sustainable development

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.

Biblio (87) World Urban Forum Medellin

This year the World Urban Forum, a biennial event, was held in Medellin (Colombia).
Equity has become a central issue in the debates. But the conclusions bring more content. And they have launched the Global Urban Lectures, a set of interesting content you can access through the internet.

Maps 2014 (15) Sea currents


The search for flight MH370, disappeared on its path from Malaysia to China, has made clear, due to the “false positives” trying to find remains, that the ocean is far from clean. In fact, what we often draw (from land) as an empty space, is a quite dynamic world in which “gyres” concentrate surface pollution. Today’s map, by Cameron Beccario, shows the sea currents with updates every 5 days; gyres are not visible (not at least in an evident manner), but it is an aesthetical treat (while being base on scientific data). The Mediterranean and other inner seas are not rendered. On the same website you can see a map of winds, again a treat. Notice that you can switch between cartographic projections, a nice feature.

Back of the envelope calculations (4) An hour, six months, food and cars


Sometimes I’ve heard girls complaining that sweets are like “ a minute in your mouth and a lifetime in your waist”. CO2 is a bit like that, but on the other side.
Some years ago we produced a technical paper for the Basque Government on climate change and urban planning. A fast calculation showed that in the current climate context of the Basque Country a hybrid car’s worth in CO2 emissions running at 110 km/h was equivalent to six months of carbon capture by a mature European beech. This back of the envelope figure was in fact more sophisticated, and based on several science documents including specific studies on the growth behaviour of different species and other factors. On the whole of the Basque Country (both a well forested and highly developed area by Spanish standards) forests were worth 2,9 million tonnes of CO2 capture by year, while the global regional emissions were some 20 million.
Back of the envelope calculations must be handled with care in climate change terms, as there are many confuse data, not always based on good will. Concisely, trees absorb CO2 to grow, and this CO2 goes to wood mass and in part to the soil; the metabolism of the plant defines how fast that plant grows, so a given species could have quite different behaviours as CO2 sink in Maine compared to Madrid or to Manila, as climate and soil qualities matter. In the end, buying car enticed by the fact that a tree will be planted to absorb that CO2 seems quite untrue; you could choose to drive just a few minutes a year, but I’m not sure this is the case. In the end, we are not that far from the kind of ad strategy also used for… cakes.

Biblio (85) Stockholm Vision 2030

Stockholm 2030

Vision 2030 is a visioning exercise on the urban future of Stockholm, developed in 2006-2007. Beyond the clear IKEA influence on the catalogue (sorry, the publication…), with kids that seem to have had their daily meatballs, there are interesting things. Themes are standard for many cities, as public transportation or clean vehicles, but also new beltways. As in Nordic crime novels, the original thing here is not to have people killed (which is the usual thing in a criminal novel, I’m not talking about urban planning…), but what is around that killing, and in that sense, Sweden has different bases when compared to others… which incidentally also happens in urban planning and sustainable development.

Consulting the urban planning maps, some projects in the Vision 2030 are not entirely there, as the new western beltway, the Förbifart Stockholm (with works to start this year). The project will have one of the longest urban tunnels, and has been, as could be expected, controversial, confronting those thinking it will reduce congestion to those thinking it will simply increase car use. So Sweden, so advanced as it is in environmental awareness/quality and public transportion (I’m not joking here) is also dragged into the main debates.

Industrial traditions (6) Bilbao: some lessons about its transformation


Bilbao Ria 2000, the public company established in 1992 with the presence of several administrations that has directed a substantial share of the urban transformation projects in Bilbao, invested in the city from 1997 to 2011 beyond 957 million euros (slightly above 1,3 billion US dollars), for a metro area not reaching 1 million residents. Its work has touched seven main areas: six neighbourhoods and the urban integration of a rail network that created substantial urban obstacles. These works have clearly improved the urban landscape, as well as the way Bilbao is seen abroad.
Elias Mas Serra, former Head of the Architecture Board of the Bilbao Municipality (1991-2005) published in 2011 in the Bulletin of the Spanish Geographers Association an article about the management of Bilbao Ria 2000. The article is an analysis of a set of public policies that have been successful, but that raise some questions on which to reflect to improve future interventions: the problems derived from the asynchronous production of planning documents at different scales, as well as the need to ensure coherence between local and metropolitan scales in such projects.

Industrial traditions (5) Alternative Guggenheim

A- Macroplaza (Government center, arts and history Museums), B- Canal de Santa Lucía, C- Parque Fundidora

A- Macroplaza (Government center, arts and history Museums), B- Canal de Santa Lucía, C- Parque Fundidora

Monterrey has long had the image of the industrial powerhouse of Mexico. From the 1980’s there has been a tentative to build a more positive image, beyond smoke columns. First it was the Macroplaza (some 500 m of gardens connecting the main power centers and the classical museums, not unlike some US squares in a typology quite different from European Squares), and the the Parque Fundidora, an old steel mills site which has been turned into a park. Since the mid 1990s there has been a series of works to revive the canal de Santa Lucía, an ancient small river that has been turned in a navigable channel and linear corridor connecting both spaces; the Rio Santa Catarina, which is the main water course in the city, has been transformed in a linear park, but seems less well cared for . According to many sources, these possitive investment in public spaces have not been in parallel with much needed improvements in basic urban facilities in most of the urban tissue, as it has been the case in other cities also confronting a productive transportation (cities located in richer countries, no doubt).

Industrial traditions (4) Brownfields

Brownfield location in metropolitan Lille

Brownfield location in metropolitan Lille

Metropolitan Lille concentrates one of the largest sets of brownfields of the whole France. This means as much an urban problem due to the jobs and active urban uses loss in a context in which some areas are like a “sprawl by disappearance”, as an environmental one, due to industrial pollutants in the soil after years of industrial production.
In june 2010 Lille Metropole published a report on these brownfields and their pollution situation. Every aspect is analysed, from the spatial distribution of this problem to the national policies or the foreign experiences (with special interest in Flemish and USA cases), with a proposal of guidelines to tackle the issue from the urban planning scene. It is an interesting publication on a matter concerning more cities than usually expected.

Biblio (84) Sectorial Program for Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development 2013-2018, Mexico

Mexico is a giant country: a straight line from Cancun to Tijuana measures about 3.200 km, about the distance from Lisbon to Helsinki or Mumbai to Bangkok. And there can be an impressive distance between neighbouring streets when it comes to quality of life. The Sectorial Programme for Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development, published in December 2013, lays out the policies that the 2013-2018 administration pledges to apply in these domains.

The text describes the current condition of the country as far as urban development and housing are concerned, with substantial deficits. It is difficult to know what the future will bring in such a complex country; besides, there is no financial perspective in the document. But it give an overall vision of the problems. It can be downloaded at:   (beware, the text itselfs begins at the page 65 of the PDF)

Mapas 2014 (12) Global Forest Watch

global forest watch

The United Nations Environmental Program, ESRI, Google and environmental groups have launched Global Forest Watch, a website that tries to track in real time the deforestation and forestation dynamics around the world. It is a premiere, with some room to kvetch: for instance, an industrial palm plantation (for an ecologist as speculative an investment as a golf course) is not discriminated from an old forest full of biodiversity. But it is, anyway, an interesting source.