2018 Year in Review: Strategic Urban Transformations Toward Sustainability and Climate Resilience

In 2018, urban centers across the United States embraced a transformative approach to urban planning, guided by the pioneering principles of Smart Growth America (SGA) and the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU). These organizations influenced a substantial shift toward sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient urban environments. This review delves into the key advancements across public transportation, land use, walkability, economic development, sustainable development, and placemaking, integrated with a critical focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Enhancing Public Transportation Systems

Public transportation systems saw a significant expansion and improvement in 2018, reflecting a nationwide commitment to reduce carbon emissions and enhance urban connectivity. Nashville’s $5.2 billion transit improvement proposal, which included new bus rapid transit routes and a light rail system, exemplified this trend. These enhancements were designed to provide efficient, reliable alternatives to car-dependent commuting, crucial for reducing the urban carbon footprint and fostering a more sustainable transportation network. Similar initiatives in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago aimed to integrate various modes of transit, significantly enhancing accessibility and reducing travel times, thus directly contributing to a reduction in overall urban congestion and pollution​ (Smart Growth America)​.

Revolutionary Land Use and Economic Growth

The year also marked a significant evolution in land use planning, particularly by adopting form-based codes. These codes encourage aesthetically and functionally integrated development with its surroundings, promoting sustainable economic growth by facilitating high-density, mixed-use developments. This approach helps reduce the need for extensive commuting, supports local economies, and minimizes the environmental impact of urban sprawl​ (Smart Growth America)​.

The CNU’s Charter Awards recognized several projects that demonstrated the economic and social benefits of integrating sustainable urban design with economic development initiatives. For instance, the redevelopment of historic districts in cities like New Orleans and San Francisco showcased how urban renewal projects can preserve cultural heritage while fostering economic revitalization and community resilience​ (CNU)​.

Fostering Walkability and Vibrant Placemaking

Improving urban walkability was a major focus in 2018. Cities across the country implemented Complete Streets policies, which aim to make streets safer and more accessible for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. These policies promote healthier, more active lifestyles and contribute significantly to environmental sustainability by reducing dependence on automotive transport. The integration of green spaces, pedestrian plazas, and protected bike lanes under these initiatives has transformed urban centers, making them more livable and environmentally friendly​ (Smart Growth America)​​ (Smart Growth America)​.

Placemaking efforts emphasized creating spaces that enhance the quality of life for residents. Projects such as the revitalization of waterfront areas, development of community parks, and creation of outdoor art installations not only improved the aesthetic and functional attributes of these spaces but also promoted community engagement and social cohesion. These efforts illustrate how thoughtfully designed urban spaces can foster a sense of belonging and community pride while also serving as catalysts for local economic activities​ (CNU)​.

Sustainable Development and Climate Action

2018 was a standout year for sustainable development, with cities adopting strategies that included green infrastructure to address the urban heat island effect and improve air quality. The installation of green roofs, urban forests, and permeable pavements helped cities manage stormwater and reduce flooding, which is increasingly critical in the context of global climate change. These projects exemplify how urban areas can enhance their resilience to climatic extremes while improving the quality of life for their residents​ (Smart Growth America)​.

Addressing Climate Change Directly

Beyond sustainability, direct actions to combat climate change became increasingly integrated into urban planning processes. Cities prioritized the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through the enhancement of public transit systems and the promotion of renewable energy sources. Efforts to retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient and initiatives to expand renewable energy installations across urban areas were particularly notable. These measures not only reduce urban energy consumption but also contribute to national and global efforts to combat climate change.


The initiatives of 2018 reflect a deep integration of sustainability and resilience into the fabric of urban planning. Through the concerted efforts of entities like SGA and CNU, and the proactive engagement of local communities, cities have made substantial progress toward becoming not just more livable but sustainably resilient in the face of ongoing environmental challenges. The lessons learned and the strategies implemented serve as valuable blueprints for cities worldwide, illustrating effective approaches to fostering sustainable growth and resilience in an era of rapid urbanization and significant climatic threats.


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