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Utopia or revolution: new stakes for a sustainable urban planning. S. THIBAULT. Planning theory. January 2014

During the 20th century we endured a massive expansion of cities all around the world. At the world scale more than one inhabitant over two live in a city whereas in 1900 only one inhabitant over ten did1! Cities grow, in the one hand they are more and more bring together under megalopolis or conurbations… and on the other hand urbanization affect more and more rural areas. These urbanizations happened really quickly and were – mainly in the city’s fringes – often uncontrolled, disorganized. The result is the sprawling of big cities or rural villages in large extent area with specifics uses like housing, business, shopping …What kind of life for inhabitants? Is it possible to improve quality of life in cities and make it more sustainable? These new urban patterns bring out also new issues for urban planning, mainly in the outlook of ecology. Indeed cities and their sprawl are the main place of pollution. First because city centers are more and more dense, thus concentrate consumption of resources, but also CO2 emissions, trashes productions … moreover these pollutions spread out more and more in the city fringes and in the rural areas because of disorganized urbanization. Sometimes newspaper or specialized magazines shows some one-time solution to improve the ecological conditions in the city: garden on the roofs, plant-covered façades … How is it possible to combine durably urban areas development and ecological issues? Given that our consciences are more and more open to ecological issues: the need to protect, recycle, consume less natural resources… and the fact that urban areas are growing very quickly in a way that doesn’t always provide good qualities of life (mainly in social and sanitary input): it seems unthinkable that urban planning won’t re-invent itself according to these new urban and ecological considerations! What are the new issues that urban planning should face to challenge urban sustainable development – ecological and social? At the same time how urban planning should change itself to answer these questions? It’s seems that urban planning looks more and more complex …. So are we trying to define a utopia or is a revolution starting in the urban planning? 1.Jacques Véron, http://www.ined.fr/fichier/t_publication/1300/publi_pdf1_435.pdf


2 Cities are obviously a place of pollutions, and went through hard disorganized time of development. This clear conscience of problem in urban area brings some initiative trying to show some solutions to the new urban issues. Then, as solution won’t come alone, starts the question of the stakeholders in urban planning. Urban planner can’t be alone anymore and should also involve different kind of stakeholders in the urban planning. Finally a sustainable planning should also give coherence back to different spatial and time scale.

Crisis of urban areas, stakes of a sustainable urban planning Urban areas are specifics places that concentrate human life: place to live, place to work but also everyday life leisure. In cities people expect to have at the same time a social urban life, the possibility of private life, but also to be provided easy access to everywhere in a city in the aim of enjoying every benefit of a city culture – cinema, theatre …, leisure – park, promenade, shopping… And more the urban area sprawls more these needs increase, and lead to increase the pollution in city. And it is such a sensitive issue that nowadays some solution at different scale and in different field of skills (planning sciences) are found, to enable cities to be less polluting. Urban areas and their environmental issues On the 31st of October 2013 the NOAA published a satellite view of China with a big black cloud covering the country. This cloud is created by pollution: industry, transportations, construction … this cloud find an explanation in the combustion of coal1. Nevertheless it can also be an evidence of the pollution of atmosphere in cities. This pollution is the result of two main parameters, gazes produced by vehicles but also high temperature: two characteristics of cities. But this pollution has really important impact over citizen’s health (increasing the number of decease…). To cure this kind of pollution some cities decided to slow down the speed of cars during the day of highest temperatures- France, or to make pay some charges for the cars incoming in the city centers – London, to avoid too much concentration of atmosphere pollutions. We can also point another big problem of pollution in cities: light pollution. Cities are lighted a lot, during the day and also during the night. These lights are produced by shops, firms to attract people, but also by public lighting, they have really negative effect on the ecological input. Indeed it disturbs the growth of trees – they also need night to have a good functioning – but also the functioning of fauna in cities: it is less and less diverse. Against this 1.http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/391423/la-pollution-de-la-chine-visible-de-l-espace


3 pollution some cities decided to interfere in the functioning of lights: some taxes are made for shops that turn lights on every night, or they made the choice of special light that doesn’t affect so much the environment (low frequencies, low luminosities). But there is also other pollution’s problem like pollution of ground, and CO2 emissions (transportation) … Cities are really big places of pollution that affect human health, urban fauna and flora, and at a larger scale earth pollution. Even if some cities try to find some one-time solutions ecological issues are getting more worrying. While pollution is an important concern of cities nevertheless there is some other problems that impact environment and human wellbeing in their everyday life in cities. Control city sprawl During the last decades cities of North of Europe have known a specific uncontrolled development we can call ‘’ urban sprawl’’. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has described sprawl as the physical pattern of low-density expansion of large urban areas, under market conditions, mainly into the surrounding agricultural areas. Sprawl is the leading edge of urban growth and implies little planning control of land subdivision. Development is patchy, scattered and strung out, with a tendency for discontinuity. It leap-frogs over areas, leaving agricultural enclaves. Sprawling cities are the opposite of compact cities — full of empty spaces that indicate the inefficiencies in development and highlight the consequences of uncontrolled growth.1 This is the new pattern of cities we have to work with … so what should we do? Obviously we can’t let it go this way, because of the consumption of natural resources that the sprawl implies. Likewise in Rennes or in Lille (French cities) new initiatives to plan the city take in account the need to limit the sprawl but also to organize urban renewal. Metropolis of Rennes contains 38 towns including Rennes. This metropolis knew during the last year one of the biggest increase of demography in West of France. With this demographic considerations it had been found that all the small towns surrounding the main city would have been encompassed by it sprawl. Moreover this sprawl would have been with specific uses: services, commercials or housing…thus city wanted to avoid a shapeless area where boundaries can’t be visible and also the ‘’death’’ of small town because of the attraction of the city center. To avoid this it had been decided to keep a green belt surrounding Rennes. This belt will have benefits for ecological environment, but also for a dynamic development of the small towns around.2 In Lille, other issues are involved. In this city the sprawl already happened in a very 1.EEA Report n°10, Urban sprawl the ignored challenge,2006 2. http://www.tourisme-rennes.com/rennes-metropole-presentation.aspx


4 substantial way. But it’s also a city where there is a lot of industrial brown-field in the center of the city. Thus the planning of the city aims to develop the city on itself instead of increasing the sprawl. For example at the moment government is working on the rehabilitation of the brown-field of an old railway station in the city center.1 A part of this area had already been changed in cultural place: bars, restaurant, concert hall, but also exhibition hall … it also hosts sometimes event: during summer some games for children, or political events. The idea of urban renewal is really important; at a smaller scale it can also be consider the rehabilitation of building. For example in Riga an initiative give some stickers to show the empty houses… this could be a way to dawn on what it can be done with them. All these specifics decisions of urban planning show that environmental and urban questions are more important in our life. However these decisions are mainly made for people. City: new ways of life? At the first place the phenomenon of sprawl in urban areas were due to the growth of urban population but also to ideal of life. Indeed people of cities were looking for something else: more’’ natural’’ area to live, the possibility to have a house with a garden … Nevertheless few years after we can criticize the way of life in these suburbs – mainly with economical, ecological and social input. These housing suburbs are individual places, where public places to meet, to have social life, are less and less possible. People ‘’live’’ there but they have to find everything else, elsewhere: school for children, shops, services, jobs … everything need to take a car to be reached. What people were looking for was no more provided in cities but the result of urban sprawl does not provide it neither. This is a crisis point where urban planning has a full game to play : in the one hand we have to re think city centers that lake of qualities, and in the other hand we should ‘’ organize’’ and make denser the sprawl to enable real ‘’urban life’’ in these place, not only a place to sleep- to shop – to work… These changes are needful to reduce urban areas’ impact on environment but also to decrease negative social effect of this sprawl: segregation (age, social statues …).In city center we have to think on the everyday life of people, how to improve it. In city center we should provide an environment with better quality, safer, healthier …and the place where we can act on are public spaces. One simple example is that some studies prove that planting trees in the city remove atmosphere pollution1 so we can understand that some more ‘’green’’ space can be a benefit for citizen’s life. In suburbs the idea of cities should be more developed: mixt uses, make denser main areas, develop common transportation to avoid segregation,... avoid to sprawl more, avoid to pollute more either. Cities are complex places where social, economic, environmental, parameters are 1. http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/region/saint-sauveur-futur-quartier-lillois-le-projet-de-ia19b0n1734014


5 acting in different way to define urbanism. As urban planners we have to take in account all these parameters to understand cities, but also to control the negative effect of city growth and to improve people’s urban life. As these new questions in urban areas are more and more rose up by Medias and our conscious of the place we do live in, it is also important to get into the question the stakeholders of urban planning. Who does have the skill to plan aright urban areas? As ecological issues are getting more and more important, can we still say that urban planners are alone in urban planning? In which extend should we involve other stakeholders? Complexity of urban situations implies also more complexity in the way of looking at urban areas.

What is the role of urban planners in sustainable planning?

To plan urban areas there is the profession of urban planner. In France they come mainly from architecture school or urbanism master (political science, technical master …). However with the new importance of sustainable development in urban planning, to provide better environment for citizens, and to avoid another ‘’ urban sprawl’’, urban planners have to know better the place they are working with. Thus the profession of urban planner is getting more and more complex because planning a sustainable city needs more diverse knowledge. Urban planners can’t work ‘’alone’’ anymore, they need to listen to different specialist to understand what are the stakes of the territory, and then they have to organize the cohesion of a project involving different stakeholders. Urban planners can’t work alone anymore. Urban areas, with this input of sustainable development, are involving more and more considerations. Besides urban planners need to listen to specialists in different fields because urban planners has skills but they can’t know everything. Consulting specialists will provides a different point of view on the urban area: ecologists, hydrologists, historians, sociologists, architects, landscape architects, economists… but with the nowadays environment it can also be needed to have marketing specialist, high technologies specialist or transportation specialist … These knowledge are improving every day with scientific research and it would be a mistake for urban planners not to choose to refer back to these people who are leading in their field. It would be also a mistake for urban planners to try to understand all the stakes of cities on their own; first because these knowledge are different according to the place, but


6 also because it could mean that finally they will ‘’ know nothing about everything’’. Moreover urban planners have to take in account the stakeholders of the city: inhabitants and politicians. These two parameters are even more important because they will impact the achievement of the project – economically and socially … In the middle of all these stakeholders and specialists it can be asked what the role of urban planners themselves is. Thus it would be important to situate them as the main character of urban planning: they have to make a project. Urban planners have to decide from A to Z how the project has to be, as a planner and not only as historians or ecologists, or inhabitant … but as someone who has to create sustainable cities. Their part is even more important that they have to give with plan a coherence in whole city development. Coherence of urban planning To make a planning more sustainable urban planners have to understand well the stakes of cities, in this aim they can consult specialists or stakeholders … but the real work of urban planners is to be able to decide what is going to be the more important stake, and which are going to be secondary. In this purpose planners has many possibility to do it, they might want to decide alone, but they can also decide to organize participative planning. It means to involve those different specialists in the planning. This can take many shapes, workshops, discussion, surveys...These participative planning implies that at a moment in the progress of project urban planners want to involve some stakeholders in decision. It can be done at the beginning or almost at the end of the process; it can involve everyone or only technicians and inhabitant or only specialists… The aim is to find solution with stakeholders for stakeholders. According to Lucien Kroll ”It is not a letting do, the whatsoever. It urges the project further.” Towards “a complexity that comes from a way to consider inhabitant not as goods, but as a network infinitely precious of relations, of actions, of behaviors, of empathies that create slowly an urban fabric”1. Another benefit of these participative planning is that people, as they understand what is going on, are going to be more concerned by the project and will provide to it more sustainability. Communication on urban planning Sustainability of a project can be made with involvement of inhabitant. As we said it can be made in different phases of the progress of project but also with different tools. As in Siikajoki in Finland discussion were made around plan… Lucien Kroll, Belgian architect is well known for his participative conception of architecture; he was used to make models with 1. http://next.liberation.fr/design/2013/10/11/les-kroll-une-utopie-habitee_938902


7 people concerned by the project. But nowadays we can see other tools used for participation: for example interactive maps we can found on internet, like for ‘’ Grand Paris ‘’ and more precisely for Plateau Saclay1 that aims to be the scientific cluster of the metropolis. Tools are very diverse and the right one depends on the scale of the project, on the time you have to do it, and the phase of project. The role of urban planners is to know when and how participative is useful, for them and for the project. This question of participation and precisely the question of tools bring out also the wider question of communication. More and more cities understood how important it is to inform people of what is going on with their city. We can see posters in city or also fliers in your mail box. But cities also understood the importance of internet and social virtual network to promote changes in cities. Communications, participation, involvement, diversity of knowledge are new parameters in urban planning. Well used they are some keys for a city more sustainable: understand what’s going on in a city – as for citizens than for political – allows people to respect it more and to feel better in their everyday life environment. A strong urban planning will also ensure the cohesion between all these knowledge, and needs. However the coherence that comes from involvement of different stakeholders has to go along with the consideration of others scales. First the spatial scale should be questioned: do we plan at local scale or does the city belong to regional scale? Together the time scale of urban planning should be questioned: how far should we plan, how we should plan with time …

Coherence of time and spatial scale for a sustainable planning.

With the coherence between different stakeholders of the city stakes should also go the coherence in scales. First the coherence at the spatial scale of the place that is planned, is it only a neighborhood, or should we look a bit further to understand it more, how can it helps to plan sustainably? Then there is the question of time scale. How far should we plan? How detailed can we plan? … These two questions of scale are specific tools of urban planning: it is spatial planning, which means that one part of the profession concerns physic areas and the other one concerns duration, and process of project. Understand urban areas in different spatial scales.

1. http://www.media-paris-saclay.fr/une-carte-collaborative-pour-inciter-a-la-marche/


8 Each place urban planners have to work with are different, therefore the question of spatiality is every time different. But the question of spatial scale in planning is important to reach when the question of sustainability is risen up. First it is important to understand at what scale we are planning: is it a neighborhood, a city, or do we plan at territorial scale…Indeed the need from urban planning won’t be the same: for territorial stakes some general decision can be took while for a local planning precise decision – design question – will be reach more quickly. Furthermore understand the scale at which the planning takes place need to have a wider vision of place: a comprehension of economical, geographical, sociological, ecological stakes, not only where we work but maybe also at wider scale. It is also important to have in mind what are the directions given by other scale: for example knowing European directive can help to not go at counter-current of larger orientations of decision. Besides it is also important when the planning is made at larger scale to take in account what could be done in this plan at smaller scales, what are going to be the margin of action for local plannings. While knowing the specificities of each place, the understanding of scales is important to allow a more sustainable urban planning. Urban planners are, with a dialogue between all planners on same territory, responsible for the coherence of planning at different scale. Indeed this coherence will enable urban areas of the same territory to grow on the same way; it will enable to move forward in the same direction, giving urban planning back more sustainable. This sustainable spatial planning goes with the question of the sustainability of planning with time, a very important concept in urban planning. Time scale: planning now, with the past and the future. Temporality in sustainable urban planning is a very important stake, and it brings out two big questions that planners have to have a position toward them. On which “time” should we based urban planning? And how far are we able to plan? When an urban planning starts it means that there is a current situation of a place that brings some problems. So we can consider his place in the present time to provide solutions. Nevertheless it could also be more interesting to understand that present situation as a result of mechanisms in progress from ages. The understanding of these processes, certainly, increase the complexity of urban planning, nonetheless could be more interesting in this sustainable development. Indeed we can then in future plan avoid failure and maybe take advantage of some situations. These questions can be very quickly illustrated by the question of heritage. Is it a building or can it be the aspect of a street, or an urban pattern …what do we keep from past? And what do we want from present to be kept for future? And how? For example in Lille


9 there were some industrial brown-fields, in the middle of housing area. It had been decided to destroy some of them because for some safety reason it was impossible to do anything with them but with those that were in good condition, the choice of rehabilitation was made. Indeed it’s now a university that aims to be the technical, scientific hub of Lille.1 Anyway the question of conservation has to be thought because with this question of sustainable development it is unthinkable that we would have again some ‘tabula rasa’ as Le Corbusier could had plan before. The second question brought by the time scale is how far we should plan? Or maybe more precisely how far are we able to plan? This question leads a paradox answer. On the one hand hearing sustainable development it can be understood that planning has to be a very long time target. This planning refers to another time of planning than human activity, maybe more a planning at nature scale … Nevertheless while we are living at the numerical time, of world society of consummation, and where internet is the new speed reference .., where everything is changing so fast: is it still possible to think urban planning at long time scale? Issues of today are not going to be those of tomorrow even less those of after tomorrow. However urban planners can’t forecast as seer, so they have to find solutions to act, because urban planning means time space, but also the fact of planning. Then how do we plan? Phasing urban planning, a solution for a sustainable development? Phasing is the organization in time of different phases of process of project. Interest of phasing in a more sustainable urban planning is that it concern at the same time question of space and time. Phasing is going to define areas that needs priority actions, kind of action needed, the time needed to realize them but also at what time the other phases should be started … Phasing allows also to organize different kind action at different scale and give coherence to these question of transversal scale: a phasing can start for example with general direction and continue with planning at smaller scales… Moreover phasing permits to government and urban planners to give step by step target and fix dates for them. This kind of calendar can be useful for communication or to arouse interest and satisfaction of people concerned by the project. Finally phasing allows also kind of flexibility in urban planning. Phases don’t have to be strictly defined. They can also be considered as different scenarios that will take place time after time. For example phasing can integrate some phases of participative planning. This way of planning urban area has certain interest for sustainable planning : it allows to ‘’plan’’ , but at the same time to have a margin of action that could be interesting to avoid strict plan that might not be adapted in few year to the current situation.


Thus a sustainable planning is not anymore only envisaged as the plan that plans the more further in time but also the one that fit the best into general and local context, the one that provide the more coherence in time and in space, but also the one that understand the fact that it is one part of many project, that many other will follow after it … the more easy to reuse in time, because of processes we don’t always control.

How are going to be cities of the end of 21st century? A city that consume less resources, a city more dens , whose centers find new qualities for public life, a city where people feel well, and where they are involved in their neighborhood, a city with controlled and coherent development, that fits with it territory : A sustainable city. Is it utopia? Changes and challenges of todays cities implies to reconsider deeply urban planning in with a view toward sustainable development. Urban situation, as from ecological than urbanism concerns, lead to a critical point of emergency that can’t take the chance of inaction. Urban planners must plan, and shouldn’t be passive in the city revolution. They have to face the ecological situation of cities and the new issues of urbanism (architecture, landscape …): urban sprawl, quality of life in city centers, densification…They have to plan a city more sustainable. They have already some tools they should use to avoid the past error of too rigid plan. They can’t work alone anymore : urban areas became so complex that involving specialists – with special skills or inhabitant - to give more strength to planning, to consider with different point of view urban areas , seems to be a necessary step to make a planning more sustainable : as in its shape than in the interest aroused to people concerned. They have also to consider take in account that to make this interest they can’t plan secretly anymore, they need to communicate their project, and renew them depending on the new technologies. Besides they have to understand the place they are working with a wider mind: in scale and in time. This would help in sustainable urban planning to have real specifics answers to real issues and not generic solution applied everywhere, mistake that had been done with ‘’ villes nouvelles’’ for example in France. They also have to reconsider what sustainable planning does actually means. Urban planners are not able to forecast future so they have to plan step by step, learning form past , looking in the more further they can… but maybe they have to re ask what sustainable does mean for each place. To not let this utopia be just a utopia, urban planners have to affirm their role as organizer between all the stakeholders of cities but also between the different scales and phases of place. As they establish our tomorrow’s cities, urban planner s also have to be ahead of their time, they have to make up new tools of planning, all the time, because cities of tomorrow are innovative cities.


Bibliography EEA Report n째10, Urban sprawl the ignored challenge,2006 Taylor, N. 1998. Paradigm shifts, modernism and postmodernism. In Urban Planning Theory since 1945. SAGE Publications Helsing Almaas, An Urban Renaissance., 2000 Selman, P. 2006. Plannning at the Landscape Scale. Routledge Klostermann, R.E. 1985. Arguments for and against planning. Neuman, M. 1999. Does Planning Need the Plan.


Essay utopia or revolution new stakes in sustainable urban planning 2014