Biblio (102) Visions and scenarios for the European territory in 2050



ESPON’s team has prepared a report edited by Andreu Ulied which summarizes the main messages from the ET 2050 ESPON project. This is a new iteration of the attempts to define a territorial vision for the continent set to deliver a more sustainable development and a more efficient way to address crisis through territorial governance. The polycentric vision is, as usual, one of the basic elements. There are interesting ideas in the report, but I’m afraid that their full use can only come if we Europeans find a way to get a better government scheme for the Union.

Maps 2014 (20) Mapping Europe

The International College for Territory Sciences (CIST) is an institution established by Paris 1 and Paris- Diderot Universities and the French National Scientific Research Council (CNRS). As European Election Day has come (it is just today, so if you are in Europe and can vote, this could be a good moment to go…) the College has published a set of quite schematic maps on the European context. Even some elements are reduced to graphs, as the image portrayed here, but this reduces by no mean their interest.

The right to difference exists in this Europe… Google has published today a ballot box in its Spain, France, Germany and Italy versions, but… nothing to declare in its UK version (sure, they voted during the week, but results are today…).

Maps 2014 (19) Empty Europe

teselas pobladas EURO 2006

Populated celles. They have not been aggregated, so the overall black color corresponds mostly to the adjacent limits.

This is not, as I often do, a map that has been done by someone else, but rather raw data from Eurostat that I have represented. Some months ago I commented on a project concerning a population grid, 1 km wide, covering the whole of Europe, as to give a better vision on some issues, as population, whose rendering following administrative basis was far from good.

So, there I went to the Eurostat specific site (( to download the GEOSTAT 1 km2 population grid, with associated 2006 population data. The density map is somehow known as we know the main cities and axis, but what is less known is the map of the void spots (in fact, Eurostat does not produce a polygon for those 1 sq m cells without residents). As often for European data, there are countries out of the Union (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland) that are represented, while others (Cyprus) are not there).

The available cells (the populated ones, almost 2 million) help get the voids by exclusion; at first glance you can see substantial void areas in Spain, the Alps, the Charpatians, parts of Greece and the Scottish and Scandinavian mountains.

But it is far more interesting to better portray the empty areas.

Green cells have no population. So much more void...

Green cells have no population. So much more void… but there is a need to cultivate and to produce the environmental services needed by the population.

European choices (5) Pollution

Each dot is an EPRTR spot.

Each dot is an E-PRTR spot.

The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) is a register managed by the European Environmental Agency that has data on industrial compounds emitting pollutants beyond the thresholds established in Regulation (EC) No 166/2006. It encompasses a wide array of factories, from urban waste water treatment to surface treatments to slaughterhouses.

As ever with European policies, there can be states with more stringent environmental quality laws, but Europe defines both a common framework and, as relevant as that for spatial planning, common databases that cover the whole of the Union (and often external countries as Norway and Switzerland), so allowing a better knowledge and debate.

European choices (4) Zero energy


Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings requires that by 31 December 2020 all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings, and also mandates that condition for buildings owned and occupied by public authorities by 31 December 2018.

According to the Directive, a near zero energy building “means a building that has a very high energy performance, as determined in accordance with Annex I. The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on-site or nearby”. So the precise, quantified definition (a central matter in such a Directive) is left to each state.

According to the COM/2013/0483final report (covering just some of the states), first in a series of triennial reports on the implementation of the Directive, most of the states have made progress, but only Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark and Lithuania have presented a definition with a quantified goal and a percentage of renewable energies. On the other side, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany and the UK have some rules that go beyond. The numerical definitions oscillate from 0 to 220 kWh/sq m/year, so the report asks whether the goal of the Directive is really that.

The Directive mandates an intermediate goal for new buildings in 2015. So far 15 states have met that mandate, but with diverging measures.

So we have here a policy about climate change (controversial for some) but also about energy independence (will Poles or Baltics be more eager to implement that Directive than, say, Irish, after the Ukraine crisis?). And it is also an urban planning policy, as the buildings add up the energy demand of cities, and renewables are regulated in city planning.

European Choices (3) Urban planning, Danes and paella


In February 2009 the Auken report, by a Danish member of the European Parliament, became news in Spain. The reasons are the complains of citizens of other EU member states that had bought homes in Spain to find out they were affected by the urban planning laws of the Valencia region, with fast management procedures that they understood as opposed to their property rights.

The report analyses the fast urban growth of the country, its effects on the environment and other issues. Urban planning is central, but not as such (it is a matter of the States), rather as something that impacts the rights of the citizens.

An interesting reading on the limits that the Union sets to the power of the States. Since this report, there have been legal changes in Valencia, and there are already blueprints of a new law that would group what now is a too extensive legal corpus.

The report was seen as a good thing by many in Spain: those same problems also concerned Spanish citizens. Here the Union gave a broader view to adopt a decision on the effects of a temporary and state-specific issue (the real estate bubble). Only a minority (or at least this is what I have perceived) saw that as an encroachment on the sovereignty of the State.

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.

Nukes, crowns, housing, euros, birds and Scotts: european choices


The EU is often presented as an organisation that has helped Europe (or at least its member states) to have one of the longest periods without war in history. That is true. But it probably is coming to a point in which it will have to change, one way or the other (not peace, but the architecture on which it rests).

Of the five title items, the only two things that have created some sort of consensus in Europe are euros and birds. Two states have nuclear weapons, but this is something that is not subject to negotiation (and somehow displaces the military issue to NATO, an altogether different framework). And there are also nuclear weapons in some others, provided by NATO.  This is defined by each State.

Seven are monarchies, which indicates that in the past some people were deemed to have been chosen by God to manage their national flocks; so they are inherently different from an elected president, creating potential future frictions.  But the form of the State is defined by each of them

The European Parliament has recently passed a resolution on social housing (11 june 2013), but this is not a Directive, and it seems difficult to attain a compromise on that matter. To be sure, there are some Directives covering energy efficiency on buildings, but it is not exactly the same thing. As the right to housing and how it is provided for is a prerogative of each State.

Euros have come into physical existence and this is no doubt the sign of a consensus among all States, as they have yielded one of the traditional prerogatives of independence: currency. The extent to which the currency is seen as a good thing by citizens is perhaps not as widespread due to the economic crisis. Even if you keep your currency, the Union’s policies are strong as economy goes.

Europe has enacted a birds Directive, which is one of the rare instances in which the EU says something approximately concrete on land uses. We seem to love birds… (don’t take me wrong, I like birds too).

Scotts are holding a referendum this year on a potential independence from the UK. They want independence, but they also want to stay in the EU and NATO. But independence is not what it used to be in its days. The issue is not why do Scotts (or Catalans, for that matter) want to cut the tie while remaining in Europe and countries such as Serbia or Albania want to be also part of these families. It is rather which is the administrative level to be disposed off now that Europe is acquiring so much clout. And nationalism will play a role; for instance, UKIP wants the UK out of Europe, but not an independent Scotland. Which in its turn would be a state, but a much weaker one than what they have grown up used to think.

How this translates into architecture and regional and urban planning, the reasons for this blog? To be seen in next posts.

Maps 2014 (17) Hotspots of land use change in Europe, 1990-2006

ESPON is the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion, adopted by the European Commission as a programme in 2007. It has just published a map of the “hotspots” of land use change on a continental scale.

The map is built around the concept of use intensity. Regions with light of white colours have had smaller changes; blue ones have intensified land use (grasslands become urban areas, or more intensive agriculture zones), while the green ones have been subject to intensification (going from more to less intensive agricultural use). According to the map notes the data series are not homogeneous and some countries have no data, but you can see how intensification through tourist second homes has played a role in Mediterranean Spain, and how eastern Europe is intensifying, for instance in how Prague is “vacuum cleaning” peripheral Czech regions.

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. 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).