Many European countries have currently digital cadastre systems allowing the consultation of plan data on lots and buildings. The following stage would be to publish trustworthy 3D data. The Spanish Cadastre magazine published in 2010 an article (Amelia Velasco et alt) about the issue.
The TERM 2013 report by the European Environmental Agency (which can be downloaded at http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/term-2013) analyses the effects on environment of the transport policies, considering the targets, the EU has established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These targets are linked to policies set to promote public transportation and non-motorised mobility. It seems that emissions linked to mobility are smaller than the targets established for each year, a positive outcome; but overall emissions are still 25% over the 1990 levels used for targets. Urban pollution problems caused by nitrogen dioxide are relevant and growing due to the expansion of the share of diesel vehicles in the overall fleet.
The report confirms that the cities in which public transportation and non-motorised modes are strong have less pollution and produce less greenhouse gases.
Take land cover maps, change public transportation for car infrastructure, and but for appeased traffic zones it is sometimes not that easy to recognize the iconic image of Europe.
What would Europe look like under 200 m of water? it is a rather low lying continent, and a large share of what would remain would be mountain ranges, so there would be a clear problem to give shelter to a population the size of the current one and to nourish them, as most of the cereal plains would be wet, but for central Spain and some in current central Europe. Albeit there is another thing to consider: such a rise in the sea level would be simply devastating for the environment; if you liked Fukushima, or even the havoc wrecked by the “toxic soup” of household and industrial chemicals spilled during the Katrina episode in New Orleans, this situation would simply be hell.
Such a sea rise would simply turn upside down the whole world and the whole of Europe. The speed at which such an event could happen would condition the ability to react, albiet probably the situation would be closer to that in the film “On the beach” (Stanley Kramer, 1959) than to a happy ending without casualties. But what I will focus on (as a mere mental exercise, following Saramago’s stone raft…) is how some landscapes would change.
Planning is somehow a narrative thing: you have to create a story that can be of interest to your audience, as to make sure they can become involved in a project that, finally, is theirs as they are the ones living there. But it can become a narrative on its own, or just a way to rediscover a space you have known for a long time, just by getting conscious of features are not aparent every day. And this is clear when you talk about large scale planning.
I once read “The stone raft”, by the portuguese Nobel writer José Saramago, a book in which the Iberian Penninsula gets cut from Europe following precisely the political borders to go for walk around the Atlantic: the Pyrennées get sharply cut along the border line, and in a given moment Andalusians flock to Malaga to see Gibraltar Rock pass along, as it keeps in its original place (well, that also happened somehow in “Hector Servadac” by Jules Verne). So I decided to think about a less violent cut (sort of…). I downloaded SRTM elevation data for the Iberian Penninsula and Europe-wide data from the European Environmental Agency. If the whole world was to see a rise in the sea level of 200 m (for whatever reason, be it climate change -whose forecasts are way inferior to this figure- or any other you can think of), the whole of Iberia would be an island… albeit a quite different in outline from what we know now.
Being coherent, this hypethesis means most of Europe would get under the sea. The Netherlands and Denmark would be mere memories, Paris, London, Berlin and Rome would also be under water, the Ruhr valley would be a great lake and most of Hungary would be a large bay.
This biblio post is about a powerpoint presentation by Jean Luc Lipatz (from the French National Statistics Office) on the new geodata publishing method that is being used for census and other datasets. The whole of Europe (the system is being deployed by the concerned countries) is covered by a set of pixels, each of which has the data on what is in; a way more precise method to geographically show what exists, when compared to previous methods based on atributing data to each administrative entity.
The Map of the Month in the ESPON website is about the Hot Spots of land- sea interactions. An interesting subject included in the European territorial cohesion policies.
Enter a controversial matter. For some, the right to build on the land they own must be an absolute, regardless of circumstance, and every municipality must be able to decide what to do on its territory; for others, land is a scarce resource, whose use is related to the common good, and development implies relevant costs for local finances, so there is a case for regional planning and growth restrictions.
The European Environmental Agency has published in 2006 a report on the state of urban sprawl in Europe, using Corine Land Cover data. Urban sprawl is studied for several decades in 24 capitals, from central Spain the capitals of the eastern states, and it is evident that the oversize urban growth dynamics seen in the USA are also at work, albeit in different ways, across the European continent.
Munich seems to be the model city in that sense, with a growth planning that has allowed a smaller percentual growth in terms of urban built up area than in terms of population, even when it is vibrant city.
Renovate Europe is a campaign financed by private agents from the continent calling for an European policy to renovate the existing building stock. This renovation, focused on energy efficiency, is needed to tackle the goals Europe is defining in terms of climate change, and is presented as a way to help the economy and improve public finances without costs, raising at the same time the quality of life of citizens. Investing a gross amount of 41 to 78 billion euros per year would generate returns from 104 to 175 billion (as always, any forecast on figures is just a scenario, not a certitude).
Two publications are of special interest: one is an analysis of the conditions of the current European building stock, while the other analyses the benefits of investing in energy renovation of buildings.
These two publications are published by an set of agents with interests in the matter, but anyway the idea of an energy renovation seems quite sensible in a continent that is aging, with scarce conventional energy sources, and that declares itself sensitive to sustainable development and climate change.
This post is not related to shopping in Brussels, but to the power that the European institutions (identified in this continent as Brussels, as in the US federal issues are refered to as Washington) have to set rules related to everyday issues. If commerce became a federal issue in the US due to the distribution of products from the New York City meatpackers to neighboring states, in Europe since 2006 urban retail has regulations that must take into account the Directive 2006/123/EC (also known as Bolekestein, the name of the bill proponent), on services in the internal market.
Leaving aside all the ironic considerations that come from reading at the end of 2012 the grandiloquent statements in the first considerations paragraph, seeking to forge a more fluid internal market for the 27 states of the Union, the Directive addresses urban planning issues by establishing that:
- (article 9)access to a service activity shall not be subject to an authorization scheme, unless there are overriding reasons relating to the public interest. Initial paragraph 40 recognizes among these reasons environment and urban environment, including town and country planning.
- (article 14) access to a service activity shall not be restricted due to an economic test subject to the proof of an economic need or market demand, an assessment of the potential or concurrent economic effects of the activity.
- (article 15) access to a service activity shall not be restricted due to the population or to a minimal distance threshold between providers.
As often in this kind of complex texts resulting from negotiation between antagonic interests, the Directive establishes principles that must be subject to interpretation. The basic rules for urban retail, from Helsinki to Lisbon and from Athens to Dublin, are:
- Urban planning can define limitations to the location of retail activities when an overriding general interest justifies it. The idea of nuisance, classical in urban planning, is accepted, and it is so possible to define different requirements for different retail formats that have diverging impacts on the environment. Induced traffic, service to populations without car, or CO2 emissions can be valid reasons to limit or foster retail locations.
- It is impossible to forbid new retail activities due to the eventual effect on the current traditional retail structure.
- It is impossible to forbid new retail activities due to a perceived saturation of the location; so, from this viewpoint, it is up to concurrence between shops to decide which one will survive.
The Directive modifies substantially the tradition of the French law that limits the big box retail in peripheral locations; its translation to the legislative texts of the states of the Union has been followed in the Spanish case by the translation to regional laws, with diverse outcomes that reflect the ideological views of each government.
In planning terms, urban retail in its traditional form (mixed with housing, offices and a variety of other uses) is not just a “classical image”, it is usually a good way to create living centers in which life, although subject to the problems of a certain degree of crowding, is easier as most things can be found at walking distance. But this must be proved in each case, as plans must serve the citizens.