1/7_LAND USE // ASSESSMENT CRITERIA FOR AN ECOLOGICAL URBANISM // Measurement Tools for a Mediterranean Sustainable Urban Model

Let’s imagine you live in a neighbourhood as the one below…

ecological urbanism_land occupation 1

You live in a little house with a small garden, a garage and a porch, and so do your neighbours. You won’t have any trouble either finding a parking spot on the street, of course. Right next to you live a German who can’t speak Spanish and a new family that arrived three months ago and with whom you have barely said hello. It is 4 pm, and you’d like to visit your friend Roberto, who lives right on the other corner of your residential complex, for a swim. It is for certain that you may park outside his house and you would rather not take a walk, as you won’t find anyone along the way. So you simply decide to take your car and head there.

If you think about it, you’re very lucky to have him so close because you need to drive for a while to visit the rest of your friends, your parents, go shopping or go to a park for a little run. And no matter what you do, you might be stuck in a traffic jam either way.

On the contrary, if you happen to be living in a neighbourhood like the one below, your daily routines can be completely different…

Let’s imagine you live now in a “flat”, as part of a city block and quite close to the city centre.  There’s always many people around and you know your neighbours because you see them every day, in the elevator or on the street (Let’s leave the one from the 5th floor aside as you can’t stand him). If you’d like  to meet your friend Roberto who happens to live as far as before, you decide to go walking because you may stop on the way to do some shopping, collect your medical prescription from the pharmacy, buy bread and those little muffins you love from the small bakery on the street behind, pay a visit to your parents… All of this, as long as your cousin Ramon doesn’t find you first.  He lives next door, and he always convinces you to do any other thing but the one you have already planned.

If you remember, when you used to live in the “little (and detached) house,” you always ended up taking your car even though you were going around the corner. When driving, you turn on the air conditioner, play music from your phone and get a phone call from time to time… that’s all. You just move, from point A to point B and whoever lives near you, does exactly the same. All you want is to arrive to point B as soon as possible as you’d rather not stop on the way.

However, when you live in a flat of a city block, as the one described earlier, you may enjoy walking  everywhere as there are far more things to see on the street than house fences. Bakeries, hairdressing salons, supermarkets, pound shops, schools… are all on the way. So in this case, besides moving from point A to point B, you stroll and wander the streets and you may even get lost. You may find acquaintances, relatives or strangers who live nearby or who are just on their way to the other neighbourhood.

After this little story it looks like our “second” scenario might be more sustainable, right? Let’s find out why:

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

A high number of pedestrian paths reduce the energy consumption as well as the CO2 emissions. Furthermore, even in the case of a city centre with a public space completely dedicated for the car, pedestrian paths can increase up to 50%.

SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY

In the second scenario, it has been pointed out that the chance of running into a friend, relative or stranger is a constant.

ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY

Citizens proximity and accessibility encourages the growth of local trade, deeply rooted in our cities heritage.

On the contrary, large suburban areas have only access by motor vehicles.

CULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY

The development of our Mediterranean cities as well as our lifestyle have been related, for centuries, to the way we live in these neighbourhoods. Becoming an important part of our urban culture.

And so with all of this, we have already realized how a regular day in our life defers from one place to another.  As we have already written at the beginning of this series, there are specific tools, called Sustainability that will allow us to measure the city we live in. With their use, we will be able to compare two cities as the ones we have described before.

In relation to today’s story there are some indicators (those related to LAND OCCUPATION) that measure people and building density. As a matter of fact, there are others in this story that will show us the quality of urban space or the density of events, but this will be another story, for another day.

So we would like to answer a couple of questions for today,

¿How many people live there?

And

¿How many square metres do their houses occupy?

These two factors in urbanism can be measured in two different ways:

1 BUILIDING DENSITY: it measures how many dwellings per area are in the neighbourhood and it is usually measured in dwellings/hectares.

The first scenario density can reach a minimum density level of 15dwelling per Hectare, which is in stark contrast to the second scenario, where it is more likely and agreeable to find a minimum density level of 100 dwellings per Hectare. The relation is simple: more people per Hectare, more contact between them. To prove it, we can recall the ease of walking to meet a relative or running into someone you know.

It is  important to note than although high densities are desirable, an excess of it may be self-defeating.

2 TOTAL COMPACTNESS: it measures how many buildings are built in a neighbourhood. It compares urban land occupation (m2) with the volume of the buildings built in the same area (m3).

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Urban sprawl can barely reach a compactness of 1m while neighbourhoods based on city blocks may reach 5m or more. An increment of compactness, meaning more dwellings in the same area, that is more people living there, has the benefits that have been already explained.

Additional technical information of these Indicators may be found in Guía Metodológica para los Sistemas de Auditoría, Certificación o Acreditación de la Calidad y Sostenibilidad en el Medio Urbano, pages 457-452.