50 km

Maps 2014 (9) Renewable energy in the UK

Renewable energy production systems installed in Europe during recent years mean that often areas that for most of the XXth century have just been energy consumers have become producers. This has meant revenues, but also negative externalities of many kinds.

As one more element in an increasingly growing trend all over Europe, the UK, up until now among the forefront states in terms of climate policy and mitigation, shows signs of a shift. And economic reasons are there, which requires at least a thought as in a democracy a government is elected to choose between opposed options. A recent report (November 2013) by Stephen Gibbons, from the London School of Economics, studied the impact of wind turbines on real estate values in neighbouring areas, with reductions averaging 11%. In June 2013 there were news about the study by the UK government of a compensation scheme for neighbouring communities.

renewables-map.co.uk has published an interactive map showing the extent of the renewable energy systems across the UK, each with a potential impact; and the Highland Council map reveals the degree to which northern Scotland is receiving wind farms. On the other side, the opposition to wind farms in Europe is organizing initiatives as EPAW; its real capacity to push for alternatives  depends on how they will reconcile potentially contradictory demands of their members. Those willing to defend the real estate value of their land, often to build more, can disagree with those opposing wind farms just for the sake of environmental and landscape conservation.

Highland Council map

This can lead, in a context as the European one, with an aging population and a severe depopulation of the countryside, to a division between “franchised areas” in which almost everything is allowed, and “protected areas” in which these impacts are prevented. These protected areas would be rather different from what nowadays we know as such, as these (low or zero human presence, but environmental values) could eventually be “franchised”. After all, the European Landscape Convention says that a landscape exists by virtue of the presence of an observer…

But there may also be here a cultural issue. A 2009 report by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, based on US cases, showed just a minimal impact on real estate values. This would not mean Americans love their windmills, but rather that they have a different relative perception of their impact (and a different method in the reports).

Far away ports (9) The Plan Regulador Intercomunal at Puerto Montt- Puerto Varas

supramunicipal puerto montt

The plan – published draft

The plan (started in 2009, under environmental scrutiny as of 2013) defines a land use model for a 860 sq km zone including part of the territory of five municipalities. It encompasses two coastal areas (the southern shore of the Llanquihue lake and the seashore around Puerto Montt), as well as the main north-south Chilean throughfare, the Panamerican Highway, as it crosses the area. The aerial images show an interesting landscape in which this road, stretching along a plain, seems to attract varied uses.

The aim is to set a frame for urban growth, preventing sprawling growth around the lakeshore, conserving farmland and forests, and ensuring an urban model that respects the environmental assets of the region while providing services to citizens and prevention against natural risks. But maps seems to show a substantial growth area along the lakeshore, with some caution areas concerning natural risks. To be seen in the final plan… Anyway, the port is an economic asset, but what is transforming the land (as nearly everywhere) is the car…

Far away ports (6) Regional planning- Brest

Ports matter as exchange points between exterior ports and the served inland areas. How is this organised in terms of metro area relations in terms of spatial planning?

Portada SCOT

Brest has a regional planning document (SCOT) encompassing the western tip of Brittany and 14 intermunicipal cooperation schemes. The SCOT is relevant for some land use operations over 5 hectares (some 12 acres) and big box retail proposals. Its maps must be adapted by local planning to a larger detail scale. The urban system is organized in urban agglomerations (large population settlements in all the coastal municipalities+ 3 secondary settlements + areas so defined in local plans), villages (over 40 dwellings) and hamlets. Infill growth is priorized (and the only option in hamlets), and higher level settlements can also have continuity growth (no leapfrog growth permitted).

Brest's regional development scheme basic layout: a special relevance is given to the conservation of the coastal band and to the  survival of the traditional farmland. urban growth must follow a set of rules, being directed towards a linear expansion of the main city along the northern shore of the bay

Brest’s regional development scheme basic layout: a special relevance is given to the conservation of the coastal band and to the survival of the traditional farmland. Urban growth must follow a set of rules, being directed towards a linear expansion of the main city along the northern shore of the bay

Transportation is also a relevant issue for Brest's SCOT.

Transportation is also a relevant issue for Brest’s SCOT.

Sister Cities (1) Almost the sea…

When you enter many European cities by road you can find billboards announcing their foreign sister cities. The reasons for these agreements can be extremely different; here I have chosen mainly geographic similitudes between Iberian cities and foreign counterparts. This does not mean that these cities have any formal agreement as sister cities to this day; I just think there are interesting landscape similarities.

Seville, Nantes and Houston are historical river ports; they are at a similar distance to their river mouths, in which there are relevant deep-water ports (Cadiz not far away, Saint Nazaire, Galveston), polarizing the territorial system of their regions. The route from Seville to the sea in roman times was probably similar to the present day itinerary from Houston to Galveston, as the present marshes were then a bay, and the shape of the Loire has also changed over time.

In the three cases, along the estuary there is a succession of significant ecological areas and more anthropic activities (docks, industry, industrial crops…). Hydraulic works are relevant (river bed rectification in the Guadalquivir and the Guadaira, channels as that of La Martiniere or the Houston Ship Channel), and a combination of flat land and relevant roads that has led to build long bridges. Despite some hills as those of the Aljarafe in Seville or the timid hills north of the Loire, these are mainly flat lands, nearly ideal for a limitless metropolitan expansion.

In social terms, Seville is not a rich city; if it was to be an American city, it would rather be New Orleans than Houston, despite the presence of high tech industries like aerospace. Nantes is one of the most dynamic cities in France. Both Seville and Nantes are under a million residents (metro area), while Houston is nealy six millions.

Urban sprawl (6) Italian coasts


The Monti government estimated in march 2012 that the global fiscal amount not perceived by Italian administrations due to illegal buildings was around 500 million Euros. According to some sources, up to 17% of the yearly building production in Italy would be illegal, implying, among other problems, urban sprawl.

The Marenostrum 2012 report, by legambiente.it, describes the situation along the coasts, only a part of the larger issue of “abusivismo elizio”. In cities like Naples or Palermo there are over 6.000 illegal buildings.

This is one of the main problems of an Italian urban planning system that produces sophisticated plans: ensuring the enforcement of the laws.

Urban sprawl (5) The limits of Paris


The “Franges franciliennes” are a ring of an average width of 50 km between the Ile-de-France region (in which is Paris) and the five around it. There live more than 3,5 million people, a population growing faster than in neighboring areas.

On this space there are logics at play that are similar to those at play between the provinces of Madrid and Toledo, or at other limits between coterminous jurisdictions with diverging legal or planning status. As there were differences during the XIXth century between the central cities with their planned extensions and the slums in neighboring towns in which the lack of an equivalent control favored more loose development, a regulatory border can always provide fringe issues.

There is a network of mid-sized cities (Meaux, Beauvais, Chartres, Melun…) with roles including administration, tourism (Fontainebleau, Chantilly) and retail. The land is quite fertile, being one of the main agrarian areas in the country. The relation with the metropolitan core is complex, but overall of dependence. In urban planning terms, the conjunction of a growth pressure through metropolitan dynamics and of the very French municipal micro divisions can certainly favor sprawl: municipalities with small populations and scarce technical services, in which a local politician can be easily seduced by a real estate project which would be small in a large city, but which here can represent a large percentage of the existing urban tissue (and the possibility, through the increase in population, to get more public services). Despite the evolution of the French law favoring regional planning, some dynamics are complex.

At a given moment the Ile-de-France regional planning scheme even considered that the urban growth limits were not to be applied to the small municipalities in these areas, as development would occur in more central areas; in a crisis situation, it was precisely on these fringes that an part of the growth occurred, as it was simpler… and as always, on cheaper land…

Cadastral map south of Meaux (geoportail.fr)

Cadastral map south of Meaux (geoportail.fr)

According to SDRIF 2012, the priority must be to limit the use of agrarian, wooded and natural spaces, so encouraging urban development through densification of already urbanized spaces. The surface and continuity of the impervious spaces must be limited, and the per capita share of impervious area must not be increased. In municipalities with less than 10% of their area with farmland, woods, natural spaces or urban green spaces, there should be an increase in ecological potential areas.

The new growth capacities must be defined taking into account the needs up until 2030, with in an imperative for continuity with preexisting urban tissue. But the “non cartographic extension capacity” is offered to the “moderate extension of towns, villages and hamlets”. Under this chapter, by 2030 an increase of the urbanized space of around 5% is allowed; the reference calculation must be based on the urbanized space at the date in which the SDRIF is enacted, excluding farmland, woods, natural spaces and water, the spaces of non-built character of supra municipal condition (energy systems, airports…) and the urban open spaces (parks, campings, large stadiums…). It is possible to redistribute this capacity among a pool of municipalities through regional planning.

Biblio (24) ECO2 Cities


The World Bank is an institution aimed to give technical and financial support to developing countries. As usually in this kind of institutions the financial operations are conducted taking into account internal and external reports on various matters. Urban development is among them, an unsurprising fact in a world in which the urban population grows in developing countries, set to see the area of their cities multiply by three from 2000 to 2030.

The Bank launched in 2009 its new Urban Strategy, in which the ECO2Cities strategy : ecologic cities as economic cities, is inscribed. The aim is to help the cities of developing countries to adopt sustainable urban patterns, as well in economic as in ecological terms, that are viewed as complementary and not as opposed. The book presented marks the end of the first stage of the strategy, having developed an analytical and operational framework that should be subject to adaptations to local conditions.

The book is structured as follows:

  • Part 1: description of the initiative, the challenges and the lessons learnt from various cities.
  • Part 2: presentation of a city-based decision support system. Different issues are integrated, as the participation of citizens and of private and government actors, flow and economic/environmental cost lifecycle assessments, forecasting workshops methodologies and climatic resiliency planning.
  • Part 3: field reference guide, with background literature, a detailed vision of infrastructural issues, and good practices.

The text is based on the classical sources on sustainable planning, as Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature (1969), widening the scope to introduce an economic perspective.

As with other products of the World Bank, it can be criticized from an ideological or technical perspective; anyway, it is a structured proposal with a wide vision on urban problems that occur in varied contexts.

Biblio (22) Winter tourism in Switzerland

In red, swiss municipalities in which the ratio non permanent dwellings- total dwellings is presumed to be over 20%

In red, swiss municipalities in which the ratio non permanent dwellings- total dwellings is presumed to be over 20%

Non permanent homes, also known as “cold beds” (as they have no users but for some weeks around the year) is often a concern for planners in tourism receiving countries. Planning theorists agree on the costs to maintain urban tissues seldom used most of the time, and on the environmental costs of such land uses.

On march 11, 2012, Swiss voted on referendum (50,6 yes), among other measures, to limit non permanent homes to 20% on each municipality. The Federal Bylaw of august 22, 2012 establishes the rules to apply this decission. The bylaw defines:

  • A list of the municipalities in which the 20% is presumed to be surpassed
  • The yearly publication of an updated list of municipalities
  • The definition of non permanent homes (also designated as secondary homes) as the one not used by a person who resides in the municipality or for the needs of a lucrative activity or a formative activity
  • The possibility, for already existing secondary homes, to change use to permanent home, as far as the total preexisting gross floor area is not surpassed. There is also a special regime for hotels
  • On municipalities in which 20% is surpassed, only new permanent dwellings or some kind of guest houses could be built.
  • There are specific rules for secondary homes on listed buildings that contribute to the landscape as caractheristic elements

Some interesting points:

  • Even in Switzerland, known as a civilized country, the number of secondary homes is not well known, but “presumed”
  • This is a burning issue: the 50,6% that voted yes reside mainly in the northern cities, but the measure is relevant in the alpine south.
  • The bylaw does not make 20% mandatory for the municipalities that are over that proportion, but rather makes their existing number the top. This could create a specific real estate market for existing secondary homes.