Read an Excerpt
Learning from European Cities
By Timothy Beatley
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2000 Island Press
All rights reserved.
Introduction: Green Urbanism and the Lessons of European Cities
The Important Role of Cities in Global Sustainability
The world is in the midst of a disturbing period of growing consumption, population, and environmental degradation. From global warming to biodiversity loss to patterns of sprawling land consumption, the environmental trends are increasingly dire. Cities—globally and in the United States—will by necessity play an increasingly important role in addressing these problems, and it is this basic assumption that motivates the work presented here.
Cities must become more central in our global agenda of sustainability for several reasons. The first is the growing acknowledgment—indeed the considerable progress made at documenting and quantifying—that cities have sizeable ecological footprints. The work of William Rees and others has been particularly enlightening in showing the amounts of energy, materials, water, food, and other impacts essential for supporting urban populations. As one recent commentator noted: "The first and most obvious thing about cities is that they are like organisms, sucking in resources and emitting wastes" (Tickell, 1998, p. vi).
American cities, especially, reflect wasteful use of land and resources, with few reflecting any real sense of ecological limits or environmental constraints. In American cities and metropolitan areas, the amount of land consumed by urban growth and development far exceeds the rate of population growth (see Beatley and Manning, 1997). The impacts are clear: loss of sensitive habitat, destruction of productive farmland and forestlands, and high economic and infrastructural costs. The low-density auto-dependent American landscape makes more sustainable living—such as walking, bicycling, or public transport—difficult. American cities consequently have high carbon dioxide emissions, produce large amounts of waste, and draw in large amounts of energy and resources.
The answers to our present environmental circumstances are complex and difficult. They will involve the need for both "cleverer technologies and humbler aspirations," to borrow Bill McKibben's words (1998, p. 75). In both categories, cities—smart cities, innovative cities, green cities—will necessarily play a major role. Green and sustainable cities present fundamental opportunities to both apply new technologies (such as public transit, district heating, and green building and design) and bring about major lifestyle changes (such as walking, bicycling, and reductions in consumption). Indeed, it seems that cities hold the greatest hope for achieving a more sustainable future for our planet. Any effective agenda for confronting global climate change, biodiversity loss, and a host of other environmental challenges must necessarily include cities as a key, indeed the key, element.
Agenda 21—the detailed action agenda emerging from the Rio Conference on Environment and Development—reflects an understanding of the key role of local governments. Chapter 28 of this agenda calls specifically for the preparation of local sustainability action plans, recognizing that local governments play a special role. As Agenda 21 states: "... because so many of the problems and solutions ... have their roots in local activities, the participation and cooperation of local authorities will be a determining factor in fullfilling its [Agenda 21's] objectives.... As the level of governance closest to the people, they play a vital role in educating, mobilizing and responding to the public to promote sustainable development" (United Nations, 1992, p. 233). More specific objectives were established in Rio for local involvement, and specifically local authorities were to have undertaken (by 1996) a consultation process and to have achieved consensus around a local sustainability program. As will be discussed in the chapters to follow, many local governments in Europe have made incredible strides in the spirit of Agenda 21, and demonstrated in a variety of ways the potential role of cities, towns, and local authorities (see Lafferty and Eckerberg, eds., 1998).
The evidence suggests important differences in the environmental performance of cities—even among the cities in developed countries, there is considerable variation in their ecological footprints. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions, for example, are much higher in American cities; they are almost twice as high as in European cities. What these comparisons suggest is that cities—through their spatial organization, their management practices, and the development of their economic bases—can be the locus for significant reductions in demand and pressure on the planet's resources and ecosystems.
The book that follows is very much founded on the notion that the design, organization, and operation of cities can make a fundamental difference. Comparing the much higher consumption of land and per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide of American cities with European cities, for example, gives some indication of this. A premise of this book is that the most progressive green cities of Europe do provide important guidance and inspiration to American cities in becoming more sustainable, more resource-efficient, and less environmentally extractive and damaging. To be sure, the lessons also flow in the other direction, and most European cities have much work to do to reduce their own impacts. Nevertheless, the programs, policies, and innovative design ideas described here and applied in European cities suggest important new directions for American communities.
The Vision of Green Urbanism
There are, in fact, many different terms used today in discussing efforts to reduce environmental impacts and to live more lightly on the land. Sustainable development, sustainable communities, and sustainable cities are a few of these terms, and each captures much of the agenda of this book. Green urbanism effectively captures both the central urban and environmental dimensions of the agenda I will be discussing. It emphasizes the important role of cities and positive urbanism in shaping more sustainable places, communities, and lifestyles. And, it implicitly emphasizes that our old approaches to urbanism—our old views of cities, towns, and communities—are incomplete and must be substantially expanded to incorporate ecology and more ecologically responsible forms of living and settlement. This need for a revised approach has been an ongoing concern with the so-called new urbanism, so enthusiastically endorsed by many American architects and planners. (For a full discussion of the issues and limitations of this movement, see Beatley and Manning, 1997.) What we need today are cities that reflect a different new urbanism, a new urbanism that is dramatically more ecological in design and functioning and that has ecological limits at its core.
Precisely what green urbanism implies is evolving and unclear, but in the programs, policies, and creative design ideas found in many European cities, we begin sharpen our sense of what might be possible. To elaborate on what the vision of green urbanism includes (and incorporating and extending the thinking of others), there are several important design qualities or characteristics. Cities that exemplify green urbanism are:
Cities that strive to live within their ecological limits, fundamentally reduce their ecological footprints, and acknowledge their connections with and impacts on other cities and communities and the larger planet.
Green urbanism accepts that public (and private) decisions about how cities grow, the kinds of transportation systems they employ, and the ways they generate and supply energy and food for their populations have tremendous environmental impacts. Green urbanism takes as a primary goal the need to greatly reduce the ecological footprints of cities, to live within the limit of local and regional ecosystems, and to acknowledge that in a host of ways the decisions in one city affect the quality of environment and life in other places, as well as the overall health of the planet. Efforts by cities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to reduce the impact of urban consumption patterns, for example, reflect all of these goals.
As the analysis of Herbert Girardet demonstrates, cities such as London consume large amounts of energy and other inputs and produce large amounts of waste. London's population consumes some 55,000 gallons of fuel and some 6,600 tonnes of food per day, and emits 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day (see Girardet, undated). Considerable amounts of this food are (increasingly) transported from faraway places: "Early potatoes come from Egypt and Cyprus. Tomatoes, cucumbers and asparagus are imported from Spain, Greece and Holland. Beans are increasingly flown in from Kenya, 4000 miles away" (Girardet, undated, p. 52). Taken together, these inputs and outputs require a land base 125 times the size of London to support its population.
Cities that are green and that are designed for and function in ways analogous to nature.
Green urbanism requires us to overcome our traditional view of the polarity of cities and nature. Cities, to many, are indeed the very antithesis of nature—places of gray, where one finds concrete and asphalt, buildings and cars, things that could not be natural. Yet, nature does exist in cities, and cities are fundamentally embedded within a larger natural setting.
Ecological architect William McDonough frequently ponders whether towns and cities might function like forests. Indeed, nature is a profoundly helpful paradigm for cities. Cities must strive to be places of nature; they should be sheltering; cleansing of air, water, and spirit; and restorative and replenishing of the planet, rather than fundamentally extractive and damaging.
Moreover, innumerable ways of restoring , replenishing, and nurturing urban ecology exist, such as daylighting streams, planting green rooftops, bringing forests and greenspaces into the very heart of cities, as well as many other creative planning approaches.
Cities that strive to achieve a circular rather than a linear metabolism, which nurtures and develops positive symbiotic relationships with and between its hinterland (whether that be regional, national, or international).
Nothing in nature is wasted. Wastes become productive inputs for other natural processes. In hundreds of ways, the same principle could apply to the functioning of cities. Wastewater treatment systems can extract biogas to fuel community heating systems; organic household waste can become fertilizer returned to urban populations in the form of food. Industries can feed off each other, with each company's wastes becoming the productive inputs to production processes of the others.
Green urbanism calls for a circular metabolism for cities, rather than the prevailing linear approach. Green urbanism calls for the balancing of the ecocycles of a city, so that its inputs and outputs are harmonized, complementary, and fundamentally in balance.
Cities that strive toward local and regional self-sufficiency and take full advantage of and nurture local/regional food production, economy, power production, and many other activities that sustain and support their populations.
Green urbanism demands cities that assume responsibility for the environmental and other impacts of lifestyle and consumption decisions. Historically, it has been easier to ignore the devastating impacts of conventional energy production and production of food, for example, because these impacts have typically been externalized. They happen far away, in distant places, out of sight and mind. Bringing these many functions closer means greater scrutiny and presents more likelihood that responsible actions and choices will result.
What will also result are more healthful lives, for example by avoiding the consumption of chemicals and level of processing needed to transport food hundreds of miles.
Cities that facilitate (and encourage) more sustainable, healthful lifestyles.
An important measure of a sustainable city, and an important goal of green urbanism, is that such places should make it easier for people to live richer, fuller lives. Most Americans, for instance, have few options besides the automobile. Green urbanism emphasizes giving individuals the ability to walk or ride bicycles if they choose. It gives them the option and the ability to row food, to live with fewer consumer goods, to live without a car if they choose to, and so on. The benefits again extend beyond the environmental. Such conditions empower individuals and families to change in meaningful ways (if they so desire) the directions of their lives and to emphasize the quality of their relationships, rather than the size of their home or their possessions.
Cities that emphasize a high quality of life and the creation of highly liv - able neighborhoods and communities.
Green urbanism gives centrality to creating (and strengthening) neighborhoods and places where people enjoy being, places that are emotionally uplifting and aesthetically inspirational. It is an agenda that emphasizes the provision of adequate housing and services for all members of society and that seeks to be socially and economically inclusive. It is as much about creating highly livable cities as it is about creating ecological cities (indeed, the goals are mutually reinforcing). Nature in cities is important to livability. Green urbanism presumes that connections to nature are important to personal health and well-being.
Are there actually cities in the world that satisfy these ambitious criteria? The insertion of the words strive to is important to note. The many examples of European cities described in the pages that follow, I will argue, often come the closest to meeting the vision. But, in many ways, even the most exemplary individual cities fall short. Nevertheless, the following text contains a menu of creative tools, design concepts, and tangible examples that illustrate how cities—particularly American cities—might move closer to these ideals.
Research Methods and the Cities Examined
The study presented herein had several goals. First, it was an attempt to comprehensively identify and describe the current state of the art in European sustainable cities. What are cities currently doing to advance sustainability and what specific best-practices might be valuable and important for cities elsewhere to learn from and perhaps adopt? It is the author's belief that a large number of creative and unique approaches are being employed, many of which are described in this book, that represent important ideas that American cities will find useful.
A second goal relates to the holistic nature of sustainable cities. Many definitions of sustainability and sustainable development emphasize the need for integrative and holistic approaches. As further discussed below, many of the cities were chosen for the range and number of innovations and sustainable practices undertaken in a number of different sectors. Describing and understanding these more holistic cases is a second, related objective. The process of description helps us to concretely define what a sustainable city might actually consist of and what its qualities and program policies might ideally be. While this research has uncovered no ideal or perfect cities, enough exemplary work is going on in many cities across Europe to be very instructive about what urban sustainability actually implies.
The observations and conclusions presented in this book are primarily the result of visits and extensive interviews in approximately thirty cities in eleven European countries. Table 1.1 presents a full list of these cities. In all, more than 200 interviews were conducted between September 1996 and June 1998, with the bulk of the visits occurring in the spring of 1997. Additional phone interviews were also undertaken. (A partial listing of interviewees is included in the appendix.)
Cities were chosen based on several criteria. With a few notable exceptions, these are cities that are frequently cited in European planning and environmental literature and that have been engaged in a variety of innovative and cutting-edge local sustainability initiatives. Cities were favored that were doing a number of different things and that had adopted and implemented sustainability policies in a wide range of sectoral areas (ideally, these places were not simply doing one thing but were attempting more holistic strategies).
Excerpted from Green Urbanism by Timothy Beatley. Copyright © 2000 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.