by Peter Larkham
I am writing from a small but international and interdisciplinary meeting at the Swedish School of Planning, part of the Blekinge Tekniska Hogskola, in Karlskrona. Sustainable urban form is, of course, a contemporary professional and political ideal: but what is it and how do we achieve it, especially in existing settlements? This event draws together eminent keynote speakers, PhD students and new researchers, and the School’s Advisory Board.
The first keynote was from Simin Davoudi (University of Newcastle, UK): on ‘cities and energy consumption: rational or habitual?’ An important point because without sustainable cities there will be no sustainable world; but cities are such a plural, variable, phenomenon. Urban form determines sustainability to a great extent, for example levels of transport-related greenhouse emissions, and building energy efficiency is also significant. So how do we change users’ behaviour; indeed what constitutes ‘behaviour’? Compare Atlanta and Barcelona, two cities of the same population but covering 4280 km2 and 162 km2 respectively, with per capita CO2 emissions 10x greater in the former in part because of the need to travel owing to the low-density urban form. A US model of ‘sprawl’ is still being followed, especially in Asia. China’s building rate is frightening in terms of sustainability: it builds the equivalent of Rome every 2 weeks. Simin explores how decisions are ACTUALLY made with respect to urban form and use. Remember that the rational economic model hardly matches the messy and irrational decision-making of real life. So for more sustainable cities, technical and structural change is important but insufficient. She argues that behaviour change, perhaps radical, is also needed, at the level of individuals and institutions.