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EU carbon emission agreement will
strengthen concept of liveable cities
By Brian Baker, Environment Correspondent
18 March 2007: The commitment by the European Union (EU) on 9 March 2007 to a binding target of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 will affect all tiers of government as well as business. The implementation of regulations to make the necessary changes may well force the EU to recognise the critical role of cities and accede to their calls for more powers and resources.
While effectively placing environmental factors at the core of every activity is a challenge for urban authorities, many are already making impressive steps. Two EU-funded projects have stimulated solutions for participating cities.
Both adopted the Liveable Cities strap-line, in itself an indicator that the European Commission is now much more aware of the importance of attractive cities to the 27-member Union. This is driven by the Lisbon jobs and growth strategy and now by the focus on climate change.
City enhancement through public realm-led regeneration was the theme of an INTERREG project, ‘Liveable Cities’ implemented by six North Sea Arc city partners led by Norwich in the UK. The final conference of the four-year programme was in Norwich on 16 and 17 May 2007.
In the other programme, which was funded by the Commission Environment Directorate and co-ordinated by the Euro Cities network, eight cities collaborated for two years on sustainable urban management. In February 2007, the conclusions and a comprehensive guidance brochure were produced and presented to stakeholders from the European Parliament, the Commission and the Committee of the Regions.
As groups of urban authorities share challenges and seek practical solutions together, how has this international collaboration affected mayors and leaders?
The draft final report of the North Sea Arc cities seeks to measure the benefits of public realm-led regeneration widely and cites examples of successful interventions, most of which are replicable, in the six partner cities.
Broader conclusions are also drawn by the report, which says that public space is the city’s living room. “Positive nurturing of urban space is not a mere peripheral townscape cosmetic - it is at the heart of what makes a city liveable and therefore successful.”
In Ghent, Belgium, the programme was used to further develop the innovative city centre lighting strategy and to accelerate its implementation in partnership with building owners in the historic centre. ”Cities have to put the proposals they are working up into practice themselves afterwards,” said Clarisse Forgues, co-ordinator of the Liveable Cities project.
In Emden, Germany, the project helped the city develop more events in its public spaces and to underpin this by establishing an Emden Visitor Card. They also introduced an Emden Marketing and Tourism Group that will sustain the events programmes and collaboration between venues and attractions.
Clarisse Forgues, who is also Norwich City Council’s European Projects Manager, said: “We did not have a spatial strategy here before the start of the liveable cities programme, and now we have one in place. In Emden and Trondheim, this approach has been introduced for the first time too. All six cities have been emboldened to introduce new techniques for their populations.”
The broad conclusion is: “Be bold and counter ‘risk aversion’ with sound argument. Experiment with what works and doesn’t before deciding finally on the scheme and reviewing on a regular basis, enabling a space to be refreshed and remain relevant to its users.”
Milo, Sweden, was one of the cities in the sustainable urban management programme that was initiated explicitly to put a practical, replicable pathway in place in furtherance of the Urban Thematic Spatial Strategy adopted by the Council of Ministers last year and the December 2005 Bristol Accord. (See City Mayors, January 2006).
Each of the eight cities chose a case study to include in the process. In Malmo it was Norra Sorgenfri east of the city core. It had been underutilised and affected by pollution from former industrial uses and by heavy road traffic and rail lines. Now Malmo City Council has a vision for its future with a higher residential population but without driving out existing businesses, many of which are small or new enterprises.
Deputy Mayor Anders Rubin observed: “We have evolved a vision for the area and refined it through collaboration with partner cities. It is of an area that will be unique in a modest, non-spectacular way with honesty and good quality, using the best of people-centred urban planning. The goal is to attract people from all across the city to live there. It will be in-fill development carried out by several different investors with residential areas close to existing businesses. Sustainable principles will apply to every aspect of the scheme.”
Bristol, UK, chose the major expansion of the Broadmead Shopping Centre as its case study. Environmental Quality Manager Peter Fryer said: “We used it to show other cities how members of the public and other groups had been involved in the proposals from a very early stage. We were able to ensure this happened by partnering with the two developers and assisting them to form a single body, the Bristol Alliance.”
He added: “During the sustainable urban management project we picked up ways of tailoring the planning regime to greener outcomes. These programmes offer an insight into solutions that may be possible locally. It’s foolish to have 100 cities across Europe working entirely on their own, on traffic congestion for example.
“This project helped us to take a corporate approach to embedding sustainable urban management throughout all the council’s activities.”
Political and economic benefits are an important means of measuring the benefits of these EU projects. In Bristol, the process informed the decision by political leaders to set the city the goal of becoming a green capital.”
Norwich, by leading the North Sea Region liveable cities project, was able to dramatically increase its profile in the EU and with the UK Government. Ms Forgues said: “At the political level our leadership has now changed our corporate objectives to include ‘making Norwich an exemplar of a modern, European, liveable city.’”
The economic benefits of using project pump priming funds have been significant in the liveable cities partners. In Ghent, the Emile Brauplein project secured significant public sector leverage on the back of the EU contribution to deliver refreshment of a key public space.
The EU funding in the programme budget of 30,000 euros for a signage strategy in Norwich stimulated a total fund from private and public sector sources for investment in new signage of 150,000 euros. Signage and interpretation has been a major aspect of the learning and sharing in all the cities. Both Lincoln, England, and Emden, Germany, have introduced new schemes enhancing legibility and visitor and resident experiences across their central area streets and squares.
Guidance on Sustainable Urban Management, downloadable from the Eurocities website, as is a summary leaflet, includes dozens of brief examples of effective policies and actions by cities and towns across Europe. It offers pragmatic advice for politicians and officials grouped around key aspects of policy and practice that are critical to implementing sustainable urban management in a comprehensive manner.