Fieldwork: Sustainable city


1. Examination requirements
2. Subject overview 
3. Key information
4. Fieldwork
5. References

1. Examination requirements  
This field study is designed for all geography students including those studying:

AQA A Level Geography Sustainable urban development
Impact of urban areas on local and global environments. Ecological footprint of major urban areas.
Dimensions of sustainability: natural, physical, social and economic. Nature and features of sustainable cities. Concept of liveability. Contemporary opportunities and challenges in developing more sustainable cities. Strategies for developing more sustainable cities. Case studies
Case studies of two contrasting urban areas to illustrate and analyse key themes set out above, to include:
• patterns of economic and social well-being
• the nature and impact of physical environmental conditions with particular reference to the implications for environmental sustainability, the character of the study areas and the experience and attitudes of their populations.

Cambridge International A Level Geography
13.4 The management of a tourist destination
Case study: candidates must study one tourist area or resort, its growth and development, showing the issues of sustainability it faces and evaluating the impacts of tourism on the destination’s environment(s), society and economy.

IB Diploma Geography
Option E: Leisure, sport and tourism
Option G: Urban environments
4. Building sustainable urban systems for the future

The study is always tailored to the particular requirements of individual schools and colleges.

2. Subject overview
The word ‘sustainable’ means: able to be produced or sustained for an indefinite period without damaging the environment, or without depleting a resource.

Large cities are often considered to be unsustainable as they consume very large amounts of resources and produce huge amounts of waste. Sustainable urban development aims to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations.

Sustainable city case study: Palma (Mallorca)
Palma is the capital city of the Balearic Islands in Spain. It is situated on the south coast of Mallorca on the Bay of Palma. Since 1998, the population has grown by 12.41%. The current population is 402,949 (2016).

In March 2015, The Sunday Times selected Palma as the best place in the world in which to live as it “has everything” and everything is “easily accessible”. It is also just 10 minutes from the airport and there are plenty of cheap, regular flights to almost all European countries. In order to analyse if this accolade is well deserved, the issue of sustainability should be considered.

3. Key information
The mnemonic AT-CREW can be used to remember six key aspects of sustainability: Architecture; Transport and mobility; Community; Renewable energy; Economy; and Waste management and recycling.

There are currently only 5 buildings in Palma that have been certified as sustainable by BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). BREEAM is the world’s longest established method of assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings.

In 2001, an Urban Mobility Plan was approved by the city council. It involved pedestrianization schemes, restrictions on private vehicles entering the city, the construction of train tunnels under the city, the development of the central Intermodal Transport Station and establishing two metro lines.

Since 2012, Palma has been a part of Civitas, an EU initiative to redefine transport measures and policies in order to create cleaner, better transport in cities.

– Bicycles: There are more than 81 km of cycle lanes in Palma. The city is ideal for cycling as much of the city has fairly flat topography. BiciPalma is the name of a community bicycle programme that was launched in 2011. It aims to make 290 bicycles available to citizens and tourists for short trips within the city via 37 BiciPalma stations. The cost to the residents who are users is currently 24€ per year (12/2017).

– Public transport

Bus: The Municipal Transport Company (EMT) manages public bus transport in Palma. In 2016, EMT-Palma transported around 40.5 million passengers with a fleet of 178 buses, 12 of which are gas powered. It operates 29 routes, directly or indirectly, which provide services to the city as well as the neighbouring municipalities of Marratxí, Calvià and Llucmajor.

Metro: Palma has 2 metro lines which, in 2015, carried an average of 4,400 passengers per work day. M1 (line 1) opened in April 2007 and consists of 7.2 km and nine stations. It connects the city centre with the University of the Balearic Islands. Metros runs every 15 minutes during peak hours, and every 30 minutes at other times. In March 2013, an existing 8.35 km nine station rail line was renamed as M2 (line 2).

Train: Balearic Islands Transport (TIB) operates Mallorca’s trains. The Palma to Inca train line has three stops within the city and 8 more in the suburbs. Therefore, it can be included in the city public transport network.

In January 2016, Palma won a Civitas Technological Innovation award for Mobipalma. This mobile phone app promotes urban public transport and has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. The tag line is: “The simplest, fastest and most sustainable method to get around the city.”

– Park and ride schemes:The Son Fuster Vell Park & Ride car park has 917 spaces. It is situated next to a metro station for travel into central Palma.

– Privately owned cars and motorcycles: In Palma there are 265,866 registered vehicles, 2.64% more than in 2016. Of these, 191,383 are privately owned cars, 2.7% more than in 2016. With regards to motorcycles, there are 28,217, 6.3% more than 2016.

Charging points for electric vehiclesThe use of electric vehicles in the city is promoted. There are 10 recharging stations for cars and 5 for motorbikes.

– Pedestrianised areas: Restricted Traffic Zones (ACIRE) are special areas where only authorised vehicles are allowed. The main features of the zones are: pedestrians always have right of way; cyclists are allowed to ride in both directions; the maximum driving speed is 20 km/h.

– Traffic flow: Tunnels have been dug in order to aid traffic flow and also avoid visual, air and noise pollution. One way systems are also prevalent.


Since 2004, Palma has been divided into 5 districts and each one is comprised of different neighbourhoods.

  • Centre (Centre): 13 neighbourhoods
  • East (Llevant): 20 neighbourhoods
  • West (Ponent): 26 neighbourhoods
  • North (Nord): 14 neighbourhoods
  • Palma Beach: 26 neighbourhoods

Many of the associations are currently focused on addressing the controversial issues of gentrification and tourism. Gentrification has seen the breaking up of communities as life-long residents have been forced to move elsewhere due to the increase in apartment rents. Tourism, particularly that related to cruise ships passengers, has seen a huge increase in pedestrian congestion in the streets of the city.


– Solar power: Unfortunately, the current Spanish taxation system makes its uneconomical for a building to reduce its electricity bill by installing solar panels. However, if a house or building is not connected to the national grid, it is possible for it to be powered entirely by solar panels.

– Water heating systems: There are currently various self-contained water heating systems that utilise solar energy. As they do not generate electricity, these are not subject to taxation.


– Real estate: According to the Fundación Impulsa (Impulse Foundation), the biggest industry in Palma is real estate.

– Tourism: Tourism is very important to the city economy. In 2016, there were 245 different hotels and hostels in the city, with a total of 44,574 beds. The occupancy rate for the year was 76.7%.

In 2016, in terms of cruise ship passengers, Palma was the ninth busiest port in the world (the third busiest in Europe). The port was visited by 516 cruise ships carrying 1,626,620 passengers.

A report in 2011 estimated that cruise ship passengers spent 180.33 million euros (or 112.09€ per person) in the Balearic Islands of which 55.3% was in shops. The rest (44.7%) was spent on travel agencies, bars and restaurants, transport and accommodation.

– Smart city: The Palma Smart City / Smart Destination master plan was approved in 2013 with the objective of converting Palma into the first intelligent tourism destination by 2020. This involves providing high quality free wifi in the areas of Palma most visited by tourists.

Palma ActiveThis is Palma City Council’s local development agency. Its mission is to promote an economy that generates stable, quality employment; and to promote work and business training in Palma. Its vision is to be recognized as a development agency with strong leadership and a driver of economic and social prosperity for all. It has adopted the city council’s motto: “Thinking about you”. The agency is located in the Sa Gerreria neighbourhood of Palma. It provides: employment/recruitment opportunities; training courses; business mentoring programmes; office space; networking opportunities; and grants and economic support. It also supports the Palma Film Office.


Annually, Palma generates some 200,000 tons of waste. Waste is either recycled or incinerated depending on the container in which it is deposited. EMAYA (the Municipal Water and Sewage Company) publishes monthly waste statistics. Currently, approximately 80% of waste generated is incinerated. However, much of this waste could actually be recycled. This includes: plastic and metal packaging, paper and cardboard, glass, organic matter, oil and clothes. The goal is, through education, for 50% of waste to be recycling by 2020.

4. Fieldwork 
The study involves a visit to Palma to look at how successfully the city is becoming sustainable. The visit can consider all or some of the six key aspects of sustainability (AT-CREW).

Fieldwork methodology

Both quantitative and qualitative primary data will be collected by the students. Quantitative techniques can include mapping and questionnaires. Qualitative techniques can include questionnaires, interviews, observations and photography.

Qualitative and quantitative secondary data can be requested. This includes: transcripts of interviews with members of different stakeholder groups; historical photographs, maps and newspaper reports; data and graphs regarding demographics, employment and transport.

Research questions
Students will be assisted in designing a study that allows data to be collected in order to investigate and answer a research question. Possible research questions are:

  • How successful has Palma been in becoming a sustainable city?
  • What more can the council do in order to make the city more sustainable?
  • Is the participation of local people necessary for sustainability? If so, in what form should it take?
  • Who are the stakeholders in the sustainability process?
  • What are the impacts (both positive and negative) of sustainability for the stakeholders?
  • What are the benefits to Palma of becoming a sustainable city?
  • How important is sustainability with regards to local development?
  • How can Palma achieve sustainable tourism?
  • How can the city identity be maintained while attracting sustainable tourism?
  • How can Palma ensure revenue is generated without affecting the communities withink the city?
  • How can things be improved for local residents and local businesses?
  • What strategies can be used to reach the carrying capacity for tourists while at the same time minimizing conflicts between tourists and local people and avoiding environmental damage?
  • Is there a relationship between the resident population and economic activity?

5. References