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Climate sustainability bringing new perspectives on urban planning

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2021-11-15 Saara Lilja and Päivi Tikkakoski

What does sustainable development mean from the perspective of urban planning? How can sustainability and especially climate sustainability be strengthened? Canemure, the joint project of the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Finnish Environment Institute, aims to compile climate-sustainable urban planning instructions through the use of good practices of partnership cities, experiences received during the project and suggestions from various experts.

Planners, students and researches assembled together

Planners in Hyvinkää, together with upper secondary school students, the Finnish Environment Institute and the Finnish Meteorological Institute, have contemplated new design options for a new town plan area. The goal is to both combat climate change and plan structures in the area that are made with increased rain amounts and temperatures in mind.

Another workshop with urban planning and design experts of the city of Turku focused on the role of town planning in promoting new renewable energy solutions in Skanssi, Turku. In addition, the prerequisites for preparing and adapting to climate change were brainstormed in the Pihlajaniemi area.

A seminar was also organised in connection with the project, which was attended by the representatives of Canemure cities from Tampere, Lohja, Porvoo, Lahti and Lappeenranta as well as planners and other urban developers. In the seminar, the cities of Turku and Tampere showcased their climate efforts and Pirkanmaa’s ELY Centre KILVA tool was discussed. The checklist provided by the tool helps to assess the climate sustainability of plans from a quality standpoint. In connection with the seminar, information was collected from the experts through a preliminary questionnaire and inclusive group dialogue.

The good and bad of compact design

The seminar showed that making cities more compact is a challenge for urban planning. Currently, the cities may even be made too compact, leaving too little space for green elements and networks essential to biodiversity and the well-being of people.

The question is central also from the perspective of mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects. As climate change progresses, the increased rainfall and temperatures pose challenges especially for compactly constructed environments where there is a large area that water cannot penetrate. On the other hand, better energy efficiency related to housing and mobility, which can be influenced through improved societal structure design, speaks for compact construction and design.

Regional perspective on urban planning

During the event, the concept of nature-based solutions was brought up, for which there is a hope to find clearer instructions and monitoring of implementation. The plans should also better account for regional processes, for example, by linking drainage area level waterflow model results to the planning.

At the moment, there are reservations for city park expansions, green roofs and wetlands, but the increased rainfall demand exceptional management of collective water amounts. Understanding is required on how green areas and watery areas are linked to each other and how much water they can hold.

Therefore, the green and watery areas should be viewed in terms of achieving the goals of planning. This could also open up possibilities for funding nature-based solutions or creating related incentives.

Combined adapting and mitigation

In connection with adapting to climate change and preparing for it, we must also think about how the efforts can be linked to the mitigation of climate change. For instance, the emission reductions in the energy and traffic sector are highlighted in infrastructures, but to achieve adequate climate sustainability, the compatibility of the selected solutions with adapting to climate change and preparing for its effects should be considered. This way, the resulting conflicts and climate risk-related damages or costs can be minimised.

Our climate has changed already, and different weather risks can be seen through all seasons. The uncertainties will be numerous, as especially extreme weather phenomena are rare occurrences that cannot be accurately predicted, only anticipated. In addition to calculations, quality information is needed, and local information in particular, in order to better prepare for the risks.

In the Canemure joint project, the attempt is to compile existing good practices and examples of managing uncertainties so that the competence of cities of different sizes is strengthened in cooperation with urban developers, research institutes and residents.

Saara Lilja, Head of Unit, Finnish Meteorological Institute, and
Päivi Tikkakoski, Researcher, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE

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