Cities are critical sites for understanding, and potentially ameliorating, the effects of global ecological change, the climate emergency and natural resource depletion. Contemporary cities are sociomaterially connected through global markets, trade and transportation, placing ever-increasing demands on the natural environment and generating dangerous pollutants and emissions. Current approaches to address these environmental crises are dominated by neoliberal forms of ‘green’ urban development, carbon accounting and techno-economic solutions, which extend corporate control over cities and tend to entrench inequality. A more strategic approach for enabling ecologically sustainable and equitable urban futures is urgently needed. We present five strategies for urban ecological futures in the global North, derived from qualitative and ethnographic empirical research with international eco-communities, which open up discussions about how to tackle this challenge by acknowledging the role and potential of: (1) non-extractive community economies; (2) democratic processes of co-operative action; (3) social approaches to resource management; (4) participatory collaborative governance; and (5) urban heterogeneity and social justice. We explore the relational, contested and contextual processes through which these approaches could become embedded in urban policy and planning, thereby offering the strategic capacity required to move towards truly sustainable cities.