Urban focus

24 April 2008

This year fiec decided to make “urban development the main theme of its annual Congress, which took place on 18-20 October in Paris. The main reason for this choice is the fact that across the world between 1970 and 1995, the proportion of people living in cities (as a percentage of the total population), grew from 37% to 45%.

According to a recent forecast, this proportion should reach 55% in 2015 and over 60% in 2025. More than half of the world's population will then live and work in urban areas. In Western Europe, 80% of citizens already live in cities.

The expansion and modernisation of urban areas, partly due to demographic changes and the globalisation of our economies, will constitute one of the major challenges for sustainable growth in the coming decades.

Contractors' Role

The role of contractors has changed over time. Whether large, medium or small, they are less and less simple ‘builders'. Today their competences include design, setting up complex financing schemes, establishing partnerships with public authorities, and operating and maintaining public infrastructure. Contractors can therefore play an increasingly significant active role in urban development.

Although ‘urban development' as such is not a European policy, the European Institutions also play a significant role in this area, through the implementation of various EU policies such as cohesion policy, and environmental or transport policies. Urban matters are high on the agenda of both the Commission and the European Parliament.

For these various reasons FIEC decided to present its views for a new approach to urban development during its Congress. In this respect a declaration entitled “Urban development: a major challenge for the competitiveness of the EU was adopted (the complete version of this declaration can be downloaded in EN, FR and DE from the FIEC website: www.fiec.eu).

The main message of this declaration is that only an integrated global approach to urban development can be instrumental in the realisation of the sustainable development of our cities. This approach is necessary for their development as both attractive places for living as well as efficient centres for economic activity.

Such an approach necessitates the taking into account of the integration and the interaction of the 3 pillars of sustainable development:

• the economic activities, which are increasingly service-oriented;

• the social aspects - housing, education, health, accessibility, employment etc;

• the infrastructure and environmental aspects - both mobility within the city and movement to and from the centre and periphery, links with more distant regions, pollution attenuation, collection and treatment of waste, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In each of these fields contractors can provide genuine added value:

• in the economic field: in view of the budgetary difficulties faced by public authorities, contractors are able to offer expertise in setting up complex financing schemes in partnership with the public sector, for the construction and/or the operation and maintenance of public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals;

• in the social field: construction is a labour intensive sector, offering employment to qualified and non-qualified, and therefore also of social integration, training and education throughout their working lives;

• in the field of environment: the built environment is responsible for approximately 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. The construction sector can therefore play a significant role in the development of more energy efficient buildings.

All enterprises in the construction sector, particularly SMEs, which together constitute the ‘economic motor' of the EU and which make a significant contribution to increasing competitiveness, are able to participate in each of these areas.

By their nature cities are places where social, environmental and economic issues tend to be concentrated. The development, construction and maintenance of attractive, efficient and well connected urban areas is therefore a fundamental requirement for sustainable growth in Europe.

Urban infrastructure development is not solely an exercise in spatial planning and public sector investment, but rather a fundamental element in economic policy that is essential to achieving the objectives of the “Lisbon Strategy” and to the effective realisation of the Single Market.

Although urban policies are the competence of national, regional and local authorities, structured and focused EU intervention can lead to significant added value. The role and characteristics of cities have changed dramatically over recent decades - all the more so since the latest and probably not the last enlargement of the EU. A reinforced and innovative approach to their development, involving all stakeholders concerned, is therefore needed.

FIEC is ready to provide its contribution to the European Institutions and, through its member associations in the various countries, to the relevant national authorities, in order to realise these ambitious objectives.

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