Wednesday, March 10, 2010

And now, version 2.0 of green development

STOCKHOLM/PLANNING THE FUTURE. For more than a decade, foreign visitors have come to Hammarby Sjöstad on the fringes of Stockholm’s inner city, looking for inspiration in sustainable urban development.
The project took off in the mid 90’s as an important part of Stockholm’s failed bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics. It has been seen as a model for eco-friendly city building, but lately there have been critical voices in Sweden claiming that Hammarby Sjöstad doesn’t live up to its “green” reputation.
The criticism is focused on the energy efficiency of the buildings in the still on-going development, and the first comprehensive evaluation report of the project, released last year, supports that claim.
But Nils Brandt, associate professor in industrial ecology at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the man behind the report, underlines that this doesn’t diminish the importance of Hammarby Sjöstad (right).
“In fact, it’s one of the main conclusions in our report. Hammarby Sjöstad has had such an impact because this was the first time someone tried to implement such a holistic environmental profile for a whole city district. This was an important accomplishment that I think has inspired many others, also internationally”, says Nils Brandt.
You can find the document here, in Swedish with a summary in English.
In the new Stockholm City Plan, the comprehensive plan for future development to be adopted by the local council next week, planners don’t go into the details of coming projects. But the city has an ambition to strengthen its position as an international role model when it comes to sustainable urban development.
The place to follow those ambitions in the next decade or two will be a project called Stockholm Royal Seaport (or Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Swedish), located on the north eastern outskirts of the city center.
The Royal Seaport development sums up many of the ambitions in the new City Plan, from densification and expansion on old industrial and port sites, to new infrastructure for public transit and tough emission goals.
Ulla Hamilton, the city’s vice mayor for environment and traffic, recently called plans for the new development an ambition to create Hammarby Sjöstad 2.0.
“It was important to evaluate Hammarby Sjöstad. If you want to move on to the next generation of sustainable development, you have to know what didn’t work in the first generation in order not to make the same mistakes again”, says Hamilton.
“Hammarby Sjöstad has sometimes been described as a failure when it comes to energy consumption, but I don’t think you can look at it that way. At the time it was planned, the energy question was not on top of the agenda. Now we will learn from that and raise the bar.”
Ulla Hamilton describes Hammarby Sjöstad as a big step forward in modern urban development, if you judge it from the circumstances at the time. Nils Brandt agrees.
But critics point at the Royal Seaport project and claim that the city still doesn’t set tough enough energy standards for the buildings.
Nils Brandt, who is working on a model for continuous evaluation of the environmental aspects of the Royal Seaport project, says that’s correct when it comes to the first stage of the project. It was planned well before the city set up present standards, following the evaluation of Hammarby Sjöstad.
“With the environmental program for stage 2, it is different”, says Brandt.
The Stockholm Royal Seaport is part of an exclusive group of 17 development projects world wide that have been chosen by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his foundation to take part in a Climate Positive Development Program.
In its vision for this showcase project, the City of Stockholm sees the Royal Seaport as a “world class environmental city district” with three overall goals:
To be free from fossil fuels by 2030.
To have CO2-emissions lower than 1.5 ton/capita by 2020.
To be adjusted for coming changes in the climate.
Developers have to sign a “world class agreement” with the city, agreeing to the high environmental standard from stage 2 and on in the Royal Seaport project. Nils Brandt at KTH points out that much has changed in the attitude of developers since Hammarby Sjöstad was first planned.
“At that time their reaction to environmental demands was to say no to everything, and describe them as impossible. Today many developers have come a long way. In some ways they act more responsibly than the city”, says Brandt.
The evaluation of Hammarby Sjöstad points out the importance of integrating environmental aspects into all parts of the planning process from the very beginning. That is what Stockholm now wants to do in the Royal Seaport and other designated developments with an environmental profile.
Many Swedes see their country as a leader in eco-friendliness. But as the evaluation of Hammarby Sjöstad stresses, that leadership role has more to do with old municipal technological systems than with modern, cutting-edge so called green tech.
The “Hammarby Model” with its district heating, sewage system, biogas production and waste treatment form the backbone of the environmental program for Hammarby Sjöstad. Much of this has been around for decades in Swedish cities and towns, but putting it in the context of modern urban development on a district level made it interesting for the world in a new way.
Now we are waiting for version 2.0.

This is the second in a series of reports on the new Stockholm City Plan, set to be adopted next week.

Copyright: Aaro Designsystem/City of Stockholm
The first stage of Stockholm Royal Seaport, as it will look in the future.