Smart Cities

By: Rose Gonzalez and Rachel Hughes

Time: 3 class periods
Review websites
Materials: Students’ own paper, large pieces of construction paper or poster board,
and“time in the computer lab or library


This lesson’s intent is to have students analyze how a city in the United States and one beyond, have created “smart growth” ideas to improve air quality and healthy living. Students will combine their prior knowledge of previous lessons and apply that knowledge to compare how each city is trying to create what urban planners today call “sustainable cities.” There are three main characteristics that define a sustainable city, including economic, environmental, and social factors. If time allows, the teacher may consider spending some time explaining how those three interact and are dependent upon one another for healthy urban living. The websites below provide excellent descriptions, if the teacher chooses to elaborate.

Students will be able to:
1. Analyze how a variety of cities both in the USA and abroad have worked to improve human health and environment.

National Geography Standard
(15) How physical systems affect human systems
   (15.2) Strategies to respond to constraints placed on human systems by the physical environment
(16) The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources
   (16.3) The geographic results of policies and programs for resource use and management
(18) How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
   (18.2) Contemporary issues in the context of spatial and environmental perspectives

Teacher Background
The teacher must familiarize him/herself with the communities used in the activity. It is important to have possible answers to the questions for each characteristic of a sustainable community.

Related and Resource Websites
Shanghai, China: http://www.smart-cities.net/citylist.asp?idcity=12
Healthy City Information: http://www.who.dk/healthy-cities
Healthy City Information: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/phdd/docs/healthy/chap4.html
General information about sustainability: http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR855/mr855.ch2.html
Information about state by state smart growth: http://www.smartgrowth.org/news/default.asp
Sustainability information: http://www.rec.org/REC/programs/SustainableCities/Characteristics.html
San Francisco information: http://www.ci.sf.ca.us/site/planning_index.asp?id=24835
General what is “smart growth”: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/about_sg.htm



2 Days
1. Begin by asking students what it means for a city to be a ‘healthy city’? How would you define a healthy city? Write their suggestions on the board so that you can connect what they know to the World Health Organization’s criteria that will be addressed shortly. You may also wish to have the students respond to this question in their notebooks so that you can use it as a pre-assessment.

2. Explain to the students that the problems of urban sprawl and the health effects it has on its residents, due to air pollution, can be managed by city governments, planners, and its’ citizens.
Today, some cities in the United States are attempting to become healthy cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a criterion that states a healthy city must have the following:

a. clean and safe environment
b. meets the basic needs of all its inhabitants
c. involves the community local government and provides accessible health services.

Provide the example of New York at the end of the nineteenth-century. New York City was one of the few cities that tried to cope with its growing population by recognizing it needed urban planning. It planned in the form of an infrastructure that worked in a unified system. In a unified system the quality of life is controlled by the city’s ability to anticipate needs, envision a plan, and cope with change. In the twenty-first century, more cities are questioning how to balance economic growth with the health considerations of large metropolitan cities. The biggest question cities try to plan is how to shelter and sustain their residents without destroying the balance of their environment.

3. Divide the class into groups of two. Each group will be given two cities to analyze how they have worked to improve human health issues. Some of the cities have been more aggressive in this by creating sustainable communities. Each group will pick two cities from the following, only one may be a US city:

a. Ithaca, New York
b. Toronto, Canada
c. San Francisco, California
d. Bogotá, Colombia
e. Portland, Oregon
f. Shanghai, China

Each individual will answer the following questions about their city in their notebooks:
a. Define a sustainable community.
b. Explain the characteristics of the city’s economy.

i. Do jobs provide good wages?
ii. Are the city’s businesses stable?
iii. Do they have the appropriate technology development?
iv. How do the businesses they have refrain from contributing to air pollution?
v. What type of education and skills are needed to work in those jobs?

c. Explain how the city plans for environmental health.

i. How does it work toward reducing and/or eliminating pollution in water, air, and land?
ii. How does it protect its natural open spaces and its wildlife and ecosystem?
iii. How does it minimize its’ heavy use of chemicals?
iv. What type of sewage treatment does the city have?
v. How does it create space for people to walk, ride their bikes, or use mass transit?
vi. Explain how their homes, jobs, and shopping are in close proximity.

d. Explain how the community addresses its social issues.

i. How does it work to reduce crime?
ii. How does it make housing affordable for everyone?
iii. How are the citizens educated to meet the skills needed to work in the community?
iv. How does the community address issues of equity among citizens?
v. How does it build a sense of community and spirituality?

Some of these questions may be more difficult to answer for some of the cities.

Day 3
4. Ask students to reconvene. On a large piece of construction paper ask each group to present what they found out about the cities. Have the group create a T-sheet (one for the group) with one side labeled “similarities” and the other labeled “differences” on the poster. The poster should also include a map of where the city is located and some general details about the city.

Day 3 continued
5. Ask the groups to look at their notes and discuss if the cities they studied meet the requirements of the World Health Organization.

6. Display all the posters for the students to review. Allow time for students to peruse the posters and take notes; then as a class have the students discuss what they think are particularly effective approaches to urban growth.

7. Have students write a paragraph addressing each city they studied. Based on students’ explorations and what they have read at other posters, what might they suggest as a next step toward a sustainable and healthy city? What is their reasoning for this choice?


Embedded Assessment
1. Students’ responses to the first question can act as a pre-assessment.

2. Students’ notes, posters and t-sheets provide opportunities to assess their ability to identify World Health Organization criteria

3. The discussion and concluding paragraph will allow assessment of an individual’s ability to gather and analyze information about the interplay among physical, cultural and economic geography and the ability to interpret the present and plan for the future.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo