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LIFEnews features 2014

LIFE projects support urban resilience

A recent platform meeting on urban resilience featured a host of LIFE projects, which shared their experiences and discussed the challenges of dealing with the issue.

Photo: LIFE11 ENV/FR/000746Image: LIFE11 ENV/FR/000746

Urban resilience is defined as the ability of an urban area or community to prepare for, resist, absorb, accommodate, recover from and respond to hazards such as climate change, disasters, and economic and social poverty. Measures to help improve urban resilience include: reducing cities' environmental impact (i.e. pollution and waste); mitigating and adapting to climate change; and managing resources (e.g. closed cycles for food and materials).

The platform meeting was held in Colombes, France, in early April. Its objective was to bring together stakeholders from across Europe to discuss the difficulties of urban resilience and to enable LIFE projects to benefit from each other's experiences. Attendees talked about the key challenges, the mechanisms to address them and the need for better tools, as well as how to foster change from local to institutional level. Participants also made recommendations on how the LIFE programme and the European Commission (EC) could provide support for urban resilience, for example, through its Reference Framework for European Sustainable Cities.

The LIFE projects present included: 'CLIMATE' (LIFE09 ENV/FR/000598), 'EKO-LIFE' (LIFE12 INF/AT/000369), 'Life EWWR+' (LIFE12 INF/BE/000459), 'LIFE Housing Landscapes' (LIFE12 ENV/UK/001133), 'MAC EAU' (LIFE11 ENV/FR/000745), 'SeineCityPark' (LIFE11 ENV/FR/000746), 'TeruelBalance+Positivo' (LIFE11 ENV/ES/000515), 'UP&FORWARD COMS' (LIFE11 ENV/UK/000389) and 'Urban Oases' (LIFE11 ENV/FI/000911), along with the host project 'R-URBAN' (LIFE10 ENV/FR/000215).

On the first day, Hervé Martin, Head of the LIFE Environment Unit, gave a presentation on the future of the LIFE programme. He talked about the opportunity of addressing urban resilience issues through Integrated Projects (IPs) in future. Given the complex nature of urban resilience and the fact that it covers many environmental impacts, then IPs could be a good solution.

In the afternoon, three workshops were held on different themes: resilient infrastructures and urban planning; the management, recycling and reuse of waste; and resource management. In each of these, representatives from some LIFE projects talked about their difficulties and successes, followed by general discussions involving all participants.

Improving urban resilience through infrastructure and planning

Photo: LIFE12 ENV/BE/000459Photo: LIFE11 ENV/UK/000389

The first workshop highlighted the importance of investing in more green and blue infrastructure to increase urban resilience and thus respond better to environmental impacts like climate change. Such measures can include: restoring vegetated areas which slow water run-off; storing storm water; allowing water infiltration into soil; creating green roofs to harvest rain water; and restoring natural depressions, rivers and wide, shallow waterways which can also store storm water.

These actions are usually carried out on private land, whose owners often display resistance and mistrust. As a consequence, participants noted the importance of working with citizens to implement measures, to raise awareness about the need for urban resilience and create a sense of ownership of a project, both in land-owners and the local community. In such cases, project actions are much more likely to be continued after it has ended, which is important given the difficulty of achieving all the desired results in a project's lifetime of just three to four years.

In addition, delegates said it was vital to get local authorities on board and carry out long-term planning to ensure the success and continued implementation of measures after projects have been completed. More capacity building on green and blue infrastructure is needed at local level to facilitate this, they concluded.

Support needed for waste issues

Participants in the second workshop discussed various ways to tackle the problem of waste. Increased waste generation can lead, among other environmental effects, to higher greenhouse gas emissions. Production of waste is greatest in urban areas and therefore more action is needed there. EU waste targets have to be reached, and through recovery, reuse and recycling, the waste generated should be transformed into resources (that is, secondary raw materials) and re-enter the production process. Delegates discussed ways of reaching these goals.

Communicating with the public and involving and training local citizens to achieve more efficient waste management (through existing local associations and NGOs) is vital to ensure changes are sustainable. Innovative communication strategies can help solve structural issues such as a heterogeneous city population or the lack of coordination among different local authorities in charge of waste management. Active communication and studying the target audience are necessary in order to encourage behavioural change. Participants stressed the importance of involving local and regional authorities, since they implement waste management instruments and legislation, and because they are in a position to foster the involvement of local and regional stakeholders.

Photo: LIFE12 ENV/BE/000459Photo: LIFE12 ENV/BE/000459

Delegates said that while increased capacity building and new policy tools might be needed to improve waste management, municipalities should also make use of existing instruments such as taxation, pay-as-you-throw schemes and extended producer responsibility initiatives.

The workshop attendees called for more political support for new waste management initiatives and techniques, more efficient and sustainable infrastructures, and more environmental impact assessments of existing techniques so they can be improved.

Participants said municipalities should reassess their permit and regulatory schemes in order to aid recycling and reuse of waste by redefining certain waste products as resources. In addition, more stress should be put on reducing consumption and on the eco-design of some products to reduce waste generation and facilitate reuse where possible.

Improving resource efficiency

The third workshop considered resource efficiency in urban areas. Being the main users of water, energy and other resources, urban areas must find ways of developing resource-efficient solutions and integrate these into their regulatory plans so as not to deplete their resources. Involving and communicating with citizens was again described as essential to encourage change, in particular by targeting activities at schools in order to engage children and, through them, adults. Some non-tangible issues are more difficult to get across to the general public, such as the impact of greenhouse gases and climate change, so communication campaigns need to demonstrate how these affect everyday life.

The involvement of local and regional authorities is also important to support actions taken by LIFE projects to implement solutions for water, energy and general resource efficiency in urban areas. These bodies can use both regulatory and non-regulatory tools to ensure that the projects' achievements can be sustained in the longer term. Participants concluded that good coordination between these authorities, local associations and public institutions is also needed to ensure long-term changes.

Host project stakeholders meet

On the second day of the platform meeting, stakeholders involved with the R-URBAN project were invited to share their experiences and take part in a wider discussion about urban resilience. Participants included local inhabitants and associations, private companies and institutional representatives. The meeting enabled people to learn from each other and was a good example of the benefits of more local governance, enabling stakeholders to find sustainable solutions together.

For more information about the two-day event on urban resilience and its conclusions, please visit here.

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