Yes, it is possible to live in a pleasant, urban setting while simultaneously minimizing your effect on the environment. This is the goal of ecodistricts, which are starting to pop up all over Europe and worldwide. But what are ecodistricts all about, and how are they more beneficial for the environment?
Sometimes called sustainable neighborhoods, ecodistricts are urban areas designed and organized in keeping with sustainable development principles. Ecodistricts have three main objectives: to limit their environmental impact, to promote social cohesion, and to develop economically. To achieve these goals, ecodistricts are designed to reduce energy needs and save resources. They also focus on creating a socially and functionally diverse environment (housing, services, recreation, etc.). As a result, residents enjoy a better quality of life in a setting that respects the environment.
In France, for example, buildings consume much more energy (45%) than transportation (33%.) Buildings in ecodistricts consume less energy, are built using ecological materials, and must abide by strict regulations that aim to have the lowest possible energy consumption per square meter. External insulation is widely used to limit energy loss, and renewable energy sources such as solar panels are used to cover at least a portion of energy needs.
In another effort to minimize their reliance on various resources, rainwater is collected and used for the maintenance of public spaces (parks, roadsides, etc.) and for toilets in buildings.
When it comes to waste, sorting and recycling are prerequisites. Organic waste is collected and composted, then used to maintain green spaces. Many ecodistricts use a pneumatic underground waste collection system to cut down on vehicle traffic to treatment plants and keep trucks off the neighborhood’s roads.
Ecodistricts aim to be accessible to all (a certain percentage of housing is generally reserved for reduced-rent units). They strive to cultivate a population that is socially, culturally, and generationally diverse, and to have all the necessary functions and services of any city within their confines in order to promote closeness and a true sense of community. Ecodistricts therefore situate homes, businesses, offices, and public facilities such as schools, recreational spaces etc. all within a few hundred meters of one another.
Ecodistricts are designed to favor getting around on foot, by bicycle and public transport, in order to limit the use of individual vehicles. The infrastructure is thus adapted accordingly, with footpaths, bicycle lanes, secure bicycle parking, a dense network of public transportation, and the immediate proximity of numerous everyday services including shopping malls, schools, daycare centers, sports facilities, and more.
Green and natural spaces are cultivated for the residents’ comfort and to promote the development of biodiversity (flora and fauna).
Ecodistricts aim to get residents involved, from the design of the project (whether it be new buildings or renovation of existing structures) to the management and evolution of the neighborhood once built, promoting a spirit of shared governance among eco-citizens.
In terms of mobility, ecodistricts have a two-pronged approach: limiting travel thanks to the location of businesses and services close to residences, and the development of infrastructures that are favorable to walking, cycling, and the use of public transportation.
It is the perfect setting for the development of shared, clean, silent, electric-powered modes of transit. To meet the short-term, occasional needs of residents, some ecodistricts have introduced electric car sharing services, as is the case in Lombok in Utrecht in the Netherlands and in Västra Hamnen in Malmö, Sweden.
With logistical spaces located nearby, delivery, particularly last mile, is also evolving. Electric utility vehicles such as the Kangoo Z.E. and Master Z.E. meet ecodistricts’ delivery needs while reducing pollution.
In the years to come, small, autonomous robot vehicles such as the Renault EZ-POD might also make their way onto the streets of these ecodistricts to transport people or goods.
Northern European countries are often cited as being role models for sustainable development. While more and more ecodistricts are being built all over Europe, it comes as no surprise that there is a concentration of them in the north.
We have already mentioned the Västra Hamnen in Malmö, Sweden. The Hammarby Sjöstad neighborhood, southeast of Stockholm, was built on the ruins of an industrial port zone in the late 1990s. The buildings are equipped with solar panels to provide all the necessary energy. The heating network is fed by a thermal power plant that uses biofuel, purified water from a water treatment plant, and combustible waste. The wastewater treatment plant also produces biofuel that is used to power the stoves in people’s homes. In addition to using renewable energy, ecodistricts also have bike lanes, a focus on green spaces, waste treatment plants, and water treatment centers (rainwater collection, local treatment of wastewater), etc.
In Germany, the most well-known eco-neighborhoods are Vauban in Freiburg, HaftenCity in Hamburg, and Kronsberg in Hanover. Farther west, BedZED, on the outskirts of London, is a pioneer in the UK when it comes to the integration of sustainable development principles. It has the ambitious goal of attaining carbon neutrality.
France holds its own as well, with emblematic ecodistricts such as La Zac de Bonne, located in the center of Grenoble, southeast France, on the site of a former military barracks. More recently, construction began on the La Courrouze ecodistrict in the Rennes urban area in Brittany, which aims to house 10,000 residents and create 3,000 jobs by 2028. The French capital Paris has at least four ecodistricts, including Clichy-Batignolles in the 17th arrondissement (in the northwest.) The city is also developing multiple urban innovation projects where it is testing initiatives in mobility, the circular economy, and the use of public spaces. Two of these neighborhoods are already up and running: Paris-Rive-Gauche (southeast of the capital) and Chapelle-S (north of the city.)
Ecodistricts are testing grounds for the sustainable citites of the future. With social and functional diversity, an occupancy density prized by compact cities, a focus on ecological modes of transport, the reintegration of nature into the heart of the neighborhood, the use of renewable energy, efforts to minimize energy consumption, and their sustainable water and waste management, they allow for the testing, on varying scales, of new ways of living together that is more respectful of both humans and the environment.
As for residents, they enjoy a higher quality of life, a calmer, healthier environment, better social cohesion, and fewer motor vehicles. Heating costs are also much lower, a bonus that clearly finds favor with those involved…
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