During recent decades, urban growth usually happened in ways contradictory to the concept of sustainable settlement development, although this concept is theoretically agreed on in many of the relevant policies. Suburbanisation produced spatially diffused and functionally segregated settlement structures - sprawl - in belts around cities and towns, while the population of the generally more compact historic parts declined. This continuing trend causes growth in traffic volumes, resulting in increased pressures on the environment (such as pollution from exhaust fumes or climate problems due to carbon dioxide). It also compromises the effects of many measures aimed at promoting sustainable transport modes.
As a result of these growth patterns, resources such as land and energy, which should be preserved for future generations, are used excessively. Large areas are occupied by the structures of sprawl and the consumption of limited fossil fuels continues to increase, especially for transport. The environment, which should provide a basis for the life of future generations, as well as human health and overall quality of life are impaired by the effects of this excessive use of resources.
In contrast to these trends, the objectives of the European Union for the development of sustainable settlements and for the improvement of urban environments specifically call for 'support [for] a polycentric, balanced urban system and promot[ion of] resource-efficient settlement patterns that minimise land-take and urban sprawl.' [Commission of the European Communities (1998): Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union: A Framework for Action, pp. 6 and 15; Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Brussels].
The overall goal of the project was to develop settlement patterns for sustainable cities, emphasising the implications for an environmentally compatible transport system and furthermore creating a framework for the integration of sustainable solutions across all relevant sectors to generate the model of an ECOCITY with an urban environment promoting sustainable lifestyles - implying higher quality of life and reduced consumption of resources. The aim of designing model settlements for specific sites in the seven involved municipalities was to intensify the implementation of agreed principles and to demonstrate the feasibility and desirability of future urban living compatible with sustainability requirements.
Settlement patterns for the future need to be sustainable in the sense that future generations should also be able to organise their lives in these settlements at a high-quality level. As alternative to urban sprawl the strategy for urban planning should give priority to the requirements of sustainable transport modes by designing structures convenient for pedestrians (with the shortest paths possible), cyclists and public transportation (with direct lines) as well as providing for efficient distribution logistics. This involves to locate new urban development at sites appropriate for these transport modes.
Such compact, space-saving, mixed use structures are also in correspondence with the objectives in EU policy documents on this topic as the above cited Communication from the Commission.
The project was carried out in three phases:
- In Phase 1 existing concepts, guidelines, criteria and indicators as well as implemented examples for sustainable settlement development were reviewed to document the state of the art. Based on this input objectives and principles for settlement development towards an ECOCITY were defined, considering the interrelations between different sectors important for urban development (urban structure, transport, energy and material flows, and socio-economy).
- In Phase 2, based on the above objectives, the concepts for the sustainable model settlements were elaborated in co-operation with the relevant local communities.
- In Phase 3 a scheme of criteria and indicators was compiled and used to evaluate the concepts.
The complexity of urban development, including a multitude of sectors and especially the consideration of ecological/sustainability aspects require an integrated planning process, which should also be co-ordinated with the subsequent management of buildings and infrastructure. A multidisciplinary planning team, including experts for the above sectors needs to co-operate in such a planning process. Interactive and participatory elements need to be integrated in the planning process, accompanying the work from the beginning of planning to achieve both the best possible sustainable urban design quality and the broadest possible consensus.
To meet the identified need for improving the plans for particular Ecocity-sites some experts were selected among the partners to establish an international multidisciplinary group (especially for the fields of sustainable urban planning, transport planning and interactive group dynamics), the so-called 'Quality Support Group'. Members of this group joined the local planning team in a workshop to identify weak aspects of the plans and develop more appropriate solutions by means of an exchange of experience and knowledge. This consultancy strategy was experienced as an appropriate method to improve the quality of planning results.
For self-assessment during the planning phase a checklist of Ecocity-objectives and associated measures was used to check the compatibility of the developed plans and concepts with the main requirements for an ECOCITY. For a more precise assessment criteria and indicators were combined in an 'Ecocity Evaluation Scheme'. For each indicator benchmarks were defined.
Concepts for the Sustainable Model Settlements
The concepts for the sustainable model settlements for the selected sites were the main results. Strategies for planning the structure of the model settlements gave priority to the requirements of sustainable transport modes: Most important for making an urban structure appropriate for pedestrians (and for cycling) are short distances (requiring a compact city, a balanced mixed land use and a limited size of the total area) and attractive pathways through a diversified surrounding in public spaces of high aesthetic quality. Most important for public transport is the selection of sites for new construction, respectively for a new settlement to achieve a linear polycentric development and a decentralised concentration in walking distance around stops (stations) providing for a high passenger potential.
Urban patterns (master plans) were designed for the following municipalities: Bad Ischl (14 000 inhabitants, site planned for about 2 000 inhabitants). The site for the ECOCITY model settlement was selected to reinforce the development axis between the centre of Bad Ischl and the neighbouring communities Strobl and St. Wolfgang.
Key elements are:
- Arranging a new compact sub-centre for the community within a radius of 300 m around the stop of the public transport line planned in the axis as an alternative to urban sprawl;
- Location of facilities, necessary for a balanced mixed use in a central area to create short distances from all parts of the sub-centre and to allow combination of trips;
- Design of a liveable public space, providing a barrier-free network of pathways and squares by keeping car traffic on the edge of the settlement;
- Conserving sensitive parts of the greenfield site (e.g. a small creek and its typical vegetation, green corridors, small forests) and integrating them into the settlement pattern;
- Passive use of solar energy by orientation of most buildings to the South Barcelona (Trinitat Nova, 1045 new housing units replacing 891 ones to be demolished).
The integrated planning process of this urban renewal project on a brownfield site was initiated by the Residents Association of the neighbourhood. Only the part 'urban and environmental planning' was worked on within the ECOCITY project (elaborating studies as a basis to adapt the existing masterplan).
Key elements are:
The implementation of model settlement plans is intended to demonstrate, that taking ecological constraints into consideration can actually improve the quality of life and health of the inhabitants of an area. The instruments to asses the ecological quality of a settlement project already in the planning phase as well as the Ecocity-books disseminating the Ecocity-vision and its translation into settlements are a useful support for political and administrative decisions. The model settlements also meet the policy objectives for Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union aiming at the protection and improvement of the urban environment so as to improve the quality of life, safeguard human health and protect local and global eco-systems. A framework of incentives and legal/administrative instruments is needed to encourage, support and promote sustainable urban development and design, while discouraging the development of (not really urban) sprawl. An example for a useful legal instrument to promote the implementation of new urban developments in parts of a town is the 'Urban Development Measure' (Städtebauliche Entwicklungsmassnahme) in Germany, which helps regulate the prices for buying and selling plots of land.