Planning for a Greener Future – EU Green Week (21-25 May 2018)

by Hazel Ann Nash

Figure 1: The European Green Week is about (Source: European Commission DG Environment, 2018)
Figure 1: The European Green Week focuses on green(er) cities (Source: European Commission DG Environment, 2018)

This week is EU Green Week (see Figure 1) and whilst the UK grapples with challenges associated with its trading relationships post-Brexit, conversations in Brussels are focused instead on greening cities. This is a pertinent reminder that many of the big challenges are faced not by just one state but by all states around the globe. Nowhere is this more clearly recognised than in the strive towards sustainable development which has long been a relatively well agreed principle. First articulated in the Brundtland Report, the definition still most commonly used, explains sustainable development:

“Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (United Nations, 1987, para 27[i]).

With effects of climate change and economic fluctuations enhanced in cities and urban areas, the greatest potential for improving sustainability and resource efficiency is offered through the restructuring, redesign and transformation of cities[ii]. The Vancouver Declaration and the Brundtland Report both recognised the specific role of urban spaces in achieving sustainable development:

“Given the importance of cities, special efforts and safeguards are needed to ensure that the resources they demand are produced sustainably and that urban dwellers participate in decisions affecting their lives…To the extent that energy and other needs can be met on a local basis, both the city and surrounding areas will be better off.” (United Nations, 1987, p. 203)

Land use planning has long been considered as a mechanism in facilitating sustainable human settlements capable of adapting to the effects of climate change or the provision of suitable and effective mitigation measures. Planning can enable and facilitate sustainable and desirable living and working environments by encouraging the delivery of sustainable solutions to housing shortages, environmental and social degradation and improvements in energy efficiency and resource security and secure the future of urban spaces[iii].

Image of Shaun the Sheep Sustainability game
Figure 2: A sustainability learning game has been developed using Shaun the Sheep

From such high level recognition to the recent introduction on the European Commission’s website of a Shaun the Sheep interactive online game (see Figure 2) within its basis in transitioning to green city living. Players must help build a new eco-friendly city for stray animals, taking account of the varying needs and demands on resources.

Whilst rather simplistic, if you can tolerate the tinny background jingle, the exercise nonetheless demonstrates the difficulties in balancing available resources with competing interests and demands – a great introduction for ankle biters into the challenges of sustainability.

Sustainable planning relies upon understanding how places work and the ways in which they might be structured and shaped in the future in order to enhance their capabilities of contributing more fully to sustainable development. Recalibrating decisions taking into account likely needs of future generations within an area is critical to sustainable planning[iv]. It is apparent that there is no one size fits all approach for planning the sustainable future of urban spaces with those cities recognised as “Europe’s Green Capital of the year”[v]displaying different qualities and features reflecting the specific needs, environment and internal ordering of the locality and population.

Sustainable planning requires a clear, long term framework based upon a sound evidence base and robust forecasting and political will and mindset. Law and policy, including development plans are an integral part of this, coupled with new approaches and new partnerships between the various development professionals and stakeholders.

Clearly, land use planning has a significant role to play in facilitating green cities. The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)[vi] consider spatial planning and the planning system to be central in shaping and facilitating sustainable places. By no means is this conference a new topic, but in recent years certainly the role that cities have to play in sustainability (and need to play in sustainability) is rising up the political, legislative, policy and investment agendas.

Consequently, for those of us working in the planning profession or aspiring to enter the profession it’s a very exciting and dynamic time. The growing emphasis on sustainability and green cities promotes opportunities for creativity and innovation and closer interdisciplinary working relationships.  As Rees (1999, p.43)[vii] observed:

 “Planners by the very nature of their profession, are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in this transition [to sustainability].”

Now more than ever, is this statement a compelling reason to embrace your planning career.


NOTE: If you would like further information on the conference and other activities by member states of the EU in relation to EU Green Week, visit: In addition, the European Union has produced a report in Green cities entitled “Good Practice Report: European Green Capital 2018”. Available online at: [last accessed 16/05/2018].


Hazel is a Senior Lecturer in Planning Law who joined BCU in January 2018. She is a planning and environmental law specialist. She has worked in Central Government and local government in planning policy and development management positions and has a particular interest in planning for waste management infrastructure and minerals planning.



[i] United Nations. (1987) Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. United Nations

[ii] Haughton. G. and Hunter. C. (1994) “Sustainable Cities”. Regional Policy and Development Series 7. London: Regional Studies Association, p. 12.

[iii] See Department of Communities and Local Government (2012) National Planning Policy Framework. London: DCLG; para 6-14; and Giddings. B., Hopwood. B., Mellor. M & O’Brien. G. (2006) “Chapter 1- Back to the City: A Route to Urban Sustainability”. In: Jenks. M and Dempsey. N. (Eds) Future Forms and Design for Sustainable Cities. Oxford: Architectural Press, p.13.

[iv] Whitehead. M. (2012) “The Sustainable City: An Obituary? On the Future Form and Prospects of sustainable Urbanism?” In: Flint. M & Raco. M (Eds) The Future of Sustainable Cities: Critical Reflections. Bristol: The Policy Press, p.33.

[v] Europe’s green capital of 2018 is Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Essen, Germany, was the winner in 2017. Oslo, Norway, was the first European Green Capital. For more information on these winning cities see: [last accessed 24/05/2018].

[vi] Town and Country Planning Association (2018) Garden City Standards for the 21st Century: Guide 7 – Planning for Green and Prosperous Places. London: TCPA. Available online at: [last accessed 24/05/2018]. RTPI (2010) Manifesto for Planning: Shaping the Future. London: RTPI, p.15.

[vii] Rees. W.E. (1999) “Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation?” In: Satterwiate, D. (ed.) The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Cities. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.

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