While there is little agreement as to the particular benchmarks and standards that make up urban sustainability (Khan, 2006), the traditional pillars of sustainability are considered to be “Social Development”, “Economic Growth” and “Environmental Protection” as initially set out by the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987) and later defined by the 2005 World Summit on Social Development (Kates et al. 2005). Those pillars are often supplemented by a fourth, considered to be “Cultural Vitality” (Hawkes 2001), a part of the “circles of sustainability” of UN Agenda 21 (Spangenberg, 2002). Cultural Vitality is a focus away from the social elements of sustainability and towards the intangible human and cultural dimension, their heritage and the differences that exist between various urban areas to be preserved and enhanced (Duxbury and Jeannotte 2012). This involves an adaptation of sustainability according to cultural norms and strategies employed (Nadarajah and Yamamoto 2007). Academics (Banister, 2008; Maoh and Kanaroglou, 2009; Geels, 2012; Tran et al., 2014) argue to the undervalued importance of technology in sustainability and its impact in improving social equity, economic efficiencies, transparency and governance within urban systems.
While financial viability is central to the principles of long-term urban sustainability, should it become the defining factor of policy making, beyond its social equity remit? Keeping both elements into balance is essential towards improving the long-term viability of those sustainable efforts. To better understand those key terms, they must first be defined and understood. For the purposes of this essay, the point of view of public sector investments only is taken ignoring the financial viability aspects of the private sector involvement within the built environment, even if they increasingly take on traditional responsibilities of the public sphere, since profit is almost always the overriding and ultimate goal.