Sustainable towns in Europe - What sustainable development policies should be developed, which local stakes should be addressed ?

"We haven't seen anything yet!", said Alain Maugard, CSTB Chairman, when opening the conference. He thanked the PUCA that has been financing this research work on sustainable towns in Europe since 2004, and said that he was convinced that sustainable development would grow exponentially in the next decades.

With the majority of human beings living in urban areas, the energy consumption of towns around the world is incompatible with the earth's resources. This is why Alain Maugard pleaded for energy, greenhouse effect and health requirements to be applied more quickly. He also mentioned social fracture as a possible consequence: "For example, how can we make sure that the poor (and not only the rich) have access to positive energy buildings and no longer pay high energy expenses?" Tax incentives or loans at preferential rates are not sufficient to address this issue. As land represents a high financial value, the solution might be to share benefits made by land owners to finance sustainable urban development.

There are still two inevitable phenomena: decentralization that requires financial means for local authorities, and a participative approach because no measure will be successful if inhabitants do not accept it.

Stakes and prospects
Lydie Laigle, manager of the CSTB's Urban, Social and Technical Change Laboratory, presented the results of her comparative study on sustainable towns in Europe.

She reminded us that "The urban model is a myth that is continuously questioned. Thus, the debate on whether the sprawling or the compact urban form is more sustainable is now obsolete. The sustainability of a town lies in an ongoing adjustment between the successive changes that it goes through, the policies framing these changes and dynamic forces generated by the latter in time and space." In this context, the difficulty for local communities is to accept new urban concepts, while exploring approaches to transform towns. The comparative study conducted in Barcelona, Hanover, Manchester, Lille and Naples shows that planning systems have dramatically evolved due to legal and institutional reforms: more cooperation between local authorities in France and in Germany, regional authorities in Italy and Spain, contracts between central government and the local authorities to improve their efficiency in the United Kingdom. However, topdown policies can sometimes go against bottom-up approaches and local interests.

How do we crate a sustainable town? Lydie Laigle says that it involves bringing together different elements including public action, participation of the civil society, political will and technical expertise, and even the principles of sustainable development and a local understanding of them...

"Planning as a tool to make urban development sustainable is not sufficient, emphasized Lydie Laigle. Participative approaches are also essential." And we need to face three priority challenges including land control, management of environmental risks and social equity.