Posts tagged ‘Environment’
The new European Green Capitals for 2012 and 2013 will be announced at the end of October. One of the candidates is Barcelona, the city where I live. Is Barcelona up to the high standards set by Stockholm (European Green Capital 2010) and Hamburg (European Green Capital 2011)?
The first impression is NO, Barcelona can be a lot of nice things, but definitely not a green city. But, what is a green city anyway?
Let’s have a look at some of the selection criteria to be a Green Capital:
- Local contribution to global climate change. It would be very interesting to know how Barcelona is contributing to reducing its carbon footprint, not only by cutting down the emissions “in” the city, but also the emissions caused outside the city (for example, when goods are imported from very far away). Only by reducing the overall carbon footprint we can say that a city is sustainable and contributes to fighting global climate change.
- Local transport. The local transportation system is very good and covers practically all the metropolitan area with subway and commuter trains. However, too many cars are still in the streets. Parking on the outskirts should be possible, as well as some kind of tax to discourage people from using their cars. Barcelona has an advanced bike sharing system called bicing. This system has become very popular and, thanks to it, bicycles have become a familiar sight in a city where cars are still the kings of the road. Unfortunately, the bike lane system has not been improved accordingly, and bikers (me included) still feel very unsafe riding on the road. Car restrictions and bike lanes are definitely things to improve, very urgently. Improve intermodal transport as well (bike+subway+train).
- Green urban areas. In Stockholm, 95% of the population lives close to green areas. Obviously, that does not happen in Barcelona, although that depends on the definition of a “green area”. Unfortunately, Barcelona has got no room for more parks; the city is packed with buildings. But the parks already existing should be more protected. Good news: the mountain of Collserola will be declared Natural Park soon.
- Nature and biodiversity. I hope that the declaration of Collserola as Natural Park will mean real protection for the biodiversity of the city, as well as provide with ecological corridors for the species. There is a lot to be done, like the interconnection of the different parks (especially in the upper town), as well as especial protection for Montjuïc (one of the hills surrounding Barcelona).
- Noise pollution: This is one aspect where Barcelona really has to improve, starting with the noise pollution caused by public vehicles (waste trucks etc.) and continuing with creating a culture of quietness among citizens (also with fines, not only through advertising)
- Waste production and management are improving in Barcelona, especially waste management. More and more citizens are recycling their waste (from 20,000 tons glass in 2003 to 31,000 tons in 2009) and city campaigns are rising people’s awareness.
- Water consumption and waste water treatment. Well, this is a point where Barcelona can be really proud. Water consumption per capita is one of the lowest in Europe, thanks to campaigns and citizens’ change of attitude. Water consumption per capita was only 116 litres per person and day, compared to 503 in New York.
- The programme of communication of environmental actions is one of the big flaws of the City’s green activities. In fact, Barcelona’s bid as European Green Capital is unknown to the main public. It’s almost an information for insiders.
One last remark: Knowing that the City has also applied for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, how credible is Barcelona’s green bid? For me, it’s hard to believe that a Mediterranean city that wants to organise such an unsustainable winter event is at the same time bidding to be “the” European Green Capital.
As I already mentioned in one of my previous posts, I visited Stockholm some weeks ago. Stockholm is 2010 European Green Capital and a city full of nature, water and parks.
I was very curious about the new eco-friendly district of Hammarby. This new district is the result of the urban re-designing of an area situated in the southern part of the city. This was an industrial area occupied by workshops and small factories (in many cases without permission).
The City decided to expand to the south and the district of Hammarby was the best area to do so. The requirements were set very high from the very beginning, and the new constructions were built according to the latest environmental requirements.
Re-designing a new district is something that takes a very long time, from the planning to the implementation. Many aspects need to be taken into account, especially if the aim is creating a place where people want to live according to high quality standards and, at the same time, with the highest respect to the environment.
The new district of Hammarby is impressive. It is considered as a model of urban sustainable development. Again, green and water are everywhere, which is not new in a city like Stockholm.
I visited the GlashusEtt, Hammarby information centre, where hey encouraged me to walk around the district, take pictures and check the inner patios. The GlashusEtt plays a very important role as a place where citizens can look for information, and where they can get assistance concerning waste management, energy efficiency and other issues dealing with sustainability.
Waste and Energy
The buildings have been built in order to fulfill high standards of energy efficiency, and there is an advanced waste treatment system.
One of the things that got my attention was that the apartment buildings display big windows to capture the sunlight and save energy costs, which is so important in the long Swedish winter, and the not so sunny Scandinavian summer.
Some of the buildings have solar panels. Biofuel from organic waste and biogas from waste water (sewage sludge) allow that the district creates great part of the energy used, allowing a high degree of self-sufficiency (the aim is that, when the district is fully built in 2017, Hammarby residents produce 50% of the energy they require).
Furthermore, rainwater is drained into the Hammarby lake, after proper treatment, allowing it to re-join the natural water cycle.
A District Built at Human Scale
To walk through the streets of Hammarby is a relaxing experience, the district is built at a human scale and one has the impression that life happens in a continuum between the apartments and the streets. The “dividing line” between apartments and street is very blurry. People living in Hammarby can enjoy street life thanks to their gardens and community patios.
You can actually watch people in the street, basking in the sun, kids playing in the street. Hammarby is a living quarter, with shops, restaurants and small businesses.
The planners have tried to preserve biodiversity, by preserving an old oak wood with old trees. At first it was planned that this oak wood should be cut down, however, protests from the people could save this area, which now connects the district with its rural past.
Furthermore, in order to preserve biodiversity, the planners have built eco-corridors that cross the highway (!). This way, seeds and animals can easily cross over the highway. These corridors are actually bridges fully covered with green (trees, plants etc.)
The City Bought the Land
I think that one of the secrets of the success of Hammarby is that the City bought the land prior to proceeding with the planning and construction of the district. This prevented from speculation and makes a difference compared to other new-built areas in Europe.
It’s hard to think that such a project could raise criticism, however there are some things that were pointed out by people I was talking to during my holidays in Stockholm:
- Transport. Hammarby District is not in the centre of Stockholm and the lake acts a natural barrier between the district and the rest of the city. Many complained that it is not easy to reach Hammarby, however, the district is well covered by bike lanes and bus lines. The new tramway that will connect Hammarby with Slussen (Stockholm downtown) will soon be working. Furthermore there is a free ferry that connects Hammarby with Stockholm every 10 minutes.
- Housing prices. Living in a place like Hammarby is not cheap. It is a fancy, new, citizen-friendly district where housing prices are high, despite the fact that many of the apartments are public property. If Hammarby becomes a district for hipsters then the model will have failed; let’s just hope it won’t be the case.
- Transition model. There are allotment gardens in one of the blocks, and some of the neighbors grow their own vegetables in the balconies or in collective areas. However ,the whole idea of sustainability and green would be much more reinforced if the district would support other ways of sustainability, such as the transition model. In many ways, Hammarby is already a place where they produce their own energy, but I think that Hammarby should do more in terms of being less dependent from food coming from outside the district, that is producing their own food (in community gardens, etc) thus reducing the carbon footprint.