Some 75 years ago, in 1933 to be precise, at a seminar on board a ship headed for Athens, the idea for the so-called ‘Athens Charter’ was approved. It is regarded as the essence of functional city planning ideology. Part of the Charter that has survived is the notion of how urban structure needs to be arranged to include the four functions of living, working, recreation and circulation (transportation). The Charter came into existence because of people’s worries about the threats to health caused by urbanisation as a result of industrialisation.
This division of an area into four functional zones was later succeeded by the aim to mix up these functions. But, as we know all too well, community structures change very slowly. The legacy left by the Athens Charter is that the challenge of city planning and land use still today is how to pick up the pieces and rebuild more integrated, harmonious cities.
There are other good reasons for reorganisation and regeneration. We are truly at a time of transition when it comes to urban development. The mega trends that impact on this include:
• climate change and other environmental threats
• energy prices and sufficiency
• the global economy as a lever for change for cities
Climate change is the greatest challenge in our time. It affects everywhere on earth. So solutions need to be found in the form of global agreements, or least joint agreements that involve a number of countries. Climate change has a crucial impact on community development. Energy efficiency has taken centre stage in community planning and construction. In future its importance will only grow – in all parts of the world.
Urban planning is basically made up of three elements. It makes things possible. It imposes restrictions. It seeks viable solutions among conflicting interests. Ultimately, though, it creates better or worse preconditions for good living and working environments that are conducive to vitality and competitiveness.
In practice, the situation is a lot more complex. Perhaps the main change, compared to olden times, is the gradual one we see in planning that focuses on the physical environment as part of the strategic development of areas and communities. We should be able to make development a top-down and bottom-up process at one and the same time and ensure that short-term needs do not harm longer-term strategic goals or, say, the constraints that curbing climate change imposes.
The successful harmonisation of land use with transport is an essential ingredient in urban planning today. It is the main tool for improving the energy efficiency of communities, but there have only been modest signs that it has been exploited fully or produced any satisfactory results.
The main issue, then, is how to develop planning processes. Planning processes for land use and transport are still too differentiated and there is no proper dialogue between them. Nevertheless, there are hardly any dramatic differences of opinion with regard to the main areas of concern – reducing the need for traffic/transport and harmonisation of land use solutions with different traffic and transport systems.
The importance of joint planning is made all the greater by the fact that land use solutions are extremely long-term in their effect. Land use and transport need to be planned at one and the same time, and not one after the other, and as processes that merge and not just run in parallel. The aim should be for a system that comprises different traffic and transport modes, and the infrastructure and transport services that go with them. It should be one that guarantees an adequate standard of services cost-effectively and that supports more sustainable, harmonious and integrated community structures. No doubt we will be hearing more on this subject in the presentations given by the experts today.
The call is for greater farsightedness on the part of politicians and officials today. Land use and construction change the environment almost irreversibly. This highlights our responsibility to safeguard the integrity of our communities as part of the sustainable development objective.
A dispersed, decentralised community structure puts more cars on the road and makes public transport a less likely alternative. The more scattered a community is, the longer the average distances, and so the greater is the need to travel and the greater the need for transport as a result. And the further away from one another that people live, the harder it is to address the problem of increasing traffic through the use of public transport.
The eventual outcomes are growing dependence on the car, losses to the national economy in terms of time spent travelling, congestion and emissions. On top of all this, decentralisation also eats into the benefits of the improved energy efficiency of buildings and the greater number of lower emission vehicles we are seeing on the road.
The European Union has committed itself to a 20% drop in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by the year 2020. As the total energy consumption in buildings accounts for around 40% of all energy consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear that we will not meet these targets unless there is a considerable improvement in energy efficiency in buildings. The situation is the same in other industrialised countries.
Obviously, improving energy efficiency in new housing is easier than in the reconstruction and refurbishment of old buildings and it can be done – and, indeed, is largely done – according to a set of norms. The technologies, skills and knowledge in this field are also expected to improve all the time. Results in this area are easier to achieve as long as the norms guiding the activities are sufficiently ambitious and up-to-date. In Finland, in December 2008, we adopted new building regulations to improve energy efficiency. These will increase the stringency of the current regulations by around 30% and will take effect from 1 January 2010.
Improving energy efficiency puts up building costs to some extent. But these additional costs during the construction phase are recouped very quickly in terms of lower energy bills.
From the perspective of energy saving in buildings, the existing housing stock is a bigger and more difficult problem than new housing. But this challenge needs to be addressed, as the housing stock is replaced so slowly. For example, a good half of the buildings in existence in Finland by the year 2050 have already been built. That figure is still greater in countries where the rate of urbanisation has been faster than in Finland and where, accordingly, there is less new construction.
The baseline in most countries up till now has been a lack of any attempt to promote energy efficiency in reconstruction and refurbishment with reference to a set of norms. In Finland programmes to repair and renovate buildings began in the 1990s as a series of very many small steps forward. A culture of systematic repairs and renovations developed into an accepted practice. Systematic inspections aid the service and maintenance of the housing/building stock, and, if necessary, repairs are carried out, in the same way a car service manual would be used.
All this has meant that Finland has developed special know-how in the planning of building repairs and refurbishments and the industry has become adept at contracting to undertake repair projects. Various advanced systems are frequently used in building repairs and renovations, such as steel balcony and stair units that can be connected to existing buildings quickly, causing only short periods of disruption for their users.
For the property owner, the equation is probably a pretty obvious one: the more energy efficiency affects the house’s value, the more willing we are to invest in it. It is not hard to predict that the day will soon come when the energy efficiency of a building will be just as important a selection factor when buying somewhere to live as carbon dioxide emissions are when buying a car. Besides, a more energy-efficient house or building uses less energy, which means a direct saving for the residents.
Furthermore, there needs to be a link between energy efficiency and good indoor air quality. Good indoor air quality, like the energy efficiency of a building, not only enhances people’s wellbeing but also significantly boosts productivity. Studies on indoor air conducted in Finland reveal that investment in the workplace microclimate repays itself in the form of improved productivity in just a few years. In the area of building technology we in Finland have developed an industry, and the skills and knowledge that go with it, both of which we export to other countries to a significant extent.
Clearly, the fight against climate change mainly depends on whether or not we improve the energy efficiency of buildings. But we should not ignore the importance of how the heating for a building is produced. That is why we also need to give attention to how energy is produced and the sufficiency of energy resources.
The system of district or municipal heating has been employed in Finland for quite a long time now. District heating is produced from the heat wasted in the production of electricity and is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of energy there is. The performance of district heating power plants in Finland has been continuously improved; at the same time, more energy-efficient buildings mean the area they cater for has expanded. Meanwhile, heating systems for communities and buildings are making more and more use of heat pumps to tap the heat in the soil, water bodies and the air.
The ability to cope and innovate amid global competition is largely connected with the regeneration of the built environment to meet the challenges of the current decade. Energy-inefficient transport, industrial production and the present community structure do not support competitiveness.
It takes skill and expertise to develop the built infrastructure and still respect traditional values. The last few years have seen rapid advances in combining and exploiting ICT, digital modelling techniques, expertise in energy technology and construction expertise to create a new, sustainable Europe.
Of course, Finland has strong skills and expertise to offer here. They are mainly based on the significant contributions from public funds made in the financing of research and development over the last 20 years. At present the Finns are digitally planning two eco-cities of around 100,000 people for China. China’s goal is to move approximately 400 million people into cities over the next 15 years. For this it has been possible fully to exploit Finnish energy and environmental know-how to produce an eco-efficient living environment for humans.
The problems of the built environment in Europe are remarkably uniform. It is the extent of the problems and how serious they are that vary. By actively exploiting our best expertise, by using our latest technology, and by engaging in cooperation at many levels, we can respond to the challenges of competitiveness and ageing of the population. Energy efficiency will play a key role in all aspects of this process of renewal.