The concept of sustainable development has become very much in vogue in the past decade. We have also observed a shift in the interpretation of this concept from a global perspective to a meso perspective - that is, at a local, regional or sectoral level. This paper aims at highlighting the urban dimension of environmental issues. After a sketch of urban pollution problems and of tools for economic analysis, the notion of urban sustainability will be advocated as a meaningful analytical and policy concept. Next, the main focus of this paper will be on a typological approach to urban sustainability issues on the basis of three characteristic angles, viz. strong and weak sustainability, absolute and relative decoupling and the spatial ecological footprint. Various methodological issues will also be discussed, while the paper will conclude with some perspectives on policy issues. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.