European choices (2) Birds

Natura2000 en Europa

Natura 2000 in Europe

Natura 2000 is an ecological network, including zones designated according to the Birds Directive and the Habitat Directive. It must ensure the continuity of species and habitat types in Europe as a guarantee of biodiversity. Each state of the European Union proposes, for each of the biogeographic and marine regions it encompasses, a list of spaces complying with criteria set in the annex III to Habitat Directive. After a long administrative procedure, these are declared Special Areas of Conservation. States also propose Special Protection Areas for birds.

Summarizing, states draw the line and Europe integrates the area in its network. The EU does not impose a zone, but once the area is approved as part of Natura2000, it is protected by European law. Therefore, when problems arise, the last word comes to the Court of Justice of the European Union, in Luxembourg.

The zone must be drawn according to scientific criteria, but the line can also be subject to political opportunity criteria; few of the large European cities have Natura2000 zones in their metro areas, and land use changes for infrastructure or urban growth can challenge that protection. The State must follow a complex path to change these decisions, and in case of trouble it is in a rather different position when facing the Luxembourg Court if compared to a national Court.

There is an interesting 2006 booklet on how the Luxembourg Court decided on Natura2000 related cases. A selection of cases of interest:

– C-335/90. Santoña marshes. Spain. Wastewater, aquaculture, roads, embankments.

– C-44/95. Lappel Bank. UK. Exclusion of an area from a Special Conservation Area for birds due to economic considerations.

– C-374/98. Basses Corbieres. France. Classification as SPA, quarries, compensatory measures

A state can receive a similar answer from its national supreme court, but the fact that Luxembourg speaks raises more buzz in the press.

How much energy is the city using

The London Heat Map, an interesting initiative to adress energy in the city

Accounting the urban energy consumption raises some issues:

–          Electricity is often provided by several private companies that do not disclose detailed information. Gas delivered by pipe is in the same situation. Despite that, you can (theoretically) obtain a figure at the household level.

–          Fuels are rather complex, but for deliveries to big clients. How to count the automotive fuels, at the pump, at the owner’s address, or in the road sections where they are burnt? And the bottled gas sometimes sold in some filling stations? Or wood?

–          Renewable energy can be decentralized generation; if it is later delivered to the general grid its accounting is more complex (but you an always think of a citywide balance)

And there is another problem: efficiency. What matters is not just how much energy you use, but rather how efficient that use is. The district heating systems that are common in northern Europe often begin as isolated power stations, but gain in efficiency as they are integrated in grids, as well as a home can be more efficient if the wall insulation is upgraded. So there is not just an issue of consumption, but also of the benefit that derives.

The energy part of the Green City Index, by Siemens, gave in 2009 the highest mark to Oslo (8,71), while London was 10th (5,64) and Madrid 12th (5,52) among the 30 studied European capitals. These marks resulted from 3 quantitative criteria: energy consumption (Gj per capita), energy intensity (Mj per unit of real GDP), renewable energy consumption (% of total consumption); and a fourth qualitative element addressing energy policies.

Green (4) Good and bad

EucaliptusEach profession has its myths or realities, depending of its concern. Typography experts hate some fonts, dress designers find some apparel disgusting in some moments, mathematicians despise the asymetries in thought, and architects… well, we architects can dislike almost everything depending of the day, or just things other people find ugly (we cannot be redeemed…).

Environmentalists hug trees… but not every tree. For instance, in northern Spain (not the image you have of a sun-scorched stepe, but much closer to Britanny in France) it common to hear complaints about eucaliptus, as those on the image (Santa Cristina beach, Oleiros), as they are not from the region,are prone to displace native species and take high water amounts. As with other fast growth trees, environmentalists say that these are a mere speculative plantation with a poor ecological record.

Up until that it seems clear. But now enters the climate change issue. On average nearly all the wood species have the same content of carbon per weight, so the faster a tree grows, the faster it captures atmospheric carbon, which is a good thing… If wood harvesting is properly conducted: a fire would release the carbon, or bad soil management would also have the opposed consequences. As always in ecology, a complex system, there is no single factor that can tell you if something is good.

Anyway, walking under these trees I can sometimes understand those that love the buildings I find appalling…


Urban planning and food (4). Paris

According to the Note Rapide 605- Quelles perspectives d’évolution pour le marché de Rungis?, published by the Institut d’Urbanisme et d’Amenagement de la Règion Ile-de-France (Paris region), the national market of Rungis is the largest wholesale fresh food produce market in the world. So it is a strategic asset in the food system sustaining a population to reach 12 million on the whole region. Designed in 1962 to substitute the central Paris Halles built by Haussman, and having also substituted the meatpacking facilities of La Villete in 1973, it occupies 230 hectares, with 12.000 jobs in 1.200 firms. 87% of the turnover comes from food products. 56% of products are fruits and vegetables, 21% meat products, 12% seafood and 12% dairy and prepared food.

40% of vegetables and fruits consumed in France go through this market, as well as 30% of seafood, 20% of meats and 10% of cheeses. It furnishes 80% of the small retail shops and 35% of restaurants, but its role for big box retailing is just as a complement

The main competitors for this market is the cash and carry segment, mainly the Metro group, as well as wholesale retailers.

According to Note Rapide 535- Nourrir 12 millions de franciliens: un defi au quotidien, also published by the IAU-IDF, this market is at the core of a regional food system with a sizeable productive capacity, but despite that a net food importing region. This food system is biased towards the end user (80% of jobs and bussineses are on the small grocers, as opposed to just over 9.000 bussineses in the agro-food sector). A part of the food production is transformed in other regions. In terms of floor, for instance, the volume produced in the region is close to the total consumption, but the interregional trade creates a deficit.

The competition for land also is relevant in Ile-de-France, as 45% of the former farms have dissapeared in the last twenty years. Developing regional agro-food sectors that can cope with the climatic challenge is a need.

SDRIF 2012-Paris. Environment

Drawing a greenbelt can be the starting point for many dissapointments: as most of the time we do not work on a “virgin” territory, the belt will almost never be closed, and its shape will be not that clear at first sight. In the SDRIF as often in other parts of the world, there is a Greenbelt project that works with reality; woods around Paris are integrated, as well as regional natural parks, and the debate could be in the conectivity among these spaces. The role of rivers as ecological connectors is also relevant and integrated (even when the Seine banks are sometimes stockage areas for construction materials, it is a truth that nature prevails somehow…). Overall, SDRIF tries to ensure these continuities, in which farmland is also relevant, as much for landscape as for ecologic continuity.

Those open spaces are also used to limit urban growth, and this, combined with the aim to improve the quota of green space per habitant in the denser areas (a complex operation, as sometimes it involves new buildings to ensure a balance between the cost of the new parks and the new revenue), can contribute to improve the quality of life. These spaces must also integrate as much as possible flood plains, a relevant issue in a metropolitan area with large rivers.

Urban freeways (2)

Mumbai (the city formerly named Bombay) is presented as the economic capital of India, with a metropolitan population over 19 millions. It is a city I don’t know in person, so these notes are based on secondary sources.

Historic Mumbai results from the union of several islands, creating a complex seashore. After a northward growth for the previous century the state of Maharastra begins the development of Navi Mumbai. A new town is so configured on 344 sq km on the continent, east of Thane Creek, as a part of an eastward movement reinforced by the opening of Vashi bridge and the new Jawaharlal Nerhu Port Trust. The aims of these projects are to absorb rural immigration that otherwise would congest insular Mumbai, to control growth and to balance business locations in a context of improved quality of live.

Growth previsions for Navi Mumbai have not been met, partly for a reason often critized in India: the shortcomings sincronizing urban growth with capital investment in infrastructure, as well for basic networks (water, sewage and sanitation, waste processing, energy) as for transportation. Maharastra State has a current investment program set to develop a transportation scheme including freeways, subways and monorail.

In this context Mumbai has plans, dating from the 1960s, to create a freeways network including a new 22 km bridge linking central Mumbai to Navi Mumbai and the port, as well as a coastal beltway on the western shore. This beltway is defined as a set of bridges aligned in parallel to the coastline, whose exit ramps are linked in perpendicular to the existing shore road.

The Bandra- Worli Sea Link (also known as Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link) is the first element in this western freeway. Composed of two parallel roads adding up eight traffic lanes, over a structure with concrete viaducts with a part cable stayed over Mahim bay, it configures a toll section of 5,6 km. It is today the southern extreme of the Western Express Highway, connecting Chhatrapati Shivaji airport to Worli, one of the main business districts in Mumbai.

The Indian web scene concerning the project shows an intense debate on the issues raised by the Bandra- Worli project, as well as on the whole sea link freeways project. On one side some inscribe the project on an economic development vision and as a solution to the urban car congestion. On the other side critics address the environmental impact, the radical change in the landscape implied by a permanent structure on the skyline, and the high construction costs. Some voices propose an alternative for shouthbound parts of the project, defining an configuration as a freeway on the shore, with a much reduced cost, without a definitive solution on sight.

The Bandra- Worli link was open to the public on june 30, 2009, presented a reduction in travel time between the two access points from close to 60 minutes in peak hours to 6 minutes. The configuration of the southern exist seems especially prone to congestion.

The freeway network project includes linking the Worli exit to the Navi Mumbai bridge through a future elevated freeway to Sewri, a 4 km section over one of the busiest parts of Mumbai.

Some references:

  1. Conference Urban Age Mumbai 2007 http://lsecities.net/ua/conferences/2007-mumbai/
  2. An article on city infrastructure on the Business Line section of The Hindu newspaper http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/article3258866.ece
  3. Vedula, Aparna, “Blueprint and reality: Navi Mumbai, the city of the 21st century” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197397506000154
  4.  Pradhan, Bawesh, et alt, “Evolution of Navi Mumbai” http://www.slideshare.net/debakshi/theory-of-settlement-navi-mumbai
  5.  A presentation criticizing the environmental management of the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link project http://es.scribd.com/doc/27569222/Bandra-Worli-Sea-Link-Environment-Mgmt