Green Urban Economy
Suburban areas have high energy consumption
Interview with Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities and Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science
Mr Rode, have cities to date played too small a role in endeavours to achieve global sustainability?
Rode: In terms of urban research, cities have actually made a significant contribution, particularly in international city networks. But, in global negotiations such as UN conferences, their voice tends to be drowned out. After all, it is national representatives who are at the negotiating table. And to simply say: ‘Let the cities have a look in’, would be a little naive. It is the cities who ultimately have to implement projects, but for this they need a national framework.
Many city representatives would absolutely agree with you on that. Nevertheless, they complain that they are not consulted enough prior to negotiations …
Rode: There may be some truth in that. But we also have to be careful so that seeing things through ‘urban spectacles’ does not blind us to other aspects such as the sustainability challenges rural areas are facing. They are often quite different from those facing urban centres. And that is why we are working on a more nuanced definition of ‘urban’. It is important but not entirely easy because data is hard to come by and there are different ways of measuring degree of urbanisation.
Which cities do you see as clear role models for the transition to a green urban economy?
Rode: They are predominantly in Europe. The city that is certainly leading the field and has been for many years is Freiburg. But Copenhagen and Stockholm are also among the leaders. However, it must be said that this largely applies to the city centres. As soon as you go out into the surrounding area, even these cities lose a great deal of their role model function. Long trips have to be made by car because the public transport network isn’t dense enough, etc. For example, according to the latest studies, the highest energy demand is found in suburban London; it is even higher there than in any part of Scotland.
What would have to be done to counter that?
Rode: There is already a lot of discussion on how to make suburban areas more dense in other words, how to create more housing on existing building land. Converting empty factory buildings into apartments is a good example of that. Another thing that also works well is to not only have low-density ribbon development along existing axes such as arterial roads out of cities but to also allow denser development there. In the USA, they have already begun to tear down single-family houses in suburban areas if only very few people are still living there. Higher density means shorter trips and lower energy and land consumption. So whether a house is energy efficient depends less on what kind of thermal insulation it has and more on where it is located.
These are new ways of discussing the issues and that is also what Bonn Perspectives is about. What do you think of the initiative and of the Green Urban Economy Workshop?
Rode: The very fact that the workshop took place in the former Federal Chancellery in Bonn made it special. This holds particular symbolism for me as a German. I also think it is good that the workshop brought together a broad range of different actors, such as cities and national ministries in this case the international development ministry. The rationale of that was very successful.
The interview was conducted by Monika Hoegen.
Photo: (C) Mirabilis