Friday, June 22, 2012

Tackling Urban Sprawl: New Urbanism and Eco-Towns

By Bruce Stutz

Can eco-towns stop the sprawling suburbs? Urban sprawl is a modern phenomenon most prominent in the United States and spreading into parts of Europe, it has many consequences which include the rising carbon emissions from modern consuming habits such private car use.
This article is a selection of excerpts from two recent articles by Bruce Stutz ‘The New Urbanists: Tackling Europe’s Sprawl’ and ‘Britain’s Elusive Eco-Town Dream’. Stutz analyses the debate surrounding ‘eco-town’ developments which many regard as practical solutions for a carfree and carbon-free future, as well as the principles of New Urbanism which are gaining in popularity for urban development.

The Super Sprawl

In the last few decades, urban sprawl, once regarded as largely a US phenomenon, has spread across Europe. Improved transport links – highways designed to accommodate increased freight traffic – have led to American-style intercity corridors built up with new industrial and commercial developments. Auto-centric suburbs with low-density housing tracts and shopping malls have followed, and public transit has not been able to keep pace. Now an emerging group of planners are promoting a new kind of development – mixed-use, low-carbon communities which are pedestrian-friendly and mass-transit-oriented.
A nearly iconic fact of life in the US, urban sprawl had been slow to evolve in Europe. Cities from Luxembourg to Prague, from Madrid to Istanbul, are experiencing accelerating sprawl and its increased automobile traffic, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, energy consumption, land fragmentation, natural resource degradation, watershed damage, farmland decline, and social polarisation –has become a major concern across the continent. Over the last 20 years, the number of kilometres travelled in urban areas will increase 40%, an increase that will negate any expected gains in fuel efficiency, and make reaching Europe’s Kyoto goals of reducing CO2 emissions nearly impossible. In the newest EU countries, those in Eastern Europe that had been communist, the changes have been even drastic. Central planning demanded high-density housing and public transit. With its entry into the EU in 2007, Romania’s economy grew 5.7%, and the year after, 7.5%. This economic development drove residential construction up 29.3% in 2007, and along with it, the number of cars – up 27%.

Enter New Urbanists

For the new urbanists, building an eco-town is not a matter of building ‘green’ buildings. More important is creating places that encourage people to change their unsustainable behaviours and then enable them to do it. New urbanism arose in the 1980s in reaction to the planning and design practices of the preceding decades. 

read more

more about urban sprawl:

Detroit's prospects may be better than we think

Land use change modelling in an urban region with simultaneous population growth and shrinkage including planning and governance feedbacks

Documentary film: Sprawling from Grace: The Consequences of Suburbanization

Municipal Finance and the Pattern of Urban Growth

Suitability criteria for measures of urban sprawl

On defining "Sprawl"

Cleanliness from a car

SHRINKING CITIES—Growing Domain for Urban Planning?


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