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
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
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
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.