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| Sustainable urban management and land use: a gateway to the city of tomorrow

European cities are great hives of human activity. They are home to tens of millions of European citizens, and massive motors of the economy. They are also storehouses of knowledge and repositories of cultural and architectural heritage. A recent conference in the charming city of Prague (CZ) highlighted the progress made by EU-backed research aimed at creating the sustainable European city of tomorrow, in which economic growth and urban regeneration go hand in hand with improving quality of life, promoting effective land use, and the protection of the environment.
Sustainable urban management and land use: a gateway to the city of tomorrow
Since the majority of Europeans are urban dwellers, cities are of enormous economic, social and environmental importance to Europe. They are centres of innovation and creativity, driving the economy and creating the necessary wealth to raise the living standards of citizens. At the same time, cities are also our main repositories of learning, culture and art.

However, cities also present some of the most difficult and pressing economic, environmental and social challenges for society. These include dealing with inner-city decay, pollution, and economic stagnation in more deprived urban areas.

Owing to the vital importance of cities as contributors to the goal – set by EU leaders in Lisbon in 2000 – of building a cohesive and sustainable knowledge-based European economy, the Union has been investing significant amounts in research into the various aspects of the urban question. 

Action is key

Under the EU’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), which ran from 1998 to 2002, an ambitious Key Action entitled ‘City of tomorrow and cultural heritage’ was carried out. Within FP6, which runs from 2002 to 2006, the thematic priority ‘Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems’ seeks to develop strategies for sustainable land management.

FP6 is funding numerous urban management and land use research activities. These include SENSOR, an Integrated Project that is currently developing a range of impact assessment tools to support multifunctional regional policies designed to accommodate the diversified land use demands of the urban population and those of the surrounding rural areas. Future research activities will also consider the spatial development of urban areas in relation to the surrounding rural areas.

To assess the considerable progress already made, and to plan for future activities, the Commission, along with the Czech Senate, recently organised a conference under the banner of ‘Sustainable urban management and land use: from European research to application at local level’.

Gathering momentum

The event aimed to highlight advances made in the development of integrated decision-making tools and technologies, and to stimulate the take-up of results from EU-backed projects. A wide cross-section of stakeholders attended the conference, including research organisations, SMEs and representatives of local authorities.

Being the first time that the many different stakeholders and end-users from the heterogeneous fields of urban and land-use research had gathered together, the event created unique opportunities for networking and encouraged the emergence of new, multidisciplinary approaches to urban sustainability issues.

In addition to presenting the current European framework and discussing the main orientations for future EU research, the conference specifically addressed the issues of informed decision-making and governance, sustainable land use, new technologies, built environment, cultural heritage and tourism.

A tale of many cities

The development and implementation of sustainable development strategies varies widely between European cities. Some, such as Ferrara (IT), launched coherent strategies some time ago, developing ambitious plans for sustainability that are now successfully being implemented through appropriate partnerships.

In others, despite the efforts that have already been devoted to improving the urban environment, rapid economic development and related factors are putting the natural and built urban environment under increasing stress.

Good practices are not yet common practices. Integrated approaches are urgently needed to reverse negative urban trends, while ensuring social cohesion, cultural heritage preservation and economic welfare – and this requires an appropriate European framework.

Laying the groundwork

FP5’s approach began with the recognition that local and regional stakeholders generally lacked the knowledge and tools to identify the right mix of policies, support measures and environmental technologies that would optimise benefits for the environment, society and the economy.

The Key Action has helped empower local and regional actors in their sustainable development strategies through the provision of three interrelated categories of results: practical tools to help identify the most effective measures, the development and deployment of new technologies, and science-based policy recommendations.

Between 1999 and 2002, more than 140 research projects explored the longer-term impacts of new measures, their transferability, the barriers limiting their implementation, and the often conflicting views of residents, business, public authorities and landowners.

Integrated systems

Past and current EU-backed research on urban sustainability and land use has strongly contributed to a number of important areas, including the development of informed and participative decision-making processes.

In many cases, integrated Decision Support Systems (DSS) were developed to enable decision-makers to visualise and assess the impact of policy options, in order to identify those that will deliver the greatest benefits. Good governance and the protection of cultural heritage also received substantial attention.

EU-funded research has stimulated the emergence of clean and cost-effective solutions in many fields of urban management, including transport, construction, cultural heritage preservation, land use, brownfield-site investigation, and air quality.

Making new inroads

A possible framework for future research was presented at the Prague conference. Potential evolutions for research into sustainable urban management and land use will need to take the following elements into consideration:

  • Recognising urban areas as important drivers of the competitive knowledge-based economy the EU seeks to build by 2010.
  • Building on the achievements of FP5 and FP6 will require a shift of emphasis towards the reinforcement of the economic attractiveness of cities and their upgrading from an environmental and social point of view.
  • The scale at which the various phenomena are analysed will have to shift from the city level to the broader regional setting.
  • A holistic and integrated approach should continue to be the guiding principle for EU-backed research.
  • An increased focus should be put on unresolved issues such as land-use planning.
  • It is important to identify the different conditions at play across the Member States.
  • In order to accelerate the dissemination and effective transfer of existing good practices, a large-scale demonstration initiative should be launched to help cities to put in place innovative and integrated environmental management plans and systems.


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