Society and Planet Earth: there has got to be teamwork
Today’s cities demand far greater attention than in the past to sustainable design that reflects the needs of citizens without compromising quality of life or the preservation of Europe’s rich cultural heritage. Conventional cityplanning has been based on win-lose scenarios that pit the needs of citizens, the business community and municipal authorities against one another. Green sites were seen as displacing economic activity or vice versa. Transport services and cars competed against each other. Noise and emission pollutions were unavoidable evils of commercial life, and so on. But the ‘city of tomorrow’ challenges the assumption that one benefit must necessarily be traded off against another. The European Commission funds many projects that support this idea via research into clean-emissions cars, quieter mass transport systems, intelligent-design buildings that maximise energy conservation, recycling and reuse schemes for urban and household waste, and non-invasive techniques for the preservation of historical monuments.
Future-oriented cities cannot be fully achieved, however, unless based on the right kind of research and on informed decisions by policy-makers. A ‘virtuous circle’ of dialogue among scientists, policy-makers and city dwellers is vital to make cities of tomorrow a reality. In other words, there must be a strong dialogue between society and science.
Promoting citizens’ awareness of their impact on the environment and how research can respond to the sustainable needs of society is a growing priority for the EU. The Commission’s recent RAISE project was founded precisely on such citizen-policy interaction.
In early 2005, RAISE selected 26 citizens across Europe from among 600 candidates willing to volunteer their time in order to assess the impact of past and ongoing EU-funded research projects aiming to promote a more liveable city of tomorrow through new planning methods and environmental technologies. The project’s primary goal was to expose citizens to the purpose of European research and to determine whether the latter was appropriate to their needs as urban dwellers in the city of tomorrow. Participants reviewed EU research projects in three cities and met local scientists, government officials and EU policy-makers linked to the projects. During a December hearing in Brussels, the group presented its conclusions and recommendations to Commission officials, Members of the European Parliament, and representatives from civil society and regional governments across Europe.
Full title: Raising Citizens and Stakeholders’ Awareness and Use of New
Regional and Urban Sustainability Approaches in Europe
Project acronym: RAISE
Project coordinator: Carlo Sessa, Institute of Studies for the Integration
of Systems (ISIS),
Duration: 12 months
Science in society significance
The one-year RAISE project gave citizens from all walks of life a chance to directly examine the results of Commission-funded urban research projects and, just as important, to establish dialogue with urban planners and policy-makers who help define the research. As many participants observed during the hearing, RAISE predictably boosted their awareness of the sheer scope of research efforts funded by the EU. But they said it also offered a valuable means for channelling their concerns and suggestions back to policy-makers. Their views were summarised in a ‘Citizens’ Declaration on the City of Tomorrow’.
Conversely, the ideas exchanged during RAISE’s culminating event in Brussels was an eye-opener for EU officials. As one declared during the discussions, “this is the first time in my long career at the Commission that I’ve seen citizens working directly with researchers and policy-makers to understand each other’s concerns”.
- The project generated direct feedback from EU citizen to EU policy-maker about the impact of Commission-funded research on urban environments, while providing guidance to help shape future research priorities;
- RAISE’s concept of citizen interaction with urban research projects and policy-makers could be extended to other areas of EU-funded research.