(January 2010) energy sustainability in urban renewal

energy sustainability in urban renewal image

Energy is one of the major factors to be considered in the debate about sustainable development, and it is intimately connected to the cities. Contemporary city is the concentration of activities and population, the centre of production, use, transformation and deterioration of natural resource. It is, at the same time, the place where human activities produce environmental problems related to the global and local scale, as the ozone hole, acid precipitation and world climate change as well as air quality in urban areas. Therefore the improvement of the efficiency in the final use of energy in cities can produce important effects in terms of reduction in non-renewable resources use and in pollution control. This goal requires sound attention to the different scale of intervention.  Moreover, it is necessary to consider that in European countries the building renovation rate is only 0,5% per year and that many districts in the post-war period in Europe were built following the functionalist schemes and making use of low energy performances building technologies. For these reasons cities have to improve energy saving and energy production from renewal resources, starting a rehabilitation process.

The scientific literature, since the 1970's, has researched by means of empirical surveys and theoretical projects what are the relationships between energy and urban areas. A lot of physical factors contribute, in a strong interaction, to energy pressure: urban shape and urban size (Owens, 1986; Steadman, 1979; Martin and March, 1972; Ratti et al.2005), population density and urban sprawl, microclimate conditions (Givoni, 1989), built features and mobility (Newman and Kenworthy, 1989). However, a small number of these studies intervene in the debate concerning the role of urban planning in the rehabilitation on the vast heritage of existing building areas in terms of energy sustainability. This is particularly important in the perspective of a more active role of local authorities and urban planning in pursuing such objectives.

Designing successfully a new integrated approach to urban renewal process in terms of energy sustainability, with the intent to support decision-making, is the main objective of the research that is under development. Its basic goal is to develop efficient method which help to solve energy problems in urban context by means of partnership between Local Authorities and private owners. The planning process has to focus on critical urban areas with intermediate level plans, which can be managed more easily than comprehensive plans at the whole city scale.

Firstly, the research elaborates indicators able to assess the environmental energy sustainability, the "energy image" of the urban territory and of its single parts. This helps to classify the city districts considering the different typologies of urban areas, of buildings and of energy consumption. This allows to identify the best practices to improve the energy sustainability of district which will be evaluated while neighbourhood plans are designing.

Secondly, energy efficiency and environmental objectives can be pursued by more efficient actions, taking into account the fragmented ownership of areas and buildings, and land use planning strategies, like transfer development rights.

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