Urban commitment

19 March 2008

During the FIEC congress in Lisbon, at the beginning of June, FIEC President Daniel Tardy handed FIEC'S Declaration in support of the Leipzig Charter on 'Sustainable European Cities' to representatives of the German and Portuguese governments. The charter was adopted on 24 May by the various EU Ministers responsible for urban development.

Mr Tardy said the Declaration, “represents a sincere commitment by FIEC to promote and facilitate the practical implementation of the objectives and strategies laid down in the Leipzig Charter by strengthening its actions, both at the European and national levels, through its member associations”.

The Charter

With the Leipzig Charter, Ministers agreed on common principles and strategies for urban development policy and committed themselves:

• to initiate a political debate in their states on how to integrate the principles and strategies of the Leipzig Charter into national, regional and local development policies;

• to use the tool of integrated urban development and the related governance for its implementation and, to this end, establish appropriate frameworks at national level and

• to promote the establishment of balanced territorial organisation based on a European multicentred urban structure.

The Leipzig Charter does not only stress the need for a stronger and more coordinated approach to urban development both at the EU and the national levels, but underlines also:

• The recognition that all dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, environmental) should be taken into account at the same time and with the same emphasis;

• The need to develop a coordinated ”Baukultur” (building culture), which must be tackled jointly by the State, regional and local authorities, as well as by citizens and businesses;

• The need for a better coordination of public and private funds;

• The need to encourage cities to network more closely with each other at the European level;

• The need for a sustainable, accessible and affordable transport infrastructure with coordinated links to the city-region transport networks;

• The need for more energy efficient buildings, both existing and new, as part of the overall policy for combating climate change;

• The recognition of Urban Development as a key factor for social cohesion and integration, amongst others through proactive training and education policies;

• The recognition of the significant role that EU Institutions can play both through the Cohesion Policy and through the promotion of exchange of experiences and best practices.

Today some 80% of Europe's citizens live in cities. This figure clearly indicates that the expansion and modernisation of urban areas will constitute the major challenge for sustainable growth in the coming decades. Urban development is not just an issue of spatial planning, but it is also a fundamental element of economic policy that is essential to achieving the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, aiming at making the European economy the most competitive in the world.

The role and the nature of cities have changed dramatically over recent decades from manufacturing to ”knowledge centres”. This is especially true in the wake of the latest and probably not the last enlargement of the EU, since urban areas are perceived as motors of economic change and one of the key elements in regional development within the European Union. A reinforced and innovative approach to their development, involving all the concerned stakeholders, is therefore needed.

FIEC ”Paris Declaration”

For this reason FIEC adopted in its ”Paris Declaration” entitled ”Urban Development: a major challenge for the competitiveness of the EU” October 2006.

The main messages were that first of all there is a need for an integrated and global approach to urban development. Such a global approach is essential in order to develop cities that are both an attractive place for living whilst acting as driving forces for economic development.

This global approach requires considering the functional integration and interaction between the various aspects of sustainability, namely:

• the economic activities, which in cities tend to be increasingly oriented towards services;

• the social aspects (housing, leisure, education, health, accessibility, etc.) and

• the environmental aspects (mobility within the city but also from and to its suburbs, connections with more distant regions, pollution, waste treatment, etc.)

Although urban policies are the competence of national, regional and local authorities, a structured and focussed EU intervention can add significant additional value.

The final point is that the construction sector can play a significant role in such an integrated and global approach to the sustainable development of cities.

Building and maintaining public buildings and infrastructure is extremely difficult in general and in particular at a moment when many Member States have to face increasing deficits whilst at the same time trying to respect the criteria laid down in the ”Growth and Stability Pact”. In this framework alternative financing schemes involving the participation of private capital, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), have to be envisaged from the very outset, not only for large projects, but also for smaller ones.

The built environment is responsible for approximately 33% of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore, the construction sector has an important role to play in this respect by contributing to the development of energy efficient buildings. A similar contribution can be provided in respect of accessibility, in particular for disabled or older people, which with the demographic developments will play an increasingly significant role in the design of buildings and cities.

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