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City policies and resource efficiency

Now home to more than half the world's population, cities play a central role in the consumption of resources. As cities continue to grow they increase the pressure on land, energy and resources, which can lead to greater environmental threats. At the same time, their increased importance means that environmentally sustainable solutions for urban areas have significant potential for mitigating resource consumption.

Cities do not however exist in a vacuum, they need to be considered within the unique development context that exists in each region. Bearing this in mind, Work Package One of the EU FP-7 project, Sustainable Urban Metabolism for Europe (SUME), coordinated and led by ÖIR – The Austrian Institute for Regional Studies and Spatial Planning - evaluates the respective potentials that urban regions have to improve resource efficiency between now and 2050; mainly through interventions in terms of land-use, energy consumption from buildings and transport, as well as material and water consumption.

In light of this, one of the key aspects of the project is to determine the impact of sustainable land use and transport planning for the reduction of land consumption in urban areas. Based on these results, impacts on energy consumption for buildings and transport can be forecast. Stockholm, Marseille and Newcastle are three regions that present interesting results and illustrate the variation in challenges and possibilities that exist.

By comparing current spatial patterns with two possible scenarios for the future it is possible to measure how population growth and changes in the urban fabric will affect resource consumption in relation to transport. Perhaps more interestingly, it is also possible to compare how different policies can affect resource efficiency.

The BASE score indicates how the future urban fabric will develop if the region maintains the status quo, in terms of planning policies; while the SUME score illustrates the results if the region adopts more resource-aware policies.

The difference between these two scores shows the region's capacity to influence resource efficiency through the decisions that they make – the smaller the variation, the fewer steps remain to be taken. It follows that each city's efforts to promote resource efficiency, and thus one aspect of sustainability, are best measured in this variation.

The spatial development scenarios generate an overall distribution of residents and jobs for cells (787 in Stockholm) within the Urban Morphological Zone (UMZ) set between now and 2050. Each cell has been assessed on the basis of its impact on transportation, and the associated energy consumption. This qualitative assessment, referred to as the urban diversity pattern (UDP) indicator, is made up of three measures; accessibility to high level public transport, proximity to central functions and the mix of economic and residential functions and density that exists within the cell. The highest rating a cell can reach for each of the measures is 4 points, which allows for a maximum overall score of 12 points per cell.

A comparison of Marseille, Newcastle and Stockholm illustrates how each city is responding to the unique challenges faced. Marseille's high overall score is indicative of its dense urban form. While floor space per person is increasing; limited population growth coupled with the extension of the public transport network is expected to minimise the future impact on resource consumption and thus maintain a relatively high UDP score.

Conversely, Newcastle's relatively fragmented urban form, coupled with a stable population, offers the potential to increase resource efficiency through future policies.

Given the high population growth that is forecast for Stockholm and the accompanying pressure on the current urban fabric; a decline in overall resource efficiency is expected.

A comparison of the three cities provides interesting results in itself; however the most useful findings come from comparing each city's BASE result with its SUME result. Here, Stockholm's difference of 0.26 points indicates that resource-aware planning is already taking place to a fairly high degree. Conversely, Newcastle's difference of 0.43 suggests that considerable room remains for improvement.

Marseille, Newcastle and Stockholm are developing within distinct regional contexts. These unique situations require a range of measures that are suited to the respective situations. However, all three cities have the ability to shape their development to some extent. The way in which they choose to do so will leave an indelible mark on the regional landscape and shape how these cities will function. Population growth and increased resource consumption are certainly related, but this connection is not absolute, the choices planners and politicians make will have an important effect on our cities of the future.

Mitchell Reardon

Research Fellow

Ryan Weber

Senior Research Advisor


Go to Marseille - sprawl continues

Go to Newcastle is hollowed out

Go to Stockholm stays tailor-made