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The Sustainable Cities Project
Average reader rating: 5.5  
by The European Commission 03 the future of Urban Development

Short Summary

The Expert Group on the Urban Environment was established by the European Commission in 1991. In 1993 the Expert Group, which consists of national representatives and independent experts, launched the Sustainable Cities Project focusing on sustainable urban development and the integration of environmental objectives into planning and management strategies. The main output of the project, the European Sustainable Cities Report, is concerned with identifying the principles of sustainable development and the mechanisms needed to pursue it, not only in cities, but at all levels of the urban settlement hierarchy.

The report has an institutional as well as an environmental focus. It is concerned with the capacity of local governments to deliver sustainability. Working towards sustainability requires a fresh look at existing policies and mechanisms and a strong set of principles on which environmentally-sound action may be based. The legal and organisational basis for urban environmental action varies between different Member States, but despite these differences, local governments throughout Europe are, through their various functions (e.g. service provider, regulator, manager), now in a position to advance the goals of sustainability. The report provides a framework for local action and identifies a set of principles to use in setting goals and in evaluating and monitoring progress towards sustainability in urban areas:

1. The principle of urban management
Management for sustainability is essentially a political process which requires planning and has an impact on urban governance. The process of sustainable urban management requires a range of tools addressing environmental, social and economic concerns in order to provide the necessary basis for integration. By applying these tools, urban policy making for sustainability can become broader, more powerful and more ambitious than has been generally recognised.

2. The principle of policy integration
Coordination and integration are to be achieved through the combination of the subsidiarity principle with the wider concept of shared responsibility. Integration should be achieved both horizontally, to stimulate synergetic effects of social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability, and vertically, between all levels of the European Union, Member States, regional and local governments to achieve greater coherence of policy and action and to avoid contradicting policies at different levels.

3. The principle of ecosystems thinking
Ecosystems thinking emphasizes the city as a complex system which is characterised by flows as continuous processes of change and development. It regards aspects such as energy, natural resources and waste production as chains of activities that require maintenance, restoration, stimulation and closure in order to contribute to sustainable development. The regulation of traffic and transport is another element of ecosystems thinking. The dual network approach, which provides a framework for urban development at regional or local level, is based on the principles of ecosystems thinking. Ecosystems thinking also includes a social dimension, which considers each city as a social ecosystem.

4. The principle of cooperation and partnership
Sustainability is a shared responsibility. Cooperation and partnership between different levels, organisations and interests is therefore crucial. Sustainable management is a learning process, within which 'learning by doing', sharing experiences, professional education and training, cross-disciplinary working, partnerships and networks, community consultation and participation, innovative educational mechanisms and awareness raising are key elements.

Sustainable urban management should challenge the problems both caused and experienced by cities, recognising that cities themselves provide many potential solutions, instead of shifting problems to other spatial levels or shifting them to future generations. The organisational patterns and administrative systems of municipalities should adopt the holistic approach of ecosystems thinking. Integration, cooperation, homeostasis, subsidiarity and synergy are key concepts for management towards urban sustainability. Existing tools developed in relation to environmental action need to be extended to address the economic and social dimensions of sustainability.

Sustainable management of natural resources requires an integrated approach to closing the cycles of natural resources, energy and waste within cities. The objectives of such an approach should include minimising consumption of natural resources, especially non-renewable and slowly renewable ones; minimising production of waste by reusing and recycling wherever possible; minimising pollution of air, soil and waters; and increasing the proportion of natural areas and biodiversity in cities. These objectives are often easier to achieve on a small scale, which is why local ecological cycles can be ideal for introducing more sustainable policies for urban systems. Local government therefore plays a crucial role.

Sustainability is strongly linked to socio-economic aspects of cities. There is a need for the EU and Member States to create the conditions in which businesses can profit by operating in more environmentally-sound ways. Regional and local authorities should explore ways of creating employment through environmental measures, encourage better environmental performance in existing businesses and encourage industry to adopt an ecosystems approach. Authorities should strengthen the well-being of the population and promote equality and social integration by ensuring that basic services and amenities, education and training, health care, housing and employment are available to all. Resisting recent trends of ignoring environmental and social risks while concentrating on accumulating material wealth requires changes to the underlying values in society, as well as to the basics of economic systems.

Achieving sustainable urban accessibility is a vital step in the overall improvement of the urban environment and maintenance of the economic viability of cities. Meeting environmental and transport objectives requires integrated approaches combining transport, environmental and spatial planning. Achieving sustainable urban accessibility requires the development of sustainability goals and indicators, target setting and monitoring, along with policies aimed at improving accessibility and not simply movement. Reconciliation of accessibility, economic development and environmental objectives should be the primary objective of a city's transport policy. An integrated multi-modal urban transport system is required, where complementarity rather than competition between modes is promoted.

Spatial planning systems are essential for the implementation of city-wide policies for sustainable development. Existing spatial planning systems should be strengthened by encouraging ecologically-based approaches and a move away from a narrow land use focus. The identification of environmental objectives at an early stage in the planning process, the use of targets and indicators, improved forms of public involvement in planning and the potential linkage of spatial planning and Local Agenda 21 processes are encouraged. Environmental carrying capacities at local, regional and global level should be accepted as the guiding principles within which other considerations may be traded off.

Urban regeneration should be used to meet goals of sustainable development through the recycling of previously developed land or existing buildings, the retention of green field sites and protection of countryside and wildlife. Detailed sustainability objectives, including the establishment of ecological links, improved accessibility, energy efficiency and community participation, should also be pursued. Decontamination of polluted soil, a major concern in many urban regeneration projects, should be seen as part of an integrative approach which provides the possibility for achieving cross-subsidy between sites.

Tourism and leisure activities can have significant impacts on the quality of a city's cultural heritage. Planning for tourism, leisure and cultural heritage should be integrated in national guidelines and regional policies addressing economic, social, environmental and cultural aspects. In addition, tourism, leisure and cultural heritage issues should form an integral part of the spatial planning process.

The sustainable city process is about creativity and change. It challenges traditional government responses and seeks new institutional and organising capacities and relationships. This report and its recommendations represent a contribution to this dynamic process, to be refined and consolidated as the Sustainable Cities Project progresses.

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