Energy Cities, a European network set up 25 years ago, was renamed the “European Association of Local Authorities in Energy Transition” in May 2013, having published its “30 Proposals for Territorial Energy Transition” in 2012. Its Delegate General, Gérard Magnin, explains the differences in approach taken by European countries, notably Germany and France. He is very much in favour of a key role for local authorities in inventing the future of energy.
In Stuttgart, on 19 and 20 March 2013, Energy Cities hosted a meeting for French and German towns on the subject of energy transition. Representatives from towns in the German and French Clubs of towns which signed the Convention of Mayors emphasised their role as a driving force in the implementation of projects and their direct contact with local populations. In Rennes, a two-day event allowed citizens to imagine the future of their city in the post-carbon era. In Tübingen, local people were invited to undertake the equivalent of a world trip by bike together, in their town as they went about their daily business. Dijon is taking advantage of the building work on its tramway to extend its heating network. Kaiserslautern is calculating the regional added value of its climate measures. Metz can launch a number of ambitious energy objectives thanks to its municipal government structure (an exception in France) which became a Société d’économie mixte (SEM, public/private partnership) in 2008, and Stuttgart city council is funding its reduced internal energy consumption by means of intracting, an in-house energy performance contract.
The annual meeting of the Energy Cities Association was held in Växjö in Sweden from 24 to 26 April 2013,
taking as its main topic, “Building energy transition”. It was attended by more than 350 people – politicians, local authority technicians, representatives of EU institutions, militants from associations etc. The subjects covered constitute a whole programme of work that can be used by any town or city to implement the energy of the future in real concrete ways. Each aspect is analysed to highlight the most horizontal and more decentralised programmes. The local level is expected to gain in importance compared to the States themselves, especially when it comes to giving citizens a major role to play. Their involvement would then become one factor in the success of energy transition.
WIth a population of 85,000, Växjö is Sweden’s third largest town after Stockholm and Malmö. In an interview, its mayor, Bo Frank, explained his political career and his decisions.
“I started my political career in Växjö in 1974. At that time there was not much focus on environmental issues. But I had studied ecology at the university and started the discussion about how to handle biological waste. The city put big effort into restoring the city lakes during the first decades. In 1996 we established a vision to become Fossil Fuel Free. Since then we have worked hard to decrease our fossil CO emissions.”
“Växjö is a growing city. One of the most growing in Sweden. Sometimes it has been a challenge to grow without burden the environment. Therefore for me it is very important to improve for sustainable transport modes like walking and bicycling. Also, the stormwater treatment is important for a growing city.”
Pierre-Arnaud Barthel, a lecturer at the Institut français d’urbanisme (University of Paris-East Marne-la-Vallée) and researcher at LATTS (Laboratoire techniques territoires et sociétés), who previously worked at CEDEJ (an economic, legal and social documentation study centre) in Cairo (2008-2011), reported on three years of a joint research programme (2010-2012) cofunded by three French research institutes (Cairo, Beirut and Tunis), the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Agence universitaire de la francophonie. The programme, and a number of research contracts, sketched out an agenda for the introduction of sustainable urban development (SUD) in five Arab countries round the Mediterranean (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria). The period following the Arab Spring has now provided some perspective on certain national or international initiatives, and on the obstacles to be overcome in order to give greater “fluidity” to sustainable development so that it involves local authorities.
Over the past fifteen years, China has seen an urban growth rate of 3.5% per annum. According to certain estimates, approximately four hundred million people currently living in rural areas in China will move to the cities over the next 20 to 30 years. This rapid urbanisation has environmental impacts that can be dramatic and the resultant rise in energy consumption will automatically increase if no plans are made for sustainable urban development on a national and local level. This is the future that the French mission, Urba 2000, is exploring in Hubei Province with its partners, AREP and SOGREAH. They are considering the Greater Wuhan area as part of a cooperative Sino-French project initiated in 2007 by the French Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development and the Chinese Ministry of Construction.
For Pierre Mayet, President of Urba 2000, the prospect of sustainable urban development for Greater Wuhan is first and foremost a question of strategy and governance, on the right scale. The Wuhan city council alone is on a par with the Greater Paris area, which makes it easier to understand the problems, even though the total metropolitan area is expanding, thus involving other councils as well. Launched in 2007 and completed in April 2010 by an application agreement with Hubei Province, the cooperation set up by Urba 2000 has already produced results. It has allowed for the development of a methodology and a practical basis for a “Sustainable Urban Development” strategy extended to include strategic territorial development planning. In this respect, five common threads were retained, the first of which referred to the level of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. This led the Urba 2000 mission to suggest a system in the form of an energy spreadsheet showing all the components in the supply and consumption of energy within the area and setting objectives for the long term (2030 to 2050).
Mario Gandelsonas, FAIA, Professor of Architecture, is the director of the Center for Architecture, Urbanism and Infrastructure at Princeton University. In contrast to strict former century technocratic management, the existing hard watersheds will have to be transformed into soft multi-functional territories for inhabitation and agriculture, for transportation and energy, for cultural activities and pleasure. In order to balance competing needs – sustaining life, industrial production, growing and feeding plants, maintaining landscapes for pleasure and identity –, they will need to be designed with a rich, simultaneous use of spaces, both dense and urban as well as diffuse and rural. We need to see rivers and their territories as more than merely plumbing and instead design them as flexible bodies with amorphous edges and changing geometries. We are looking at the notion of “watersheds” as the territory of a river, that is, the space bounded by powerful if invisible lines which define a large-scale drainage basin; and as providing an environmental infrastructure for the organization of the most important scale for 21st centuries cities, that of the Mega-Region. In addition to the spatial unit, we also look at the idea of “watershed” as an historical turning point, a temporal unit that separates two different urban and infrastructural paradigms. And we consider the emergence of the digital infrastructure in the last 20 years as such a turning point. And lastly, our aim is to place the idea of a watershed in an expanded field that includes the new soft infrastructures of mobility and energy that are resulting from the impact of soft, digital infrastructures on the hard 20th century infrastructures. For example, could the effect of the increasing global pressure on water provoke a response similar to the “green revolution”, that is a “blue revolution” that will question and confront the problems afflicting our water infrastructure and propose new ways of dealing with water, perhaps a new ethical approach to water? And how will the new advances and perspectives on water infrastructure brought by the blue revolution affect the development of the city in the future?
For Jean Haëntjens, economist and town planner as well as the author of La Ville frugale, each of the major stages in our urban history (mediaeval town, royal town, industrial town, automobile-based town) can be linked, more or less directly, to the availability of a new source of energy e.g. windmills and watermills, gunpowder, coal, oil, electricity etc. Each time, the new energy situation has combined with other innovations that have totally changed mobility (trains, cars etc.), urban attributes (lifts), military techniques, production techniques, communications, lifestyles and forms of governance. The idea that today’s energy transition (which aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of 4) might affect urban layout therefore appears to be plausible. However, the two factors that will probably be most important in the achievement of energy and urban transitions are economic room to move and political will. If it is to survive long-term, the political will must be backed by a “collective conviction”, itself based on solid governance and a cultural attitude. While previous energy revolutions had almost universal, mechanical effects on urban systems, the same is not expected to be true of the current transition. In fact, there is a general feeling that there will probably be a divergence of urban models.