Eco-cities

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Temps de lecture : 3 minutes  

Stockholm - Yann Arthus-Bertrand
So-called sustainable towns and quarters are the result of a new type of town planning that includes the principles of sustainable development. Particular efforts are made to control urban spreading out, energy consumption, recycling and the urban landscape. Social mixing and food self-sufficiency are also part of the aims. These initiatives are currently being taken on a small scale but larger projects will soon be implemented.

Pioneering town planning

The sustainable town tries to reduce its carbon footprint. Buildings are built to consume less energy [see energy in buildings]. They favour the use of renewable energy: photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and solar and geothermal water heaters. They are insulated to the optimum level way to reduce heating energy consumption and are built with materials that are less harmful to the environment (wood, hollow bricks, vegetal insulation…). (1) Wastage is avoided on both an individual and collective level : recycling, rain water recuperation, …

The sustainable town is dense: it takes up less space and encroaches less on the environment. It favours walking, bicycles and public transport. It is also greener: new urban landscapes include vertical gardens, green roofs and even local parks and gardens. (2)

This new town model also favours social mixing within the quarter, but also in housing. Lastly, the emphasis is on the local production and consumption of goods: regional food supplies, supporting direct sales… the aim being to lower food miles.

European examples

European sustainable town initiatives are being applied to determined structures: eco-quarters. The most famous is probably the Vauban quartier in Fribourg, in Germany. It has about 2000 houses and 5000 inhabitants and fulfils both an architectural purpose (high environmental quality buildings, energy-plus-houses – see the Energy in buildings summary) and an environmental purpose (public spaces, traffic restrictions and the installation of a tram line have been prioritised). There is also a lot of citizen participation. Indeed, people who wanted to help build their building formed « building groups » (Baugruppen). This created social ties, helped reduce costs and made it possible for some equipment to be shared. (3) Still in Fribourg, the Rieselfeld quarter meets similar environmental standards and is today home to about 8000 inhabitants. (4)

The BedZed quarter (Beddington Zero Energy Development) in South London, is relatively small since it only has 80 homes and 2500 m2 of offices, spread over 1.7 hectares. It aims to be carbon-neutral (hence its name) and it has very rapidly become a reference as regards energy consumption reduction and environmental impact control. (5)

There are other eco-quarters in Europe, mainly in the North, particularly in Malmö in Sweden, in Copenhagen in Denmark and in Stockholm in Sweden. (6) In France, the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, in Burgundy, created an eco-quarter in Saint-Jean des Jardins. Several other projects are being developed, especially the Borderouge Urban Development Zone near Toulouse or the Rungis Urban Development Zone (Ecozac) in the XIIIth arrondissement of Paris, on a 3.8-hectare former SNCF (the French National Railway Company) waste land. (7).

A worldwide trend

The idea of a sustainable town is not new. Curitiba, the capital of Parana has been developing a sustainable development policy that is both environmental and social since 1964. There are many pedestrian areas, 50 m2 of green space per inhabitant, 120 km of cycle lanes and a dense bus network. It also organises waste recycling. Social action ranges from teaching young people in shanty towns about the environment to horticultural, sporting and cultural activities.

On the other side of the world, Auroville, near Pondicherey, in India, was built in 1971 in a very hippie spirit and is now home to 1000 inhabitants. [see Debates]

More recently, the Chinese authorities announced that they were going to build an eco-friendly town, Dongtan, near Shanghai. It could house 50 000 people when it is inaugurated. This should coincide with the 2010 universal explosion, and 500 000 inhabitants in 2050. It will be an energy self-sufficient town (wind energy and solar energy), with organically-grown food and hybrid vehicles as the main means of transport. (8)

The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is also considering building an eco-quarter called Madsar which could count 50 000 inhabitants by 2015. Water will be provided by desalination plants fuelled by solar power. It will be completely carbon-neutral, all waste will be recycled and there will be no cars. (9)

The media dimension of these last two projects should not make us forget that China emits the most greenhouse gas in the world and that the United Arab Emirates are, in relation to the number of inhabitants, third in line after Qatar and Kuwait. (10)

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