local agriculture
  9. Create community gardens
  10. Promote recycling and resource conservation
  11. Work with businesses to support ecologically sound economic activity
  12. Promote voluntary simplicity
  13. Increase awareness of the local environment.

At least three (italicized) of these criteria could be said to be social. Since humans are social creatures and that is one reason why they like living together in such crowded proximity, a key factor of the success of a sustainable city will be how well its citizens are encouraged to get along with each other.

Vienna's City Hype

Zugang zur U-Bahn-Station Stephansplatz

Entrance to U-Bahn Metro Station Stephansplatz, Vienna.

City hype logoIt's this social quality which Vienna has singled out this year to be to theme of its own bid for a unique badge that it can wear to distinguish itself. It has launched a competition called City Hype to come up with ideas to make the Solidarity City work.

It is seeking proposals for projects that will promote equality and give Vienna the Austrian capital a diverse modern identity. These are clustered around the following questions:

  • How can a city be designed to promote solidarity through the social interactions of its residents?
  • Are there particular communication technologies required to connect people together?
  • Diverse citizens lead very different lives. How can the administration of a city be sufficiently flexible and inclusive to meet their needs?
  • Can open data and transparency foster citizen involvement at all levels?
  • For a city to become 'smart' what sustainable solutions are required?
  • And, finally, how can groups and individuals living in the city be empowered to creatively come together to develop their own initiatives for civil society?

Entry to the City Hype competition is open to anyone in the world to contribute visionary design ideas for Vienna. The deadline is June 18.

According to our correspondent in Vienna, Florian Lorenz, "Vienna aims to create new urban innovation with such prizes", and share the results with other cities.