01 Compactness, complexity and proximity to basic services  

The work done during CAT MED showed that there is a clear and direct relationship between the challenges of climate change and the sustainability of the urban development of cities. This relationship can be directly observed 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.

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 use private vehicles on a daily basis.

Therefore, a possible modification of normal behaviour, until now generating more energy consumption, would have a direct relationship with natural resources 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.

The proposed action on urban models is articulated around three key concepts: the urban compactness, the urban complexity and the proximity to basic services; complementary concepts that make cities more suitable to human habitat, while leading to a lower consumption of natural resources.

The compactness of a city means that the buildings are grouped together closely, creating a dense environment and enough critical population 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.

02 Recalling the classic mediterranean city  

In compact and complex cities, the relationships between the urban model - dense, compact, complex in activities and uses, accessible - 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 keep 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 devoted to social or personal activities; time which is often lost in the traffic jams of sprawling cities.

This idea of bringing back the best characteristics of the traditional Mediterranean city, combined with the introduction of innovative elements from new energy-saving technologies, is the basis of the sustainable urban model promotion, which is done through recovering this classical European and Mediterranean city as an example for urban organisation.

Although Mediterranean cities are different from each other, they have some common characteristics: a certain population density, sufficient levels of urban compactness and high complexity in the mix of uses and functions. These features distinguish them from other urban models outside Europe, less efficient in the use of natural resources and in the connection 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 Integrated and comprehensive approach  

In terms of urban planning, we could underline five characteristics that usually describe the compact and complex Mediterranean cities, and that clearly differentiate them from the scattered and diffused urban models. These characteristics are 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 facilities, 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 (CAT MED) also considers this comprehensive approach in both the vision of the city it proposes and the methodology involved.

Considering these background reference works, the main aspects to be considered in a sustainable urban model are structured around four axes of work: territorial management and urban design, social and economic cohesion (cross-cutting aspects) and sustainable mobility and energy efficiency (sectorial aspects).

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 acquire a special significance because of its direct relationship with energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere.

This relationship between the inefficiency of the urban organisation model and the environmental impact is also reflected in increased generation of waste and pollutants, greenhouse gases emissions into the atmosphere, 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 developed over the territory, the space where people’s activity takes place. 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.

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