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| Structured information for sustainable urban development

There is a wealth of data on sustainable urban development in Europe, but locating the best available information has often proved difficult. The SUD-LAB project has changed that by establishing methods for the collection and organisation of information in this sector and making it accessible via a powerful web-based tool. The SUD-LAB web portal enables users to query structured information in a variety of ways, at city and national levels. Rapid comparisons of sustainable development indicators between cities, for example, can now be readily accessed for the first time.

here is an abundance of information concerning sustainable urban development (SUD) in Europe. However, until recently little effort has been made to collate it or distribute it in a structured manner. This has limited the potential usefulness of such information. The SUD-LAB (Sustainable Urban Development Laboratory) project has addressed this problem by collecting, organising and disseminating information on all aspects of SUD in Europe.

Well organised

The SUD-LAB project was supported by the EU Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for Research and Technical Development (RTD) Thematic Priority ‘Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development’. SUD-LAB plays a key role within Key Action 4 (KA4) - The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage, as research findings, other information, and products from all KA4 projects are disseminated through the SUD-LAB project. In addition, the project aims to be a comprehensive source of SUD data of relevance to all urban policy actors. The project team achieves this by using a web portal through which information is organised in such a way to be of maximum benefit to end-users.

Domains screen from SUD-LAB website

Domains screen from SUD-LAB website

Sections screen from SUD-LAB website
Sections screen from SUD-LAB website

The SUD-LAB project involved two partners with an interest in urban development: GHK (London) and Eurocities (Brussels). Nick Bozeat, Project Director for SUD-LAB, says the coordinating partner GHK "provided knowledge of policy areas and experience of developing websites", while Eurocities "interfaced with medium and large-sized cities – potential users of products from KA4 projects".

The biggest challenge, according to Bozeat, was "structuring the information from a wide set of ongoing projects". It was important to make the right level of information available to potential end-users, and to make it accessible across national and language barriers. The project's success is based on a coherent system of organising information, putting it into context, and enabling it to be accessed through an interactive website. Therefore, end-users can exploit the best available data on SUD.

The tools for the job

The SUD-LAB web portal consists of a variety of tools. It is a valuable source of information on methodologies, resources, networks, case studies, threats (e.g. climate change, health) and other aspects of SUD. A database of policy information (e.g. consultation papers, Directives, policy statements and White Papers) can be used to identify policies that are driving SUD at global, EU and national levels (policy drivers). A database of available technologies can be used to identify technological developments that provide solutions to advance SUD (technology drivers). The most powerful tool on the web portal, however, enables users to make selected comparisons of SUD indicators between different locations in Europe.

The main technological innovation of the project lies in the architecture of the state-of-the-art website. The information is structured in such as way as to enable analysis of the state of SUD for requested cities and countries, and to directly compare SUD indicators at different spatial scales. "It is the first time that it has been possible to access data to compare SUD at national and city levels," says Bozeat. This powerful and easily expandable tool also reveals trends over time in SUD at different spatial levels, which have not previously been discerned.

Users select options, through the website interface, to compare SUD indicators. Once the cities or countries have been chosen, domains relating to SUD are selected. The eight domains (based on KA4 project classification) are: air quality, built fabrics, cultural assets, land use, poverty and income disparity, travel patterns, urban governance, and waste management. A robust set of indicators is available within each domain, for different spatial levels. Indicators of air quality, for example, include the number of days that smog and PM10 particles exceed certain levels, concentrations of airborne lead, and data on CO2, CO, SO2 and NO2 emissions. The web portal therefore facilitates benchmarking between cities for key indicators of SUD, to identity which cities are performing strongly and which are performing weakly.

Building a foundation

"The SUD-LAB project has successfully achieved its technical goals," claims Bozeat, "but the project has yet to achieve its full potential." The project is ongoing, and also forms the basis of two projects that are likely to be funded under FP6. SUSTAINFO will develop an information system combining EU projects with that of the UN-HABITAT Best Practice Database, while URBAN MATRIX will facilitate targeted knowledge exchange on urban sustainability. These two projects will benefit the continuing development of SUD-LAB. URBAN MATRIX, for example, will enhance the site as a resource for the public sector. This should help the web portal generate the income needed to maintain its high-quality, up-to-date content.

SUD-LAB has great potential to benefit sustainable development policy in Europe. End-users can obtain information to support decisions on the need for, and likely consequences of, particular policy options. SUD-LAB is also a useful teaching aid and should become of increasing interest to academics, in a range of disciplines. The project has therefore provided a foundation for a system of information dissemination on all aspects of SUD that could benefit European society for years to come.

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