The Urban Model

01 The Urban Model

Issues related to the environment and the necessary balance between the consumption and the conservation of natural resources began to be voiced in the media in the sixties, with the Club of Rome Reports; but it wasn’t until well into the eighties and nineties that the European Commission, together with the 1992 Río de Janeiro summit, and the 1994 Aalborg Charter, began to draft control on contaminating industrial emissions, water quality, or city noise levels.

More recently, since science began compiling data on climate change and its consequences for the planet, its fauna, its flora and its people, the European Union has devoted a large share of its activity to developing programmes related to Climate Change and the natural risks which may come about from the rise in temperature forecast by the United Nations Panel of Experts and the International Energy Agency unless we implement rapid and decisive control on our levels of consumption of resources and emissions to the atmosphere.

In the Mediterranean region, affected equally by the danger of erosion and desertification on the one hand, and the rising sea level on the other, the group of towns and cities led by the city of Malaga has been working since 2008 on a proposal that draws a comparison between climate change and the urban models on which town planning is based.

It is therefore clear that there is a direct relationship between the challenges of climate change and the sustainability of the urban development of cities. The proposed action on urban models through the CAT-MED project is articulated around three key concepts: the compactness, the complexity and the basic services proximity. These concepts relating to urban settings and, more general, city models, were the references on which the orientations of the CAT-MED project are based, through which guidelines to direct the development of Mediterranean cities towards sustainability could be established.

Currently, 80% of the population of the European part of the Mediterranean live in cities, where most of the productive activity is concentrated and most energy is consumed along with the required natural resources. About 50% of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere is directly related to the construction and use of buildings. Another 25% comes from emissions from public and private transport. Around the 40-50% of the population in big cities routinely use private vehicles.

Therefore, a possible modification of normal behaviour, until now generating energy consumption, would have a direct relationship with natural resource conservation, and a beneficial effect by reducing emissions of CO2 and other gases and particles into the atmosphere, as well as its relationship with climate change.

CAT-MED’s overall objective is to act on urban models of territorial organisation, contributing to the shaping of the city not only to provide greater energy efficiency, but also involving increased mobility and accessibility between people and the distribution of goods and services, increasing accessibility and human connectivity, social cohesion, leading to a better quality of life for the whole population.

The image below of the city of Valencia is a good example to observe the main features of the compact and complex city. the Gran Via and Diagonal organise the territory, where the building compactness is high, and the uses different: residential, commercial, tertiary, education, leisure.

02 Compactness, complexity and proximity to basic services

Since the sixties, in the beautiful cities of Bologna, Campos Venutti and Aldo Rossi have proposed recovery of the old city, its identity and collective reference, where the European city model and, more specifically, the Mediterranean city had the most consistent balance between urban consumption and natural resources.

The classic Mediterranean city combines two complementary concepts that make it more suitable to human habitat, while being conducive to the lower consumption of natural resources: the compactness and complexity. The Compactness of a city means that the buildings are grouped together closely, creating a dense environment and sufficient population critical mass so that there is a high level of different activities taking place, and therefore a transfer of information and relationships. Complexity goes hand in hand with compactness, representing the diversity of human activities that are located in different parts of the city.

Compactness and complexity mean that the city is much smaller than a sprawling, mono-functional city that, throughout the twentieth century, spread from the American concept of the city, where communications and transport were governed by two new industries, automobile and petrol.

The new urban models lead to progressive growth of the city outwards, articulated by roads, and where uses and activities were separated in the territory. Dwellings, particularly single-family, a large consumer of land, coverage extensive areas reserved for residential use. To connect with other necessary amenities, work, trade, education or leisure, the use of private transport became imperative.

In Denver, 96% of the population regularly uses private vehicles to move between different activities and urban uses. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions of this U.S. city are estimated at 22 tons. The use of cars in Malaga, similar to other European cities is 40%, and per capita emissions are 4.2 tonnes, five times less than the capital of Colorado.

The relationship between the urban model - dense, compact, complex in activities and uses, easy to reach - and energy consumption are very different from those observed in sprawling cities.

The historic Mediterranean city created a blend of compactness and complexity from the medieval period facilitating communication as well as the exchange of goods and services among citizens on a pedestrian scale. Today, we still retain the best features of the Mediterranean city; it is possible to go by foot from home to the market or to businesses, to take children to school or even allow them to go alone.

The compact and complex city not only provides mobility and accessibility, but also enables the commitment of more time to social or personal activities; time which is often lost in the traffic jams of sprawling cities.

This idea of recovering the best characteristics of the traditional Mediterranean city, its organization, and the introduction of innovative elements from new energy-saving technologies, was the element that developed the CAT-MED project, which aims to reflect the complementarity of territorial and social cohesion.

The CAT-MED project aims to recover the classical European and Mediterranean city as an example for urban organisation. Is not a new model but one we fortunately already have but did not necessarily fully appreciate until recently.

According to this common model of urban organisation, we have developed a proposal for shaping the city to take into account the main features of the Mediterranean city: a certain population density, sufficient levels of urban compactness and high complexity in the mix of uses and functions. Mediterranean cities are different from each other, although they have some common characteristics. For example, this can be seen in the Emilia Romagna and Veneto, where very similar urban forms may be observed, but have a clear common denominator originating from medieval, Renaissance, Baroque or Modern urban organisation, and this is the mix of economic and social activities in a limited area where the pedestrian scale was important for the majority of trips. These features distinguish it from other urban models outside Europe, less efficient in the use of natural resources, and detrimental to the connectivity of human relationships.

The idea of sustainability in urban models involves the interplay of territorial actions on the city configuration combined with environmental and landscaping elements as well as the optimal management of natural resources, while promoting social cohesion and the participation of citizens. It is not possible to work on a part of the urban mosaic, without taking into account the impact on other areas.

03 Comprehensive approach

In terms of urban planning, we could underline five characteristics that usually describe the quintessential compact and complex Mediterranean city, and that clearly differentiate these from the scattered and diffused urban models. These characteristics closely linked to each other, so much so that separately they would be meaningless, and would not be related to issues such as energy efficiency or greenhouse gas emissions: Urban density, building compactness, complexity of uses and functions, accessibility and proximity to services and basic equipment, and mobility in the urban environment.

This overview on urban models and city configurations is not developed, therefore, purely from a territorial standpoint, but through a holistic approach, since, as mentioned above, the organisation of the territory has a direct influence on both mobility and the management of natural resources, energy efficiency as well as essential aspects of social cohesion and economic development.

The need for a comprehensive approach is clear. From the main reference documents, such as the Aalborg Charter (1994) and the Leipzig Charter (2007) work is urged in this direction. The Malaga Charter also opts for this comprehensive approach in both the vision of the city it proposes and the methodology involved.

From the Aalborg Charter, adopted in May 1994, the importance of implementing policies effective in land use and planning was recognised, involving a strategic environmental assessment, and emphasis was put on the opportunities offered by dense urban concentrations to provide public transport services and more efficient energy supply, while at the same time, preserving the human dimension of development.

In the Aalborg +10 commitments, adopted ten years later, the ten key axes of work were established, including urban planning and design, improved mobility and less traffic, the management of common natural assets, responsible consumption and lifestyles as well as healthy and sustainable local economy, equality and social justice.

In the Leipzig Charter and later in the Toledo Declaration, 2010, reference is also made to the need to make greater use of points related to the integrated urban development policy, which promote, among other things, the creation and consolidation of quality public spaces, upgrading infrastructure networks and improving energy efficiency as well as the development of efficient and affordable public transport systems.

Considering these background reference works, the CAT-MED project is structured around four axes of work: the territory and configuration of the city, mobility and transport, natural resource management as well as social and economic cohesion. In the work related to the metropolitan groups, as will be seen later, it also adds a general consideration of aspects of governance and specific Mediterranean characteristics to these four areas.

The idea that the organisation of the territory and configuration of the city has a direct impact on the prevention of environmental risks related to climate change, is one of the main issues of the CAT-MED project.

The commitment to the compact and complex city model is, at the same time, the choice of shorter distances to reach activities, implying improved urban mobility and urban accessibility, resulting in lower energy consumption, lower air pollution levels and increased availability of time for personal or social activities.

Mobility and transport, clearly related to the configuration of the territory and the organisation of the city, thus acquires a special significance because of its direct relationship with energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere.

The need to balance the modes of transportation, so that public transport and alternative means, such as pedestrian or bicycle, taking precedence over private vehicles - even making private transport the alternative mode-, is a key factor to according traffic congestion and minimising the impact of mobility on the environment.

The management of natural resources is also clearly dependent on the urban organisation model of a city. An increased need for the exploitation of natural resources: materials or energy, is related to and is therefore influenced by greater inefficiency in shaping the city.

This relationship between the inefficiency of the urban organisation model and the environmental impact is also reflected in increased generation of waste and pollutants, particle emissions into the atmosphere and greenhouse gases, with the consequent contribution to the effects of climate change.

Finally, social cohesion is established as a priority objective of the sustainable city urban model. However, the idea of social cohesion is not abstract, but rather physically develops over the territory, a space people conduct their activities. Thus, social cohesion and territorial cohesion are part of the same concept, and so both ideas are part of the CAT-MED statement.

It is difficult to achieve one kind of cohesion, social or territorial, without the other. It is well known that social policies are usually concentrated on the suburbs or the outskirts of cities, spatially segregated by the socioeconomic status of the inhabitants. In this sense, these typically coincide with slum areas, poorly articulated zones from a territorial point of view and obsolete or degraded areas of the city with high unemployment rates combined with low education and training.