Friday, 8 December 2006

Dublin as "worst-case scenario" of urban planning

This story was passed to me yesterday:

Dublin's sprawl and poor planning is being used by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as a "worst-case scenario" of urban planning so that the new EU member states in Eastern Europe avoid making the same mistakes.

In a report published in October, the Copenhagen-based agency focused on Dublin, Madrid and Istanbul as case studies to show what can happen when development is allowed to run out of control, according to its principal author, Ronan Uhel.

Uhel, who heads the EEA's spatial analysis unit, is reported in The Irish Times as saying that Ireland was "very much on the map in relation to urban sprawl - not just in Dublin, but also around towns and villages throughout the country" as a result of "extremely passive" planning policies.

"When we got the first results, we were absolutely surprised. We couldn't believe what we saw on the maps, because they showed that sprawl was so extensive in a country where the geography is not designed for such a thing."

Although sprawl was happening all over Europe, Dublin's case was particularly acute. "We're using it as an illustrative case for cities in eastern Europe to show what can happen if you let the money flow without having a vision of balanced development."

The report is against a backdrop of countries like Poland and the other new EU member states receiving "massive support" from the EU for new motorways and other road schemes. r Uhel says they "need to learn from this kind of experience and understand why such developments can occur".

The report will show that new roads "attract urban sprawl, not just around big cities but in the countryside too".

In the 1990s alone, he pointed out, sprawl in Europe had consumed a land area equivalent to three times the size of Luxembourg. "Nobody is addressing this issue. There is no vision at European level."

Uhel says that one of the main purposes of the report was to "say to our neighbours [ in central and eastern Europe] not to make the same mistakes" and instead, to follow the example of cities such as Munich, which had contained its growth within strict limits.

"We want to show what kind of options a city has during a period of positive development - either you control it or you let it go. In that respect, Dublin and Madrid are very much alike, because they let the market decide, so we're using this as a warning."

In reference to the proliferation of housing in rural areas, Uhel said farmers were "making huge income from selling sites, much more than they would make if they worked the rest of their lives" and this had "huge implications for the countryside".

Three-quarters of all Europeans now live in urban areas and this is expected to rise to 90 per cent by 2020 based on current trends

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