European cities commit to building
a sustainable future

Around the world, progressive cities are becoming leading actors in the movement for sustainability. Especially in Europe, citizens are creating a new vision of what cities should do to become more livable, economically successful, and environmentally responsible. Indeed, its amazing to see the range of issuesfrom local biological diversity to responsibility for global warmingthat European cities are addressing. Its also interesting to hear their conviction that the city is the right scale at which to solve many of the worlds most serious problems.

The following excerpt from the Aalborg Charter summarizes the aspirations of many European cities. It was approved by participants at the 1994 European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns in Aalborg, Denmark. More than 120 European cities, towns, and counties have now signed the charter and thereby joined the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign.

The Aalborg Charter:
Charter of European cities and towns
towards sustainability

We, European cities and towns, signatories of this Charter, state that in the course of history, our towns have existed within and outlasted empires, nation states, and regimes and have survived as centers of social life, carriers of our economies, and guardians of culture, heritage and tradition. Along with families and neighborhoods, towns have been the basic elements of our societies and states. Towns have been the centers of industry, craft, trade, education and government.

We understand that our present urban lifestyle, in particular our patterns of division of labor and functions, land-use, transport, industrial production, agriculture, consumption, and leisure activities, and hence our standard of living, make us essentially responsible for many environmental problems humankind is facing. This is particularly relevant as 80 percent of Europe's population live in urban areas.

We have learned that present levels of resource consumption in the industrialized countries cannot be achieved by all people currently living, much less by future generations, without destroying natural capital.

We are convinced that sustainable human life on this globe cannot be achieved without sustainable local communities. Local government is close to where environmental problems are perceived and closest to the citizens and shares responsibility with governments at all levels for the well being of human­kind and nature. Therefore, cities and towns are key players in the process of changing lifestyles, production, consumption and spatial pat­terns.

The notion and principles
of sustainability

We, cities and towns, understand that the idea of sustainable development helps us to base our standard of living on the carrying capacity of nature. We seek to achieve social justice, sustainable economies, and environmental sustainability. Social justice will necessarily have to be based on economic sustainability and equity, which require environmental sustainability.

Environmental sustainability means maintaining natural capital. It demands from us that the rate at which we consume renewable material, water, and energy resources does not exceed the rate at which the natural systems can replenish them, and that the rate at which we consume non-renewable resources does not exceed the rate at which sustainable renewable resources are replaced. Environmental sustainability also means that the rate of emitted pollutants does not exceed the capacity of the air, water, and soil to absorb and process them.

Furthermore, environmental sustainability entails the maintenance of biodiversity; human health; as well as air, water, and soil qualities at standards sufficient to sustain human life and well being, as well as animal and plant life, for all time.

Local strategies
towards sustainability

We are convinced that the city or town is both the largest unit capable of initially addressing the many urban architectural, social, economic, political, natural resource, and environmental imbalances damaging our modern world and the smallest scale at which problems can be meaningfully resolved in an integrated, holistic and sustainable fashion. As each city is different, we have to find our individual ways towards sustainability. We shall integrate the principles of sustainability in all our policies and make the respective strengths of our cities and towns the basis of locally appropriate strategies.

Sustainability as a creative,
local, balance-seeking process

We, cities and towns, recognize that sustainability is neither a vision nor an unchanging state, but a creative, local, balance-seeking process extending into all areas of local decision-making. It provides ongoing feedback in the management of the town or city on which activities are driving the urban ecosystem towards balance and which are driving it away. By building the management of a city around the information collected through such a process, the city is understood to work as an organic whole and the effects of all significant activities are made manifest. Through such a process the city and its citizens may make informed choices. Through a management process rooted in sustainability, decisions may be made which not only represent the interests of current stakeholders, but also of future genera­tions.

Resolving problems
by negotiating outwards

We, cities and towns, recognize that a town or city cannot permit itself to export problems into the larger environment or to the future. Therefore, any problems or imbalances within the city are either brought towards balance at their own level or absorbed by some larger entity at the regional or national level. This is the principle of resolving problems by negotiating outwards. The implementation of this principle will give each city or town great freedom to define the nature of its activities.

Urban economy
towards sustainability

We, cities and towns, understand that the limiting factor for economic develop­ment of our cities and towns has become natural capital, such as atmosphere, soil, water and forests. We must therefore invest in this capital. In order of priority this requires:

1) Investments in conserving the remaining natural capital, such as groundwater stocks, soil, habitats for rare species;
2) Encouraging the growth of natural capital by reducing our level of cur­rent exploitation, such as of non-renewable energy;
3) Investments to relieve pressure on natural capital stocks by expanding cultivated natural capital, such as parks for inner-city recreation to relieve pressure on natural forests; and
4) Increasing the end-use efficiency of products, such as energy-efficient buildings, environmentally friendly urban transport.

Social equity for urban sustainability

We, cities and towns, are aware that the poor are most affected by environmental problems (such as noise and air pollution from traffic, lack of amenities, unhealthy housing, lack of open space) and are least able to solve them. Inequitable distribution of wealth both causes unsustainable behavior and makes it harder to change. We intend to integrate people's basic social needs as well as healthcare, employment and housing programs with environmental protection. We wish to learn from initial experiences of sustainable lifestyles, so that we can work towards improving the quality of citizens' lifestyles rather than simply maximizing consumption.

We will try to create jobs that contribute to the sustainability of the community and thereby reduce unemployment. When seeking to attract or create jobs we will assess the effects of any business opportunity in terms of sustainability in order to encourage the creation of long-term jobs and long-life products in accordance with the principles of sustain­ability.

Sustainable land use patterns

We, cities and towns, recognize the importance of effective land-use and development planning policies by our local authorities which embrace the strategic environmental assessment of all plans. We should take advantage of the scope for providing efficient public transport and energy which higher densities offer, while maintaining the human scale of development. In both un­dertaking urban renewal programs in inner urban areas and in planning new suburbs we seek a mix of functions so as to reduce the need for mobility. Notions of equitable regional interdependency should enable us to balance the flows between city and country­side and prevent cities from merely exploiting the resources of surrounding areas.

Sustainable urban mobility patterns

We, cities and towns, shall strive to improve accessibility and sustain social welfare and urban lifestyles with less transport. We know that it is imperative for a sustainable city to reduce enforced mobility and stop promoting and supporting the unnecessary use of motorized vehicles. We shall give priority to ecologically sound means of transport (in particular walking, cycling, public transport) and make a combination of these means the center of our planning efforts. Motorized individual means of urban transport ought to have the subsidiary function of facilitating access to local services and maintaining the economic activity of the city.

Responsibility for the global climate

We, cities and towns, understand that the significant risks posed by global warming to the natural and built environments and to future human generations require a response sufficient to stabilize and then to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as soon as possible. It is equally important to protect global biomass resources, such as forests and phytoplankton, which play an essential role in the earth's carbon cycle. The abatement of fossil fuel emissions will require policies and initiatives based on a thorough understanding of the alternatives and of the urban environment as an energy system. The only sustainable alternatives are renewable energy sources.

Prevention of ecosystems toxification

We, cities and towns, are aware that more and more toxic and harmful substances are released into the air, water, soil, food, and are thereby becoming a growing threat to human health and ecosystems. We will undertake every effort to see that further pollution is stopped and prevented at the source.

Local self-governance as a pre-condition

We, cities and towns, are confident that we have the strength, the knowledge, and the creative potential to develop sustainable ways of living and to design and manage our cities towards sustainability. As democratically elected representatives of our local communities we are ready to take responsibility for the task of reorganizing our cities and towns for sustainability. The extent to which cities and towns are able to rise to this challenge depends upon their being given rights to local self-governance, according to the principle of subsidiarity. It is essential that sufficient powers are left at the local level and that local authorities are given a solid financial base.

Citizens as key actors and the involvement of the community

We, cities and towns pledge to meet the mandate given by Agenda 21, the key document approved at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to work with all sectors of our communitiescitizens, businesses, interest groupswhen developing our Local Agenda 21 plans. We recognize the call in the European Union's Fifth Environmental Action Program "Towards Sustainability" for the responsibility for the implementation of the program to be shared among all sectors of the community. Therefore, we will base our work on cooperation between all actors involved. We shall ensure that all citizens and interested groups have access to information and are able to participate in local decision-making processes. We will seek opportunities for education and training for sustainability, not only for the general population, but also for both elected representatives and officials in local government.

Instruments and tools
for urban management towards sustainability

We, cities and towns, pledge to use the political and technical instruments and tools available for an ecosystem approach to urban management. We shall take advantage of a wide range of instruments including those for collecting and processing environmental data; environmental planning; regulatory, economic, and communication instruments such as directives, taxes and fees; and mechanisms for awareness raising including public participation. We seek to establish new environmental budgeting systems that allow for the management of our natural resources as economically as our artificial resource, money.

We know that we must base our policy-making and controlling efforts, in particular our environmental monitoring, auditing, impact assessment, accounting, balancing and reporting systems, on dif­ferent types of indicators, including those of urban environmental quality, urban flows, urban patterns, and, most importantly, indicators of an urban systems su­stain­ability.

We recognize that a whole range of policies and activities yielding positive ecological consequences have already been successfully applied in many cities throughout Europe. However, while these instruments are valuable tools for reducing the pace and pressure of unsustainability, they do not in and of themselves reverse society's unsustainable direction. Still, with this strong existing ecological base, the cities are in an excellent position to take the threshold step of integrating these policies and activities into the governance process for managing local urban economies through a comprehensive sustainability process. In this process we are called on to develop our own strategies, try them out in practice and share our experiences.

 

 

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Cuyahoga Bioregion
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Copyright 2002-2003

 

 

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