Guidebook of Sustainable Neighbourhoods in Europe

By Localiban | - last updated :

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The practical existing examples presented in this guidebook are prepared for local authorities in order to get inspiration to build attractive, healthy and self-sufficient, sustainable communities. Therefore, the purpose of this guidebook is to identify and present pioneer eco-community developments in Europe.

For a long time interdependent, territorial development and energy supply have more recently become strangers, leading to a significant gap between current trends of urban development and the desired sustainable energy future. What if the solution lies in the reconciliation of local and regional development with the future energy paradigm? Local authorities have definitely a strategic role to play.

The examples described in this guidebook show us the way forward. The new districts that have come into being over the last few years in cities like Hanover, Freiburg, Helsinki, London and elsewhere are all laboratories for our future. They all combine an integrated urban planning process with a (very) low energy use, high levels of renewable and decentralized energy supply. Furthermore, all attach much importance to being pleasant places to live in. How can local authorities learn from these examples and apply them to their own territories?
The diversity and complexity of the examples described are considered adaptable and replicable by any European local authority.

1. Introduction

The evolution of energy and climate change trends mean local authorities must – as of today – re-conceive the way they develop their territories. The relation between the development of the territories and energy is a strategic one: for years, the approach to energy supply has determined sector-specific policies (e.g. in commerce, transport, agriculture, residences, etc).
For a long time interdependent, “territorial development” and “energy supply” have more recently become unaware of each other. We satisfy our appetite for energy by using resources increasingly distant from where we live, therefore consuming in an irresponsible way and never measuring the impact of our consumption. What if the solution lays in the reconciliation of local and regional development with the energy issues?

Bottom-up approaches are likely to support the reconciliation of such territories, their economic and social actors and the whole population, with the energy question. The responsibility for energy decisions must return to the local and regional levels in order to guarantee a sustainable energy future and more responsible modes of development that truly serve the needs of today’s citizens in this, and future, generations. This must include territories less vulnerable to the energy challenges and interdependent territories in order to decrease the energy and climatic vulnerability of the territories and their inhabitants.

A utopia? Surely. A lever for change? Undoubtedly. Is it possible to start the action today, without awaiting the interminable negotiations of international agreements? Certainly.

2. Towards a new energy paradigm?

Today, it is an (almost) acknowledged fact that climate change and energy issues are a major source of concern for the future. However, all energy consumption curves are still trending up and a significant gap remains between current trends of urban development and the desired sustainable energy future.

This can be explained by 2 territorial tendencies:

1. Schizophrenia

Even in our own territories, schizophrenic attitudes prevail. Local authorities know in a general way what direction they have to take (that is, divide by three the energy use and have renewable energy cover most of energy needs by 2050), but they do not take action - or only too timidly -, local authorities do not know how to get there or find it hard to imagine the future differently: town planning, building and mobility issues continue to be inspired by the past and present habits rather than the future.

Local authorities have, however, no choice but to change. Local authorities dispose of all they need to achieve the necessary changes: technologies, services, regulations, market and tax instruments, financial resources that they are often unaware of, and of course, the intelligence of men and women.

The relation between the development of our territories and energy is a strategic one: for years, our approach to energy supply has determined our sector-specific policies (e.g. commerce, transport, agriculture, residences, etc.). For a long time interdependent, territorial development and energy supply have more recently become strangers. What if the solution lies in the reconciliation of local and regional development with the future energy paradigm?

2. Sporadic initiatives

Some initiatives are showing us the way forward. All are laboratories for our future; combining low energy use with high levels of renewable and decentralised energy supply, attaching much importance to being pleasant places to live and work. However, these examples are still isolated. We are facing a big challenge where there is consensus that change is necessary but the level of involvement remains far from being sufficient to have any impact at National or EU level. In reality in order to enter a new sustainable energy paradigm, thousands of local authorities need to be involved in a democratic and bottom-up approach.

Fortunately, local authorities do not need to start from scratch. Many municipalities are prepared to sign commitments to voluntarily achieve EU objectives.

3. The role of territories: The territory as a place for integration

A ‘desirable future’ for territories and their energy systems becomes the starting point; such a desirable future must also be ‘sustainable.’ The territory integrates different sectors, functions and actors; this fact is of utmost importance and must be taken into account.
Why? Because a high ‘quality of life’ in the territories will not arise out of a juxtaposition between sectors and actors. Quality of life requires, in a given territory, a feeling of belonging (without which, territorial development is pure abstraction) where a sufficiently meaningful purpose exists to inspire an integration of activities, actors and aspirations. The territory is the place where integration takes place and local authorities that administer it have the responsibility for this integration and its organization as well as for social and territorial cohesion.

The territory is indeed a "transversal" place where the various sectors act and where the various actors have the collective responsibility to organize themselves to live together. Stripped of governance, the territory would only be a space on which activities and people are juxtaposed randomly, as it happens unfortunately in places where urban and rural planning doesn’t exist. Associated with governance, the territory defines rules, rights and obligations. It integrates not only short-term considerations, but also long term images. Isn’t it a role for leaders of territorial governance to transcend the daily and short-term pressures to ensure quality of life now and for future generations?
Local authorities are main actors in reducing vulnerability of territories and possibly, in providing the foundations for the return of a healthy economy.
Local authorities have all they need to achieve the necessary changes: technologies, regulations, financial instruments and resources that they are often unaware of, and of course, human capacity.

Tomorrow’s society will thus depend much on local authorities’ capacity to:

• adopt sober modes of energy consumption,

• use more decentralized, renewable sources and integrated production modes (e.g.
combined heat and power) in places of consumption rather than resorting to
systematically centralized or exogenous traditional modes,

• engage the entire society, not only traditional energy specialists focussing on the
supply side, to co-create integrated solutions.
All levels of administration and governance at the international and European level as well as the local and regional level are now self-declared followers of ‘sustainable development,’ but they often play in their own ‘court’ giving priority to their institutional logic, at the expense of the goal of a sustainable society.

4. What kind of city do we want to live in?

Inevitably, the "Factor 4" city of 2050 will be rather different from the city of today. The major difference will not necessarily be reflected in the city’s appearance (taking into account the inertia suitable to the real estate and the roadway systems), but in the way people will live and make use of the city.

Some desirable features of the “Factor 4” city:

• New constructions will not consume fossil energy for the heating and air-conditioning and the majority will produce electricity: bioclimatic design, external insulation, triple glazing etc. All the roofs will contain thermal and photovoltaic solar collectors, which will have replaced the current tiles. The bicycle garage will be integrated systematically into new buildings.

• Old - and very old - buildings will have drastically reduced their heating use; therefore their consumption/m2 will not exceed 50kWh/M2/year (representing the half of the requirements foreseen in the regulation for new buildings).

• All heating installations, whatever their size will be in cogeneration, i.e. will produce electricity and heat at the same time.

• Fuel poverty will not exist anymore due to the very low impact of energy prices on the overall accommodation bills.

• Transport will be done by walking, cycling or public transport; car usage will be minor. • Motor and vehicle traffic will mainly be absent in the urban districts and common spaces will be used once more by the inhabitants; access to bus and tram stops as well as all other services will be possible by walking or cycling. Urban districts will have more natural open spaces in order to allow contact with nature and to refresh
urban areas.

• The local population and actors will be more closely involved in the design and
implementation of urban projects and the rise of the ‘ecological culture’ in the society
will have succeeded in changing the "non-sustainable" behavior and practices. • Large commercial and leisure areas in the outskirts of cities will be restructured; due to certain pressures like a strong reduction of the automobile use and the need for proximity, the food business and other daily services will be reinstated in the living
places of the inhabitants.

• Competition between companies, developers, architects, etc will be done on the basis
of the lowest possible energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

• Lighting will be ensured by using LED systems that have very low energy
consumption and are adapted to requirements according to daylight.

• Energy requirements will be guaranteed mainly from renewable resources (solar, wood, geothermic, wind) or resulting from recovery (waste, heat from cogeneration). Economic activities will be directly related to energy production, replacing imported
energy by local employment.

• A new urban-countryside relationship will be created in order to use biomass for
energy production. Consequently, the management of the outskirts will be re- discussed to limit waste of space. Indeed, the agricultural crises of overproduction (especially food) of the last century will have disappeared and one will seek agricultural space to produce diverse materials and energy.

• The energy and climate indicator will be one of the main indicators of the municipality, as well as the employment rates, the number of inhabitants or safety; the investment process will take into account the energy and climate performance of territories.

• After being marked by the accumulation of physical goods (20th-21st centuries), the system of values will be more directed towards the pleasure of living, inventing, conviviality, culture etc. The culture of quantity and uniformity will make place to a culture of quality and diversity.

• Etc.

Many more features could be mentioned here and local authorities are the best placed to contribute to this utopia. Utopia? Let’s reverse our reasoning: which of these example features are not desirables and even realistic? Who would be able to state that the attractiveness of the cities would be based on a system that would be in opposition to the tendencies described above?

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Guidebook of Sustainable Neighbourhoods in Europe