International Conference : Urban Energies

Segolene Pruvot

By Segolene Pruvot, on October 31st, 2012

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What are the questions that will concern our cities in the future? Will a new balance be struck locally between civic involvement and political responsibility? Who must do what today to make sure our cities remain a success model for the future?

These are some of the question addressed by the International Conference Städtische Energien/Urban Energies hosted last October 11 and 12 by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development.

The conference took place in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and was attended by more than 1300 delegates from 30 countries.
Many national and international speakers presented exemplary projects and planning processes and open discussions with the participants took place in parallel “arena” sessions.

The Conference marked the 5th anniversary of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, the document adopted by the EU on May 2007 under the German Presidency. The charter recognizes the important social, cultural and economic role that cities play.

Today in Europe almost 80% of the population live in urban areas (it was less than 10% in 1700). And, while when we think of cities we normally refer to the capitals and large urban areas, the majority of people live in medium and small cities. In EU 27 there are about 500 cities or urban agglomerates of more than 100.000 people.

Talking about Urban Energies means to address the cities as living and ever changing organisms. Saskia Sassen, urban sociologist, introduced the idea of thinking of cities through their “urban capabilities”, described as the mix of incompleteness and complexity, of people and space. She called for an “open source urbanism” to avoid the risk of obsolescence and keep track with the rapid urban changes. “The city is a hacker” said Sassen. “A hacker of spaces, of technologies, of individual’s self interest, of excessively rigid technological systems”.

Jørgen Randers, author of the report to the Club of Rome 2052, A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, described his concept of “Ecomodern City”, a urban model forced to confront contemporary challenges like declining  fertility and growing age while dealing with new constraints like no growth, need for energy efficiency, optimisation of waste cycles. In the Ecomodern City the use of virtual services will be growing (teleconferencing, shopping, entertainment, social interaction). Long term strategies will have to include wise solutions that have short term advantages. In the social field, efforts shall be made to avoid conflicts between young and old.
Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brasil, called for a strategic vision and for the joint responsibility of all the actors of the urban scenario. According to Mr. Lerner local sustainability “is an equation between what we save and what we waste”.

The roundtable Cities in Europe: Successes of a Shared Development Policy included Emmanuel Moulin, Director of the URBACT Secretariat. Mr. Moulin stressed the need of integrated management and multi level governance and pointed out the different development levels of European cities, where for instance in Eastern Europe participation is a new experience. “The exchange of knowledge and expertise across Europe has not worked well” he said. Mr. Moulin also described the uniqueness of URBACT, the only program financed both by the Commission and the Member States.

The conference wrap up included the adoption of the Memorandum Urban Energies – Urban Challenges where four major tasks for sustainable urban development are singled: “firstly, the cautious ecological renewal of buildings and neighbourhoods; secondly, the technological regeneration of urban infrastructures; thirdly, developing a new mobility and fourthly, social integration. These four major tasks have been discussed at length but are usually separated from one another, moreover in various professional and political circles. They must be brought together. The energy transition and the fight against climate change requires not only renewing cities and regions, changes in urban infrastructures, new mobility and social integration but also new economic and financial bases and respect for cultural identity. And only when the city and its surrounding hinterland are brought considerably closer can the necessary conversion be successful.”

The Memorandum proposes “an alliance for a sustainable city” and calls “upon those responsible in cities, regions, states and international organisations as well as associations, businesses and initiatives to undertake their own programmes and projects to foster a sustainable urban development taking into account the cultural, social, economic and environmental dimensions of cities”, concluding that “the sustainable city is climate-conscious and energy-efficient, adaptable and socially just, economically efficient and, last but not least, creatively unique and beautiful.

The sustainable city of tomorrow is the result of our actions today. Conditions, means as well as outcomes of this action are Urban Energies.

Emilio D’Alessio, Architect, Town Planner, URBACT Workstream Contributor


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