Future proofing cities – resilience in redesign

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Summary

Staying streets ahead with space data and more

Sustainable cities are an absolute necessity and no longer just a wishlist. Earth observation data from the EU’s Copernicus satellites already plays a vital role in achieving that goal, for example by guiding urban planners. But how can Europe’s metropolises, citizens and politicians best tap into this rich new resource?

“We need more resilient and greener cities or we’re doomed!” said Dharmendra Kanani, Director of Insights at Friends of Europe, while moderating the online debate on ‘Future proofing cities – resilience in design’ on 9 June 2020. “Cities are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and crises like the COVID-19 virus, but they are also potentially at the vanguard of positive change.”

Kanani noted the urgency of acting, because 55% of the global population lives in a city and this figure is expanding fast. Moreover, cities in Europe and beyond face numerous social and economic challenges in a post-pandemic world.

The debate revolved around solutions offered by the Copernicus satellites network. “They offer a unique view of the planet and its changes, providing essential data for urban planners and managers,” said Josef Aschbacher, from the European Space Agency. He highlighted the ability to identify urban heat islands or flood-risk areas. Digital Twin Earth and the World Settlement Footprint – the agency’s two data-based foresight tools – will become increasingly valuable for city leaders and politicians.

Satellite data is crucial for cities, acknowledged Hans Bruyninckx, from the European Environment Agency. Yet their challenge is to harness all this data and other technologies, while striving for the sustainable and thriving cities promoted by the EU’s Green Deal. “EEA’s core contribution is to connect solid data to systemic transition, as well as to monitor environmental progress and help policymakers,” he added.

Covenant of Mayors is a great benchmark

Cities are well placed to help themselves, such as the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, now supported by over 10,100 local authorities. Bruyninckx remarked that they can all tell a “good story” to their citizens, about the pursuit of healthier and cleaner cities, but they need more investment support.

Mayors play an important role in urban improvements, but struggle with EU institutions’ scatter-gun policy approach to cities. Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the European Parliament, said the problem is that cities, urban planning and land use are unfortunately not an EU competence. She called for major cities to band together to solve their common climate, biodiversity and socio-economic issues.

That was my objective when I set up the City Science Initiative, said Caroline Nevejan, the City of Amsterdam’s Chief Science Officer: “It brings together 20 major European cities and speeds up their ability to approach the EU institutions with urban science and policy concerns.” Nevejan added that satellite data is great for increasing cities’ awareness of their built environment. But cities must redesign their planning databases to increase diversity and avoid excluding poorer citizens or those from immigrant backgrounds.

“Our dense and overcrowded cities are dangerous pressure cookers, so we need to act on all the wonderful information from satellites and make better urban policy,” concluded the moderator. Citizens must also be empowered to use that data, on the path to cleaner and better cities.

About

About

Recovery from COVID impacts: solid data to increase urban sustainability

The pandemic is making us think differently about the way we live, produce and consume. As more than three-quarters of European live in cities, life in the city has changed rapidly under COVID-19. While millions of citizens were asked to stay at home and respect social distancing rules, city planners and authorities have been looking at how to make cities more sustainable under these new circumstances. National and European authorities are developing plans to recover from economic and social impacts of this current shock. Recovery plans will need to seize the opportunity to align environment and climate objectives to society’s resilience to current and future shocks.

This Policy Insight is part of Friends of Europe’s Digital, Data & Transformation’s pillar, which help think through the implications of the digital revolution, taking the widest possible stakeholder and community perspectives and experiences to bear upon the policy thinking and developments that will be required. We work across policy areas taking a whole society, whole economy approach – to enable policy thinking and developments to be fit for a digital 21st century.


PHOTO CREDIT: CC/Flickr – European Space Agency

Schedule

Schedule

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Future proofing cities – resilience in redesign Expand Future proofing cities – resilience in redesign

The pandemic is making us think differently about the way we live, produce and consume. As more than three-quarters of European live in cities, life in the city has changed rapidly under COVID-19. While millions of citizens were asked to stay at home and respect social distancing rules, city planners and authorities have been looking at how to make cities more sustainable under these new circumstances. National and European authorities are developing plans to recover from economic and social impacts of this current shock. Recovery plans will need to seize the opportunity to align environment and climate objectives to society’s resilience to current and future shocks.

What will our cities look like in the future? How do we ensure that we can build resilient and sustainable cities? Digital innovation will play a key role in helping authorities and communities to build them. Data from European Earth Observation programme Copernicus will help measure progress and monitor environmental policies, as well as formulate future policies by providing models, outlining future climate impacts. The free and open data of the Copernicus programme have also provided over €16 billion in societal and economic benefits from 2014 to 2019.

These satellite data and assessments based on this data can be used by institutions, municipalities, start-ups and the private sector to help cities adapt to future health and environmental crises. It will offer the chance to limit urban sprawl, organise new green spaces, create better transport networks while offering more space to walkers and bikes as we move to more localised services.

  • How can local governments and decision-makers use data simulation and modelling to improve cities’ sustainability?
  • How can the EU ensure that building resilient and sustainable cities is at the heart of recovery plans?
  • What role can space data play in this redesign?

Speaker

Josef Aschbacher

Director of Earth Observation Programmes at the European Space Agency (ESA)

Hans Bruyninckx

Executive Director at the European Environment Agency (EEA)

Caroline Nevejan

Chief Science Officer of the City of Amsterdam

Sirpa Pietikäinen

Member of the European Parliament

Moderator

Dharmendra Kanani

Director of Insights at Friends of Europe

End of debate
Speakers

Speakers

Josef Aschbacher
Josef Aschbacher

Director of Earth Observation Programmes at the European Space Agency (ESA)

Show more information on Josef Aschbacher

Thirty years ago, Josef Aschbacher began his career at the European Space Agency (ESA) where he was seconded as ESA Representative to Southeast Asia at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. Later, he joined the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy, where he served as Scientific Assistant to the Director of the Space Applications Institute. Upon his return to ESA headquarters in Paris, Aschbacher was tasked with advancing Copernicus activities within ESA. Aschbacher then became Head of the Copernicus Space Office, where he led all activities for Copernicus within the Agency and with external partners, in particular the European Commission. Following this, Aschbacher was entrusted with planning ESA’s Earth Observation Programme as well as formulating and implementing programmatic and strategic decisions across the Directorate.

Photo of Hans Bruyninckx
Hans Bruyninckx

Executive Director at the European Environment Agency (EEA)

Show more information on Hans Bruyninckx

A distinguished academic, Hans Bruyninckx has studied and taught European and international environmental policy for the past 20 years. He led research on environmental politics, climate change, and sustainable development on a multitude of scales, working with local governments, member states, EU institutions and international organisations. He has taught courses on global environmental politics and governance, publishing extensively on Europe’s role as an actor in global environmental governance. As Executive Director, Bruyninckx is responsible for implementing the programmes of the European Environment Agency, providing policymakers with reliable, independent information on the environment for those involved in developing and implementing environmental policy, on a wide array of topics, from urban air quality to green infrastructure.

Photo of Sirpa Pietikäinen
Sirpa Pietikäinen

Member of the European Parliament

Show more information on Sirpa Pietikäinen

Sirpa Pietikäinen is a Finnish member of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. She is a former Finnish Minister of Environment and her career at the Finnish parliament is extensive, ranging from the year 1983 to 2003. At the European Parliament, Pietikäinen is a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and a substitute member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, as well as of the Women’s Right and Gender Equality Committee. In parallel, she occupies several high-level position, including Chairmanship of the Globe EU and a membership on the board of Alzheimer Europe.

Caroline Nevejan
Caroline Nevejan

Chief Science Officer of the City of Amsterdam

Show more information on Caroline Nevejan

Caroline Nevejan is a researcher and designer who has been involved with the emerging network society and digital culture since the 1980’s. Nevejan is a regular presenter at national and international fora. She is an advisor to national and European policy makers. As Chief Science Officer of the city of Amsterdam, she orchestrates research between the municipality of Amsterdam and the different scientific, academic and artistic universities in the city. She is the principal investigator of the City Rhythm study, which identifies and analyses rhythms in neighbourhoods and the data about these neighbourhoods in 6 cities of the Netherlands. In parallel, she is professor by at the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, where her research is focused on Designing Urban Experience.

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