Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism

Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism

by Timothy Beatley

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In the absence of federal leadership, states and localities are stepping forward to address critical  problems like climate change, urban sprawl, and polluted water and air. Making a city fundamentally sustainable is a daunting task, but fortunately, there are dynamic, innovative models outside U.S. borders. Green Cities of Europe draws on the world's best


In the absence of federal leadership, states and localities are stepping forward to address critical  problems like climate change, urban sprawl, and polluted water and air. Making a city fundamentally sustainable is a daunting task, but fortunately, there are dynamic, innovative models outside U.S. borders. Green Cities of Europe draws on the world's best examples of sustainability to show how other cities can become greener and more livable.

Timothy Beatley has brought together leading experts from Paris, Freiburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Heidelberg, Venice, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and London to illustrate groundbreaking practices in sustainable urban planning and design. These cities are developing strong urban cores, building pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and improving public transit. They are incorporating ecological design and planning concepts, from solar energy to natural drainage and community gardens. And they are changing the way government works, instituting municipal "green audits" and reforming economic incentives to encourage sustainability.

Whatever their specific tactics, these communities prove that a holistic approach is needed to solve environmental problems and make cities sustainable. Beatley and these esteemed contributors offer vital lessons to the domestic planning community about not only what European cities are doing to achieve that vision, but precisely how they are doing it. The result is an indispensable guide to greening American cities.

Contributors include:

 Lucie Laurian (Paris)

Dale Medearis and Wulf Daseking (Freiburg)

Michaela Brüel (Copenhagen)

Maria Jaakkola (Helsinki)

Marta Moretti (Venice)

Luis Andrés Orive and Rebeca Dios Lema (Vitoria-Gasteiz)

Camilla Ween (London)

Editorial Reviews

International Making Cities Livable
"This is essential reading for all those concerned with urban sustainability."
Landscape Architecture Magazine
"[Beatley's] wide-ranging reporting and analysis of green-urbanist work, including his channeling of crucial ideas of campaction, is foundational for clear thinking on the subject."
Chief Executive, The Prince's Foundation - Hank Dittmar
"Timothy Beatley understands that sustainability is about building for the long term, and in assembling this important volume he has selected inspiring examples of durability and resilience in city building and place making. He gives us all reason to hope for our own cities."
Dean & Professor, U of Florida College of Design, Construction, & Planning - Christopher Silver
"Green Cities of Europe is the long awaited and much needed sequel to Beatley's pioneering Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities. His updated overview of Europe's leadership in green urbanism is enhanced by case studies from practitioners and scholars who know these places so well."
University Prof. for Campus Sustainability, U of UT College of Arch. + Planning - Stephen A. Goldsmith
"Few books I use both in the classroom and in practice have had the level of transformative, transferable impact as Timothy Beatley's Green Urbanism. Now, with the expanded in-depth case studies presented in Green Cities of Europe, our toolbox for illustrating substantive change is redoubled."
Choice - D.E. Cleary

"The book includes many wonderful ideas and imparts a general sense of optimism; it will be a useful supplemental resource for students in urban studies programs."
Examiner - Ryan Smith

"Beatley makes a convincing argument supporting his contention that European cities are world leaders in sustainability efforts...Green Cities offers detailed insights into what some of the leading European cities are doing to promote sustainabiltiy."

Journal of the American Planning Association
" important update of his solo-authored 1999 book, Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities."
Urban Review STL
"I've not yet visited Europe so I don't have personal experience to draw from, but now I want to go more than ever."
Urban Design
" encouraging read on 'the art of the possible'..."
"Beatley makes a convincing argument supporting his contention that European cities are world leaders in sustainability efforts...Green Cities offers detailed insights into what some of the leading European cities are doing to promote sustainabiltiy."
"The book includes many wonderful ideas and imparts a general sense of optimism; it will be a useful supplemental resource for students in urban studies programs."

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Green Cities of Europe

Global Lessons on Green Urbanism

By Timothy Beatley


Copyright © 2012 Island Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-175-7


Introduction: Why Study European Cities?

Timothy Beatley

We are living on an increasingly urban planet. In 2008 we passed the halfway mark—50% of the world's population now live in cities, and that percentage is projected to increase to 70% by 2050. There is no turning back the urban trend. Yet ironically we have as a species yet to successfully design and plan cities that will accommodate our economic and demographic needs while uplifting and elevating us, and protect, restore, and nurture the planet and its natural systems. That we need new models of urbanization—that is, sustainable urbanization—is especially clear here in the U.S. Where to look for new models is always a question, and as this book argues, European cities remain a powerful source of potent ideas and inspiring practice. The chapters to follow, chosen to highlight the practices of some of these most innovative European urban exemplars, are written by experts and local planners who know these cities well.

Where we look first should be determined by a combination of those places with basic similarities—cultural, economic, political—and places employing a rich array of innovative tools, strategies, and ideas. And of course we should also look at cities that have already been successful at bringing about, and maintaining over a long period of time, the urban qualities and conditions we admire.

This is an especially promising time to think about and promote the environmental role of cities. There has been considerable attention paid in the last decade to how notions of sustainability begin to apply at local and regional levels. Many communities around the U.S. (and the world) are struggling to develop and implement a wide variety of initiatives and programs to make their communities more sustainable and livable. While the global (and local) problems faced are daunting, never has there been more attention paid to, and more faith expressed in, the ultimate sustainability of cities. In UN meetings, such as the 2006 UN World Urban Forum in Vancouver, which I attended (and the two subsequent world urban forums in Nanjing and Rio, respectively), nations across the globe have embraced the concepts of sustainable urbanization and sustainable communities as central to any real progress toward solving world environmental and social problems on an increasingly urban planet.

In the face of absent federal leadership on climate change, mayors and other local government leaders have shown significant leadership. The Mayors Climate Change Agreement, an initiative of former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, has been signed by some 1,054 cities (as of July 2011), committing them to meet, and ideally exceed, the greenhouse emission targets of the Kyoto Accord. Many cities have embraced the goals and vision of sustainability, but are not entirely sure how to reach them and are hungry for new ideas, tools, methods, and models.

Cities and metropolitan regions are the newest and perhaps most important venues in tackling sustainability and in advancing a green agenda. It is at this level that many things are possible, that creative and innovative practice can find expression, that committed citizens and organizations can exert pressure and make a difference. The promise of the local is great indeed, and its stock is on the rise.

Over the last several decades, many American cities and local governments have developed and implemented sustainability initiatives, from Chicago to Cleveland to Santa Monica. Many of these communities have attempted to become fundamentally greener and have made significant and impressive strides. Yet, despite good progress in many communities, these initiatives are still very much in their formative stages, especially when compared with their European counterparts. In few other parts of the world is there as much interest in urban sustainability and urban greening policy as in Europe, especially northern and northwestern Europe.

I have been studying green initiatives in European cities for nearly twenty years (see Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities). One of my first observations from this work was that sustainability appeared to be much more commonly applied and pursued at the local or municipal level in Europe, and this is especially true for the cities included in this book. "Sustainable cities" resonates well and has important political meaning and significance in these locales, and on the European urban scene generally.

Europe has indeed been a pioneer in the area of sustainable cities. Fifteen years ago, the EU funded the start-up of a critical initiative, the Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign, which became an important network of communities pursuing common sustainability goals. Participating cities approved the so-called Aalborg Charter (from Aalborg, Denmark, the site of the first campaign conference). As of 2011, more than 2,500 cities and towns had signed the charter. In addition to connecting cities and providing information about sustainability initiatives, this organization gives out a European Sustainable City Award (the first was issued in 1996), something that has become highly coveted and valued by politicians and city officials. I had the chance to visit the mayor of Albertslund, Denmark, a winner of this award, and will not forget the pride with which the mayor held up the award for us to photograph; he clearly viewed this as a significant accomplishment, and as a credit to the value (political and popular) placed on all matters green and sustainable.

Europeans have found many similar ways to inspire, encourage, and provide positive support for cities pursuing sustainability. Cities can now compete for the designation of Green Capital City, for instance. This program was created by the European Commission to recognize cities that have a "consistent record of achieving high environmental standards," and are "committed to ongoing and ambitious goals for further environmental improvement and sustainable development." Cities are also chosen to serve as role models for other cities, and to inspire other cities in a bit of friendly competition.

European cities represent important sources of ideas and inspiration about green urban development and policies. The chapters that follow attempt to go well beyond the brief descriptions and anecdotal materials currently available about these cities, to understand, document, and describe much more thoroughly these innovative local (and regional) European green efforts. The result will be an extremely important and valuable resource for the hundreds of communities in the U.S. aiming to become more sustainable.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge the special role that Europe, and European cities, have played in the development of American cities. The most famous U.S. planners, designers, and landscape architects have visited prized European cities, gardens, and landscapes as a way of stoking their creative fires. This was true for luminaries and design greats such as Frederick Law Olmsted, Daniel Burnham, and Clarence Stein, among many others. And some of our most important planning ideas and tools can trace their origins directly to Europe. Zoning, for instance, was pioneered in German cities and brought to New York City by Edward Bassett.

While innovation transfers and learning have gone in both directions, examples from European cities have been especially fruitful for American cities. For several decades, beginning in the 1970s, groups like the German Marshall Fund sponsored study trips to Europe for mayors, and other local officials, with remarkable results. From waste-to-energy, to public transit, to urban design and efforts at pedestrianizing urban centers, American visitors take away important lessons and inspiration from these visits. Sometimes they fall flat (consider congestion pricing in New York City), but for the most part these innovations have taken hold.

Ironically, the antiquity of European cities (compared with American cities) is sometimes offered as an important difference that makes them less relevant to the American scene. But a strong case can be made that there is much to be learned from human settlements that have endured shocks of many kinds, that have grown and contracted, that have survived through war and famine and every other disruption. John Gallagher, a writer for the Detroit Free Press, makes the point that even shrinking American cities can learn from Europe. While decline in population in American cities like Detroit and Cleveland is met here with "civic panic," in Europe the perspective is of a longer arc: "The ebb and flow of population over time has given Europeans a more relaxed view of shrinkage," Gallagher argues.

There are now many different, sometimes competing, ecological city-building models out there, and which ones are most useful or relevant remains an open question. There is no single model (nor should there be). Our imaginations have been captured by the hi-tech, tabula rasa projects like the eco-city Dongtan in China (now scratched) and Masdar City (under construction) in Abu Dhabi. There is a strong argument to be made that our best examples are ones that build onto and improve the existing conditions of already present cities, suggesting the importance of London or Vienna or Lyon, not Masdar (though I do believe there are things to learn from this new town as well). The journalist Chris Turner writes, "In a place like Masdar, you might find some fascinating future-tense technologies, but if you're looking for the state of the art in complete street design, mixed-use development and multimodal transit—in urban sustainability, that is—then Copenhagen's the place to go."

One of the qualities that makes these European cities so important to understand is the creative blending of the new and the old, the importance of seeing long-term sustainability as necessarily embedded in a deeper span of history and commitment to place. Creatively balancing the new and the technological with the old and human is something that planners and designers in the U.S. and around the world are still attempting to work out, and there are many examples to follow in European cities—from the creative insertion of photovoltaic solar panels in central Copenhagen to the sensitive design of a tram system that fits well and works within the context of the narrow streets and historic buildings of Edinburgh.

For many Americans (though certainly not all), these times of economic crisis and family belt-tightening have led to some questioning of the merits of the so-called American Dream. Large houses and cars, profligate spending, a commitment to the personal and individual realm, all those qualities that seem distinctly part of the American psyche and sensibility are in flux. In 2005 the social theorist Jeremy Rifkin wrote an informative, thought-provoking book called The European Dream, in which he compared and contrasted these cross-Atlantic value systems, arguing that the Europeans in many ways have their priorities in better order. Table 1.1 compares these two perspectives on life. According to Rifkin, the American Dream "puts an emphasis on economic growth, personal wealth, and independence. The new European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and interdependence." While the American Dream is, Rifkin believes, "deeply personal and little concerned with the rest of humanity," the European version is "more expansive and systemic in nature and, therefore, more bound to the welfare of the planet." Rifkin may be exaggerating these differences but there seems to be much truth to the comparison, which further supports the utility of learning from European practices.

Opinion surveys suggest a shift in the direction of smaller housing units, and a desire and intention to become more embedded in neighborhood and place. The trends suggest that the attributes of the European Dream described by Rifkin are increasingly attractive to many Americans. Perhaps more important is to recognize that from a sustainability perspective, and from a perspective of planetary health, the European Dream is a better model. I should not overstate the shifts in American lifestyle and consumption; Americans will still be highly consumptive, highly individualistic in their outlook, eschew the public for the private, and (at least in the short term) be very dependent on cars. Nevertheless, we seem unusually poised for change, and looking at European urban innovations and planning seems especially timely indeed.

On top of the concerns about the high fiscal and infrastructural costs associated with prevailing urban sprawl, are the costs associated with rising obesity rates among children and adults and the health care and other costs associated with our sedentary, mostly car-dependent lifestyles. Americans are not getting much exercise, and individual and community health are in no small measure an outcome of unsustainable land use patterns. It is time to search for new and healthier models of urban development. Figuring out how to design places and communities that propel us forward as pedestrians, that allow a natural integration of physical exercise and activity into our daily lives, that help to make us healthy is a major goal, and European cities again provide inspiration and hope.

The Global Model of European Cities

Another way to answer the question "Why study European cities?" is perhaps a more substantive angle: they possess, or a great many of them do anyway, many of the essential qualities of sustainable place-making and urban sustainability that we aspire to in the U.S. What is it that recommends European cities as exemplars for the emerging urban age?

While European cities have been experiencing considerable decentralization pressures, they are typically much more compact and dense than American cities. And while sprawl has been happening in Europe, there are still many more positive and compelling examples of cities maintaining and even growing dense urban cores. In Oslo, for instance, as a result of explicit planning policy, the city and region have densified. According to a University of Oslo study, in less than a decade Oslo has experienced an 11% increase in persons per hectare, and in the process has protected an immense surrounding forest ecosystem (what the Norwegians affectionately refer to as the marka). The study notes the strong support for compact cities among Norwegian spatial planners, described as now having a "hegemonic status as a model for sustainable urban development." It may not be surprising that planners are in such strong support, but elected officials and politicians in Oslo also understand its importance as a guiding paradigm for future growth and development.

In Freiburg, Germany (see chapter 3), a set of principles has been created—the Freiburg Charter for Sustainable Urbanism, with compact urban form at the center. Box 1.1 summarizes these twelve guiding principles, which are evidenced in Freiburg but would apply to many other European cities as well.

These characteristics of urban form make many other dimensions of local sustainability more feasible (e.g., public transit, walkable places, energy efficiency). There are many factors that explain this urban form, including a historic pattern of compact villages and cities, a limited land base in many countries, and different cultural attitudes about land. Nevertheless, in the cities covered in this book (Copenhagen, Freiburg, Helsinki, London, Paris, and Vitoria-Gasteiz), there are conscious policies aimed at strengthening a tight urban core. And importance has been placed, in cities like Freiburg and Copenhagen, on maintaining populations living in the very center of these cities; unlike cities succumbing to sprawl, they are twenty-four-hour metropolises.

Major new growth areas in European cities tend to be located in more sustainable locations—adjacent to existing developed areas—and typically are designed at relatively high densities. New growth areas, furthermore, typically include and design-in a wide range of ecological design and planning concepts. From solar and wind energy, to community food production, to natural drainage, these new development areas and urban neighborhoods demonstrate convincingly that ecological and urban can go together. Many good examples of this compact green growth can be seen in the new development and redevelopment areas in many of the cities described in this book, from Vauban in Freiburg, to the Thames Gateway in London.


Excerpted from Green Cities of Europe by Timothy Beatley. Copyright © 2012 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Timothy Beatley is Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, in the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, where he has taught for more than twenty years. He is the author of many books, including Biophilic Cities, Resilient Cities, and Green Urbanism (Island Press).

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