Is the Vertical City a Viable Solution for Sustainable Living?

Written by Lloyd Alter

The concept of the Vertical City is fascinating and attractive to some people, and totally repulsive to others. In principle, living and working in a building hundreds of stories high makes a great deal of sense; it prevents the loss of farmland and natural greenbelts, it reduces air pollution (since all commuting is vertical where the distances are much shorter and the transport mechanism much more efficient) and reduces the need for all the roads that service horizontal cities, so people can just walk out into parkland. This is why I have been so fascinated with the work of Zhang Yue and Broad Sustainable Building and his vision of a 220 story Sky City.

Singapore. Photo Credit: Vertical City

Others are deeply committed to the concept too; Authors Kenneth King and Kelogg Wong are putting together a coffee table book promoting the idea of the vertical city. They have developed an impressive Manifesto:

A new urban form is in need urgently and experts in relevant areas have discussed and experimented with different ways to solve humanities’ most pressing problems. Although some methods have remitted some issues more or less, still we have not been able to eliminate the urban crisis. That’s why we hope Vertical City will be the new urban form that can solve our problems. “If it is properly designed, a Vertical City provides its residents with a sense of belonging to a community and most importantly, it is easier and less costly to maintain and operate.” A well designed Vertical City will address concerns in three areas – Environmental, Formal, and Socioeconomic/Political – and will achieve eight key objectives in each area.

In Environmental, points include the Big One, curb global warming; preservation of arable land; local food made without preservatives or refrigerants.

In Formal, “Maximize density and compactness for optimum efficiency in clustered ultra-tall towers.” Limit the project footprint to a 15 minute walk from one end to the other.

In Socioeconomic / Political, the Big One:

Mix uses to meet essential needs for housing, employment, education, recreation, health care, and other services, optimizing the efficiency gains of centralized labor and consumption markets by doing away with long wasteful and polluting commutes between home and work.

Read the full manifesto here; it makes 32 very good points.

By building Vertical Cities we can save energy, support our growing population and preserve our horizontal spaces for food production, nature and recreation.

Lloyd Alter/ morning in Tienanmen Square/CC BY 2.0

It’s not a surprise that the current interest in the Vertical City is coming from architects living or working in China; the explosive horizontal growth has caused huge issues of pollution, congestion and degradation. The blurb for the book promises a solution:

In the book VERTICAL CITY : A Solution for Sustainable Living, authors KENNETH KING and KELLOGG WONG partnered with architects, urban designers, engineers, microbiologists, transportation and sustainability experts to answer this question. The conclusions drawn by this diverse panel of experts are as surprising as they are exciting. This book inspires our imagination and shows us how we can create a harmonious world that promote health, sustainability, and a dignified life for all, through the emerging technologies of Vertical Cities.

To be fair, this isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time; some worry about the resilience of supertalls, others about the social consequences. As Lennon Richardson notes at the start of the video, the American Dream is still a big house with a two car garage. “But as our population continues to grow and our resources become scarce, this becomes less and less sustainable.” The Vertical City is certainly an option that should be considered.

The authors have put up a little Kickstarter, noting that they are donating a copy of the book to a library or school for every one that they sell. The real point of the exercise is to “start a world wide conversation about vertical cities.” With their comprehensive website, I think they are already doing that. It is likely that they will blow through their modest target pretty quickly; they are over halfway there just 3 days in with 28 to go.

Photo Credit: Vertical City

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Angela P.
Angie P3 years ago

No thanks. This would not be for me.

Danielle Esau
Danielle Elle3 years ago

People need to stop breeding! I'm all for this concept if it stops humans from hurting animals but it won't not at the rate people are reproducing.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan H3 years ago


ERIKA S3 years ago

noted,thank you

Darren Woolsey
Darren W3 years ago

They look impressive, but I'm not sure I'd want to live or work in one.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B3 years ago

Or how about we just address the issue of over population? How many people is this planet meant to support? We are passed 7 billion and that is already unacceptable in my opinion. Don't think peope really appreciate what a HUGE number even one billion is. Counting to one billion (without a break) would take you over 30 years!

Connie O.
Connie O3 years ago

I agree Ron B.

I certainly would not want to live in such a tall building.

Katie K.
Katie K3 years ago

Vertical planting would make better sense. I live in the city but it's a city in Kentucky and is uncomparable to lets say NYC. It all comes down to having way to many folks inhabiting the Earth both newborn and aged. No matter the issue, I wouldn't go into let alone reside in one of these things.

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago