Original project

01 Original project

As initiatives to fight climate change multiply, 11 Mediterranean metropolises have decided to put their heads and efforts together to head off climate risks by promoting a sustainable, compact and multi-functional urban model.

First launched in May 2009, in Malaga (Spain), the CAT-MED project (Changing Mediterranean Metropolises Around Time) is aimed at identifying operational solutions that can be used to change urban behaviours so as to lower the environmental impact of urbanisation and limit greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Its partner cities include Malaga, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona, Genoa, Rome, Turin, Community of Pays d'Aix, Marseille, Attica Region, Thessaloniki, and the Institut de la Méditerranée providing technical support to the partners.

02 Background

The idea of sustainable development in the urban environment has been about since the early 1990s when the European Commission, conscious of the environmental problems that our cities were facing, launched a number of measures. At first, these measures were quite modest, including initiatives such as the «Action Plan for Sustainable Urban Development» in 1998, the launch of Network 6 under the URB-AL programme «Urban Environment» from 2000 to 2006 and the white paper «Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action» in 2009.

These publications, along with dozens of other documents of varying importance, addressed for the first time the idea of environmental issues in a given territory, a concept which practically had not been touched upon in previous European policy. In the past, the concept of a «territory» was restricted to the national or regional level, a notion promoted through the regional cohesion instruments, the development of transport systems or the established hierarchical communication nodes.

However, 80% of the European population live in cities and it is clear that by reducing the scale used for the introduction of policies to an urban level, more citizens can be reached. Furthermore, it is in these urban areas that most natural resources are used and most CO2 emissions are generated, as a result of the diverse human activities carried out there.

As we continue into the 21st century, the traditional laws (indicative or obligatory) regarding environmental issues such as levels of pollution in the atmosphere, noise pollution or quality of water, have been complemented with long term commitments related to the fight against climate change. At the same time as the disturbing effects of global warming were becoming more apparent, moderate suggestions were made regarding urban models and the configuration of our cities in Leipzig, 2007. The suggestions made were in line with the commitments set out in the Aalborg Charter in 1994 and the Agenda 21 action plan.

03 The Mediterranean city

The Mediterranean cities, and those in Europe in general, traditionally have a different configuration and structure that differentiates them from the diffuse and disperse cities. However, despite indications from the academic community and pressure from the international community, attempts to change these urban behavioural patterns, imported primarily from the United States during the 1950s and the 1980s, have not had much impact at all. The diffuse urban models, that group activities in different areas of the city, have become dominant in our cities on both a cultural and economic level, so much so that we adopt them without question.

Like hermits in the desert, the international conferences such as those held in Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, Aalborg, Leipzig, that proposed more sustainable and efficient urban models, have been ignored. Instead, there has been a continual commitment to the development of cities following guidelines that are totally in contrary to the agreements set out in these meetings.

It should be highlighted that even Mediterranean cities have been unable to avoid the cultural dominance of the diffuse urban model. The Agenda 21 or other proposals regarding important modifications of urban planning, whilst being widely accepted on a theoretical basis, have rarely been put into practice.

As a matter of fact, as we enter into the second decade of the 21st century, one of the main obstacles that the Mediterranean cities will have to overcome should they wish to be energy efficient and reduce CO2 emissions, is how to deal with and change the areas of the cities created during the last few decades. These relatively new areas usually have a central motorway that provides the backbone to the city, giving access to the various clusters of houses, taking predominance over public areas.

The CAT-MED project has aimed to show the best characteristics of the Mediterranean city, highlighting their ability to save natural resources and reduce CO2 emissions, and their relation to possible future natural risks, predicted by the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Climate Change Panel, if human behaviour does not change considerably.

04 Work methodology

The project was supported by a strong partnership bringing together the main metropolises in the northern Mediterranean region. Some of the partner cities had already worked together on several occasions in the previous ten years. They had already exchanged ideas about the main metropolitan issues in the Mediterranean. Other cities joined the partnership, such as Thessaloniki or the Communitiy of Pays d’Aix, having expressed a particular interest in the project objectives and having already had valuable experience in this field.

The transnational scale is of key importance, because while the individual action of a city has little significance, the sum and convergence of metropolitan actions and strategies undertaken by all the cities can have an effect on preventing natural risks linked to climate change. Actions based on objectives that are backed up by figures and shared priorities have greater leverage than those that are isolated.

To achieve the goals of the project, a logical series of activities was followed through:

Firstly, we began with the idea of a sustainable urban model promoted in the project. In parallel, an evaluation study was carried out on existing experiences in Europe. Following this study, the project partners developed a system of common indicators. To do so, 20 indicators were selected, representing a tool to evaluate urban policies in a sustainability perspective. Each city then measured these in its own territory and the results of these calculations were presented to the project. The indicators represent a common basis with which to objectivize the notion of urban sustainability. Cities like Marseille and the Community of Pays d’Aix chose to add to the 20 CAT-MED indicators a number of complementary indicators which they deemed particularly relevant.

On the basis of these indicators, combined to form a GIS platform (Geographic Information System), the partners reflected on the reference intervals to be used to define the sustainable Mediterranean city according to certain quantitative aspects, and to promote this strategy of shared work on indicators as a decision-making tool.

Having formulated a common, objectivized system at project level, an experimental phase was then conducted in all the cities. Each partner city chose a pilot project, called «Green Apple», for which it set up a metropolitan working group, associating some of the key players in the territory. This process meant that each project was seen from a multidisciplinary point of view and concrete proposals were put forward within its scope. These proposals are set out in the present document. The process is designed to encourage the multiplication of sustainable Mediterranean urban projects which should ultimately have repercussions for the city as a whole.

Parallel to this, an important political process was initiated with the signing of the Malaga Charter on 7 February 2011. The aim of the charter is to guarantee the political commitment of elected representatives in the partner cities to develop more sustainable urban models and to prepare the ground for ongoing cooperation between the project cities as part of a platform of Mediterranean Cities.

Impetus was given to these convergent activities by the governance of the project and the importance awarded to defining a rigorous common methodology to propose to the partners.

05 Multi-level approach

The CAT-MED project clearly opted to favour synergies between two levels: the local level, in 11 urban areas, and the transnational level, i.e. the CAT-MED network of Mediterranean cities.

At a technical level, the creation of working groups coordinated with the heads of the different municipal areas with the objective of calculating the indicators. The creation of these groups generated a debate on the different concepts analysed through the indicators, the results obtained and the desirable range to be applied for each specific indicator, taking into account the reality of each territory. This effect is particularly interesting as it obliges them to analyse existing data and promotes the exchange of information within the offices of the local administration of the participating cities.

At a citizen level, the organisation of different public seminars throughout the project has helped promote the exchange of information and experiences as well as giving more visibility and diffusion of the work carried out in the project. Furthermore, the Metropolitan groups used a joint work methodology that involved bringing together various different people in each city, including representatives of citizen groups and neighbourhood associations, creating forums where people could reflect on key issues and propose their ideas.

At the political level, the mayors’ adhesion to the Malaga Charter and the presence of many of them along with the elected representatives of the various partner cities at the official ceremony, shows that CAT-MED succeeded in drawing the attention of policy makers on a complex set of themes. This commitment on behalf of the elected representatives above all offers scope for extending the work of the last two years and envisaging the consolidation of a network capable of conveying a strong political message about urban sustainability in the Mediterranean, with the accompanying commitment towards constructive work, projects and thinking.

This multi-level approach is a key element in CAT-MED, one on which the whole project is based. It also plays an important role in the long term continuity of the network of cities that form part of the platform.