Sustainable Design in Cities and Mass Transportation

With more of the world’s population living in metro areas, a sustainable future will depend on better design in our cities and transit systems. 

two employees planting


We seek solutions to urbanization and climate challenges that:

  • Use design to enable climate change adaptation through building and construction
  • Enhance the environmental and social sustainability of cities
  • Reduce weight
  • Improve fuel efficiency
  • Minimize the environmental footprint of mass transit 

Environmental sustainability goes beyond wildlife, conservation and recycling and is closely tied to the products we use and the places we inhabit. Starting in 2010, Alcoa Foundation initiated a portfolio of partnerships focused on the role of architecture and transportation in regards to the environment. As global megatrends like urbanization create new challenges, we must build innovative systems for cities that maximize the use of resources and reduce waste.


We’ve elected to focus on two areas that share opportunities for sustainability improvements.

  • Transportation: Alcoa Foundation-sponsored projects seek solutions that reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency, and minimize the environmental footprint of mass transportation.
  • Urbanization: We’re helping explore the role of architecture and design in building and construction to enable adaptation to climate change, while enhancing the environmental and social sustainability of cities.

Lightweight metal-based vehicle structures



The Institute for Materials Research at Ohio State University partnered with Alcoa Foundation to research and explore innovative design and manufacturing technologies that will enable the creation of lighter, more environmentally friendly vehicle structures.


The Institute for Materials Research is working closely with professors across the university to educate engineering students and practicing engineers on a holistic approach to multi-materials structural joining, recognizing that the lightest weight and most affordable vehicles in the future will not be made from one material, but many different ones. Research from this project will provide valuable input for the development of sustainable transportation in the future.


New mobility solutions for Beijing and Detroit



Our three-year partnership with SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) started in 2010. SMART is devoted to developing sustainable transportation for an increasingly urban world, accomplishing its mission through research, living-lab demonstration projects, education and global learning exchanges. It represents a broad-based initiative housed at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. 


SMART is applying whole-systems approaches and innovations to sustainable transportation in Beijing and Detroit. Transportation modes, services, and technologies are all being considered. SMART is also exploring new business models and potential green job opportunities that will supply the sustainable future of transportation.


Municipality of Fjardabyggd



Social exclusion and community vitality can be real issues in sparsely populated parts of the world. The fabric of society can be strengthened by making it easier for people to come together with sustainable, affordable public transit. This, however, can be a real challenge and financial burden for small and rural communities.


Alcoa Foundation is teaming with the Municipality of Fjardabyggd in eastern Iceland to develop safe, innovative and sustainable transport schemes and services. The project will inventory existing transportation services and their utilization, identifying needs of different geographies. New solutions that could include elderly transport, hospital travel, school buses and commuting will be identified and implemented to make the rural and coastal areas more accessible.


China’s urbanization and growth model



As part of our efforts to promote sustainability along multiple paths, the Alcoa Foundation sponsors policy research. Our goal is to advance the discussion surrounding sustainability among government officials and decision-makers.


In 2012, Alcoa Foundation helped make possible the publication of Urbanization and Land Reform under China’s Current Growth Model, by Dr. Tao Ran, professor of economics at Renmin University in Beijing and Senior Fellow at the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, a part of the Brookings Institution. The work is the first policy monograph released by the Center.


In the paper, Dr. Tao examines China’s growth model through urbanization, industrialization and globalization since the mid-1990s. He argues that China’s development has been heavily driven by local governments through a central-local fiscal system, regional competition and industrial preference. He aims to provide sensible policy recommendations on economic and fiscal reforms for sustainable growth in China.