Some Lessons and Observations

European cities thus offer inspiration and lessons for cities elsewhere, including the United States. A few observations and lessons follow.

Government as catalyst and leader. European cities display a strong role for municipal governments in shaping sustainable futures. They tend to assume activist and catalytic roles in diverse ways. For instance, they exert considerable control over the use of land and the type, quality, and nature of private development. They typically acquire or already own the land for large new housing areas, prepare detailed plans, install the infrastructure, and establish very specific contractual requirements for builders and developers to follow.

They often use the city's purchasing power to support sustainable technologies, to educate consumers, and to help local businesses become more sustainable. Sustainable technologies are commonly subsidized and underwritten by cities as, for instance, grants for the installation of green rooftops. Thus, these cities actively support and promote a vision of a more ecological or humane urban community.

Pushing the ecological design envelope. Many European cities are promoting green technology and new ecological living ideas on an unprecedented scale. New urban districts like Leidsche Rijn and IJburg in the Netherlands are applying green urban ideas to thousands of new homes. New solar projects like the Stad van de Zon, in Heerhugowaard, are aspiring to be carbon neutral, and projects like the Western Harbor in Malmo are already achieving the goal of 100 percent locally produced, renewable energy. They are bold goals and visionary plans, indeed, for how to craft humane, sustainable places for our future.

Comprehensive green strategies. European cities treat sustainability comprehensively. Cities like Freiburg are simultaneously implementing programs to promote solar energy, walking, bicycling and transit use, car-free living, and ecological landscape management. Such green initiatives tend reinforce each other. Strengthening public transit and pedestrian and bicycle use undergirds car-free housing development. Green building and ecological regeneration may help stabilize neighborhoods and reduce turnover in social housing. Thus, one green urban policy can strengthen and complement other social objectives. Moreover, every major building project in these cities is viewed as a chance to promote experimentation, to set and reach new ecological goals, and to demonstrate the integration and application of new ecological ideas and technologies.

New ways of seeing cities. Cities and city life are viewed in new ways in Europe. Rooftops of sports halls and schools in Nieuwland, in Amersfoort, are viewed as opportunities to generate power as well as opportunities to educate children and the community about energy issues. Cities are viewed not simply as points of consumption but as places where renewable energy can be produced (and consumed)

and integrated into the built fabric. Many of these cities are redefining themselves in terms of a circular metabolism: the Swedish refer to this as ecocycle balancing (Girardet 1999; Rogers 2000).

The perspective of cities as places of nature and as organic natural systems is also taking hold. Cities need not be opposed to or in conflict with nature. Rather, they can and should be seen as inherently embedded in a natural system and condition. Nature in cities is being enhanced by such features as ecological rooftops, green streets, and stream daylighting.

Changing economic incentives. On many levels and in many ways, Europeans recognize the importance of leveling the economic playing field to support green urban ideas and technologies. Such leveling takes many forms. Many cities charge homeowners for the extent of impervious surfaces while reducing stormwater fees for homes with green rooftops and permeable driveways, for instance. Subsidizing and investing heavily in nonautomobile infrastructure as well as charging (closer to) the full cost of auto ownership and use (e.g., the experience of the Vauban car-free housing estate in Freiburg) are also examples of this philosophy. Subsidies for green projects and practices often work in tandem with stronger regulations in these European countries. Barcelona's municipal solar ordinance, for instance, mandates that solar panels provide at least 60 percent of the hot water needs of new and renovated buildings, but at the same time the city provides significant subsidies to encourage installation of solar panels.

The importance of networks. Cities are not only operating in different ways within their borders; they are also operating in creative ways among and between themselves. Especially impressive is the extensive use of networks and association of cities. The Sustainable Cities and Towns campaign is an excellent example. On a smaller scale, the Union of Baltic cities (UBC) provides a similar technical and peer support function. Today, more than one hundred Baltic cities participate in the UBC. Through the UBC, meetings, workshops, and seminars are convened, and municipalities share information and insights and provide mutual support. An initiative called the Best City Practices Project, as one example, has paired Baltic cities together in an exchange of knowledge and experience on sustainable development issues (see UBC 2002). A Best Environmental Practice in Baltic Cities Award is also given each year to support good ideas and practice.

Many European cities are facing serious problems and trends working against sus-tainability: a dramatic rise in auto ownership and use and a continuing pattern of deconcentration of people and commerce. European cities also exert a tremendous ecological footprint on the world. Yet these most exemplary cities provide both tangible examples of sustainable practice and inspiration that progress can be made in the face of these difficult pressures.

Moreover, these examples demonstrate the critical role that cities can and must play in addressing the serious global environment problems, including overreli-ance on fossil fuels and global climate change. Innovations in the urban environment offer tremendous potential for dramatically reducing our ecological impacts, while at the same time enhancing our quality of life (e.g., expanding personal mobility options with bicycles and transit). The experiences demonstrate clearly that it is possible to apply virtually every green or ecological strategy or technique— from solar and wind energy to gray-water recycling—in very urban, very compact settings. Green urbanism is not an oxymoron. Moreover, the lesson of these European cities is that municipal governments can do much to help bring these ideas about, from making parking spaces available for car-sharing companies to providing density bonuses for green rooftops to producing or purchasing green power.

It is important to recognize that the lessons are not just in one direction. Increasingly, European cities recognize that there are aspects of U.S. planning and policy that are helpful and can provide useful lessons for them as well. Ari Van den Brink and Arnold Van der Valk (2002), for instance, argue that European planning systems have historically tended to be more technocratic (more top down, with greater power given to plans and planners), whereas the U.S. system is more "socio-cratic" (bottom up, participatory, deferential to the wishes of individuals). European planners recognize the need to be more participatory. Techniques such as community visioning tools and citizen design charrettes represent ideas that Europeans increasingly find useful and interesting. There is much, then, to share in both directions.

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