Green Urbanism Compact and Ecological Urban Form

Although European cities have become more decentralized, they are typically still more compact and dense than U.S. cities. This tighter urban form helps make local sustainability initiatives more feasible in terms of, for example, public transit, walkability, and energy efficiency. There are many factors that explain this urban form, including an historic pattern of compact villages and cities, a limited land base, and different cultural attitudes about land. Nevertheless, in the cities studied there are conscious policies aimed at strengthening a tight urban core. Indeed, the major new growth areas in almost every city studied are situated within or adjacent to existing developed areas and are designed at relatively high densities. Moreover, these new growth areas are incorporating a wide range of ecological design concepts, from solar energy to natural drainage to community gardens, and effectively demonstrate that ecological and urban can go together. Good examples of this compact green development can be seen in the new growth areas planned in Utrecht (Leidsche Rijn), Freiburg (Rieselfeld), Kronsberg (Hannover), Amsterdam (e.g., IJburg), Copenhagen (0restad), Helsinki (Viikki), and Stockholm (Hammerby Sjostad). (See Beatley 2000 for further discussion of each area.)

Leidsche Rijn, a new growth district in Utrecht, incorporates a mixed-use design and a balance of jobs and housing (thirty thousand dwelling units and thirty thousand new jobs) as well as a number of ecological features. Much of the area will be heated through district heating supplied from the waste energy of a nearby power plant, a double-water system that will provide both potable and recycled water for nonpotable uses and stormwater management based on a system of natural swales (what the Dutch call wadies). Higher-density uses will be clustered around several new train stations, and bicycle-only bridges will provide fast, direct connections to the city center. Homes and buildings will meet a low energy standard and must use certified sustainably harvested wood. At Kronsberg, a host of green urban elements are integrated into this new ecological district, including three wind turbines, solar panels, district heating, onsite stormwater collection, green rooftops, and green courtyards and community gardens, all within a car-limited, pedestrian-friendly environment served by a new high-frequency tram line.

The new redevelopment of the Western Harbor (Vastra Hamnen) in Malmo is another model example. Here, a former industrial area is being converted to a new living district, with sustainability as the key organizing principle. One of the main goals is to provide for 100 percent of the energy needs of the district from locally-generated renewable energy. Through the installation of a 2 megawatt wind turbine, and photovoltaics and solar hot water heating panels on building rooftops, this goal has already been achieved (see European Academy for the Urban Environment 2001). Other important ecological elements include a circular waste treatment system in which biogas is extracted from organic waste and returned to the district through the natural gas grid, on-site collection of rainwater (and creative urban design that marvelously integrates water into the district and makes it visible throughout), and extensive natural habitat creation (figure 1). These new developments show convincingly that green and urban go together, indeed are complementary and mutually reinforcing, creating compelling and highly livable communities that exert an impressively small demand on the earth's resources.

These cities also provide examples of redevelopment and adaptive reuse of older, deteriorated areas within or near the center city. In Amsterdam's eastern docklands, eight thousand new homes have been constructed on recycled land. In one part of this project, Java-eiland, design diversity has been encouraged through the use of multiple architects. The overall plan for this island district successfully balances connection to the past (a series of canals and building scale reminiscent of historic Amsterdam) with unique modern design (each of the pedestrian bridges crossing the canals offers a distinctive look). Java-eiland demonstrates that citybuilding can occur in ways that create interesting and organically evolved places and that also acknowledge and respect history and context, and overcome monotony.

One of the boldest ecological restoration and land recycling initiatives has taken place in the industrial Ruhr Valley of northwestern Germany, consisting of former coal mines and steel mills. Here a regional regeneration strategy has been implemented, including seventeen municipalities and an urban agglomeration of two million people. The bold effort involved formation of IBA-Emscher Park, an international exhibition, comprising some 120 different reuse projects over an eight-hundred-square-kilometer area. The projects range from the conversion of a large gasometer to exhibition space, to transforming slag heaps into parks and public art. In the process, these bold initiatives have fundamentally reshaped the local perception of this formerly bleak, industrial landscape. One spectacular example is the Duisberg-Nord Landscape Park, where a former steel mill has been miraculously transformed into a unique city park (figure 2). Formal gardens have been carved out of coal and coke storage areas, foundation walls are turned into climbing and repelling areas, and the blast furnace a kind of industrial Eiffel Tower. Here visitors "cannot help but be awed by the skill and strength demanded of the men who once produced iron and steel here" (LaBelle 2001, 225).

It is an odd landscape of "industrial monuments" and landscape art, the latter converting negative remnants of the industrial landscape into a most interesting and positive aesthetic. As Judith LaBelle notes, the art was important for signaling a new direction:

The art has helped to signal the forward-looking nature of the initiative and to provide a system of new landmarks through the landscape. Several large sculptures have been installed atop slag heaps, including the towering Tetrahedron at Bottrop. Lighted at night, they provide new reference points in the night landscape. Smaller, more intimate sculptures have been created in areas newly used for parks and recreation. They serve to draw

Figure 1 Vertical solar hot water panels in the sustainable planned district Vastra Hamnen, in Malmo, Sweden. (Photo by Tim Beatley.)
Figure 2 The Landscape Park in Duidberg-Nord in Germany's Ruhr Valley includes creative reuse of a former steel mill. (Photo by Tim Beatley.)

this visitor into a landscape that has hitherto been off-limits and foreign. Some are composed of industrial artifacts found on the site, providing a more intimate connection with the site's history. (LaBelle 2001, 226)

These European cities have also undertaken numerous efforts to enhance the quality and attractiveness of their city centers. In the cities studied, the center has remained a mixed-use zone, with a significant residential population. Groningen, for instance, has created new pedestrian-only shopping areas (a system of two linked circles of pedestrian zones) and has installed yellow brick surfaces and new street furniture. Committed to a policy of compact urban form, Groningen has made a strong effort to keep all major new public buildings and public attractions close to the center. A new modern art museum in that city has been sited and designed to provide an important pedestrian link between the city's main train station and the town center.

Freiburg has done much to improve the attractiveness of its center: gradually making much of the core more available to pedestrians, maintaining housing and people living in the center (e.g., forbidding the conversion of existing downtown housing to commercial and other uses), and strengthening the visual landmarks and aesthetic qualities of the old city center. Especially unique is the city's network of small water channels in the city's streets (so-called bächle), which add a special flavor and enjoyable quality to this place. Developers of new projects in the city are now asked to build onto and expand this unique system, furthering strengthening these unique and special qualities.

Many reasons help explain why these European cities are able to achieve a more compact urban form. In countries such as the Netherlands, there are clearly stronger public planning systems in place, with a considerably greater role for provincial and national governments (e.g. see Van den Brink and Van der Valk, 2002). A generally greater public-sector role in shaping development and growth, restrictions on private land use, and economic incentives that encourage cooperation and more sustainable outcomes (e.g., much higher gasoline and energy prices, carbon taxes) is also a significant factor. A different attitude about land—one that views it as a precious and limited resource—and a cultural affinity for urban settlements and living are, to be sure, also important factors.

Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment