European cities continue to grow greener: Part I
26 March 2019
Map of European Green Capital Award applicants, shortlisted cities and winners since 2010.
Two-thirds of Europeans currently live in cities, a figure that is predicted to rise to 80 per cent by 2050. People choose to live in increasingly dense urban areas to gain better education and employment. However, urban living brings a range of environmental challenges and civil engineers need to provide solutions.
The European Commission initiated the European Green Capital Award in 2008 to reward cities for environmental performance, sustainability plans and acting as a role model for other cities.
This paper describes notable civil engineering features of four of the more recent winning cities: Copenhagen, Denmark; Essen, Germany; Nijmegen, the Netherlands; and Oslo, Norway.
Currently more than 70 per cent of Europe’s citizens live in an urban area. By 2050, that percentage will reach 80 per cent based on current growth patterns (UN, 2015).
Urban areas of all sizes can be engines of the economy which boost growth, create employment for citizens and enhance competitiveness. At the same time, urban areas are also the source of many of the current environmental challenges ranging from traffic congestion, air quality, stress on water resources to issues of waste management and climate change impacts, among others.
The European Green Capital Award (EGCA) (EC, 2016a) was initiated in 2008 by the European Commission (EC) and, following detailed assessment, the first holder of the award was Stockholm as European Green Capital 2010.
To date a total of 10 cities in Europe have been awarded this badge for sustainable urban living: Stockholm (2010), Hamburg (2011), Vitoria-Gasteiz (2012), Nantes (2013), Copenhagen (2014), Bristol (2015), Ljubljana (2016), Essen (2017), Nijmegen (2018) and Oslo (2019).
The criteria for the award are that each winning city must firstly demonstrate a well-established record of achieving high environmental standards. Second, they must also commit to ambitious goals for further environmental improvement and sustainable development.
Finally, the European Green Capital must be capable of acting as a role model to inspire and promote best practices to other European cities.
The 12 environmental indicators
The selection of a city awarded the European Green Capital title is initially assessed on the basis of 12 environmental indicators established progressively between the EC, secretariat and expert panel:
1.) Climate change: mitigation
2.) Climate change: adaptation
3.) Sustainable urban mobility
4.) Sustainable land use
5.) Nature and biodiversity
6.) Air quality
10.) Green growth and eco-innovation
11.) Energy performance
Each of the indicators is independently evaluated by a panel of international experts in their respective fields. The highest-ranking cities, based on the comprehensive online application form, are then shortlisted.
Thereafter, shortlisted cities are invited to present their vision, strategies and capacity to act as a role model before a jury appointed by the EC.
Over the past 10 years a total of 86 cities have applied from a total of 26 countries. This is remarkable engagement by cities and especially by countries, representing 70 per cent of eligible countries.
The award is open to 28 member states, five EU candidate countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Figure 1 (featured image) shows the map of Europe with applicant, shortlisted and winning cities of the EGCA. Applicant cities must have a population in excess of 100,000 people.
The principal EU policy underpinning this award is the Europe 2020 strategy (EC, 2010) together with the EU seventh environment action programme Living Well, Within the Limits of Our Planet (EC, 2013), which strove to create a ‘smart sustainable and inclusive economy’ across Europe and in particular ‘to enhance the sustainability of EU cities’. This policy was further supported by The Pact of Amsterdam, setting out the urban agenda for the EU (EC, 2016b) adopted in Amsterdam in May 2016.
In 2015, the EC decided to build on the success of the EGCA by initiating another similar award (called the European Green Leaf Award) for smaller cities between 20 000 and 100 000 population. A paper in this journal entitled ‘Environmental sustainability of European cities’ (Rudden et al., 2015) described the development and progress of the early years of this project from 2010 to 2015.
This paper assesses the further development of the EGCA process over the period 2015–2018. It addresses how the initiative has led to greater urban sustainability and increasing citizen awareness on the need for urban development that is ‘fit for life’ as cities continue to grow in number and size.
Beatley (2012) published his book Green Cities of Europe after the European Green Capital was awarded to Stockholm, Hamburg and Vitoria-Gasteiz and after Copenhagen, Freiburg and Oslo had been shortlisted.
The EGCA reports were then publicly available. He made comparisons between US cities and European cities stating that the ‘Green Cities of Europe are compelling models’ and Europe is a ‘pioneer in the area of sustainable cities’.
He also stated that ‘European cities have 50 per cent of the carbon [dioxide] emissions of US cities’ and that ‘few cities have advanced in rethinking urbanism more than the Scandinavian ones’. He also observed that the European city model focuses more than US cities on sustainable development, quality of life and interdependence.
Cities of the future
The vision for future cities in the Europe 2020 strategy (EC, 2010) is that they should aim for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’. This is generally aligned with similar objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) to ‘make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.
The common theme is to promote jobs and growth through the provision of infrastructure and services to support sustainable urban living. This theme requires good urban design and resilient infrastructure involving urban planners but especially the critical infrastructure designed by civil, structural and environmental engineers.
The term ‘green city’ is well defined by the EGCA, now in its 10th year. To win the award, the city must excel in most if not all of the 12 environmental indicators.
Increasingly critical is the topic of climate change, as both mitigation and adaptation are now specified as two individual indicators. Winning cities for the most part have been greatly supported by citizen approval due to increased city profile and resulting tourism.
A ‘smart city’ has many overlapping qualities with a ‘green city’ but also has some of its own requirements. Key elements of smart cities include the use of efficient user-friendly information and communications technologies and services (Gangale et al., 2017).
There should be uninterrupted access to power, water, food, transportation and healthcare using smart city technology and innovation, gathering data which can be used to predict system behaviour and foresee problems.
Smart cities demonstrate a digital transformation across infrastructure services to give energy efficiency, citywide cloud access and improved public safety to meet citizen needs. Innovation needs to extend to the integrated deployment of sensor technology and robotics to manage assets and resources efficiently.
These need to extend to emergency response centres, learning centres, government centres, research and technical institutions and key business areas. Green city development depends more on civil engineering than do smart cities, which are necessarily more information technology driven and based on ‘internet of things’ solutions.
Green cities have a particular focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation, ease of transport mobility, sustainable land use, quality and use of water resources, and waste management as part of the circular economy, together with energy management of buildings and infrastructure.
These fall mostly into traditional sectors such as transport, water supply, flood control and sustainable drainage that require the civil engineering aspects of smart resilient infrastructure.
To overcome modern challenges, civil engineers must ‘adapt to smart infrastructure now and transform people’s future’ (ICE, 2017). It is evident that smart cities go beyond the needs of technical infrastructure into health and wellbeing, lifestyle, education and social inclusion helped by digital transformation.
It is obvious from consideration of the foregoing case studies that the inherent quality of green cities depends greatly on resilient civil engineering infrastructure such as reliable water supplies, transport systems, waste resources and energy efficiencies, particularly in extreme weather conditions.
(In Part II, to be published on April 9, 2019, the authors will examine case studies of each of the four European green cities.)
Authors: Louise Connolly BSc, MSc, MCIWM senior associate, RPS; Louise Campion BSc, ME, PGCert, MIEI project engineer, RPS; Patrick Rudden BE, CEng, FIEI, FICE, FIAE, FCIWM, FIGEM, MCIWEM, FConEI director, RPS, Dublin.
This article was published with the kind permission from ICE Proceedings where the article was published in September 2018 special edition on ‘Cities of the Future’ to mark the bicentenary of the founding of ICE in 1818.
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