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Sustainable city

Green advisor

Towards the socially sustainable city

Today half of all the people in the world live in cities. And that number is growing. ÅF is participating in developing methods of planning, building and running tomorrow’s cities, where more and more people will demand ever safer, climateadapted living, working and playing environments with reduced energy use and sustainable consumption levels.

Cities soon home to 80 percent of humanity

For the first time in history a majority of the world’s population now lives in urban environments. The world will soon see the emergence of many new mega-cities of 10 million people and more. Already Tokyo is home to a mind-boggling 36 million inhabitants, while Mexico City, Mumbai and Lagos have close to 20 million. At current rates almost 80 percent of people on the planet will be city-dwellers by 2030.

Rapid urbanisation is a huge challenge for sustainability. The environmental impact of cities is already increasing; today they account for more than 70 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Factoring economic and environmental considerations into urban development projects and new-builds is no longer a novelty. Increased segregation and the rise of social inequality in cities has propelled the issue of social sustainability high up political and business agendas. “Today we are seeing increased awareness of the need for social sustainability – from local government, the finance sector and the construction industry. Clients and contractors are starting to realise that, in the long term, social investments are actually profitable. Social sustainability goes hand in hand with good business. There’s no conflict of interest,” says Josef Sjöberg, an expert in socially sustainable urban development at ÅF.

Democratising public spaces

To create a socially sustainable city it is important for all citizens to have a voice in the planning process and in creating the public spaces. Studies show that women are given less opportunity to participate in urban planning and that cities are most often planned to meet the needs of men. Women are more likely to feel insecure in urban environments, often to extents that constrain their freedom of movement. Adopting a gender-neutral approach to planning is crucial if everyone is to be able to enjoy the same access to the city’s facilities. 

The potential of the city

In big cities many people live in close proximity, often in limited spaces. However, this proximity generates many encounters between people that provide opportunities to exchange perspectives, reassess prejudices and build relationships. Good urban planning can counteract social disparities and lay the foundation for a hassle-free daily life and socially sustainable development. It can create attractive physical environments and efficient public transport, and lead to reduced energy use and sustainable consumption, with ecosystem services and climate-adapted surroundings that promote good health and a flourishing natural environment.  

ÅF drives developments

ÅF is taking an active role in various urban development projects in Sweden and elsewhere. This involves everything from planning roads and public transport to creating the homes and hospitals of the future, developing tomorrow’s lighting and acoustics solutions and contributing expertise on sustainability issues and social perspectives. In 2014 one of the regions where ÅF helped lay the foundation for a sustainable urban future was Gothenburg.

Twenty years from now Gothenburg expects to have 150,000 more residents and be the hub in a labour market of some 1,750,000 people. Early in the new millennium the city council published its vision for “The Good City”, a vibrant and inclusive place where everyone feels at home in a dynamic green environment.

In spring 2014, as part of this long-term initiative, the civic development company Älvstranden AB and a consortium that included the City of Gothenburg issued a tender for a parallel consulting assignment. Together with experts from Kanozi Architects, ÅF was chosen to form one of four teams to work in parallel on a vision for the future of the waterfront Masthuggskajen area.   

Connecting the city

Thirty years ago dockyards lined the banks of the River Göta Älv. Today some of the old industrial premises have become knowledge clusters and waterfront homes. Meanwhile an entirely new district of the city is also emerging; the Masthuggskajen development will extend the urban centre downriver, bring it closer to the water, improve links across the river and connect western districts with the inner city.

Between them, ÅF and Kanozi possess a unique breadth of skills and worked together in a way that transcended professional boundaries. “A multi-skilled team is essential for assignments like this. Initially ÅF supported the architects with competence in the key areas of strategic sustainability services, expertise in social values, landscape architecture, traffic and noise abatement. Later in the process our knowledge of flood risk-management and microclimates proved crucial in dealing with the complex challenges the project raised,” says Josef Sjöberg, who led the work on social values.

The Masthuggskajen area is centrally located and the land use plan calls for attention to various aspects of the city’s infrastructure, such as a nationally important trunk road, a new cable railway station, mixed urban structures, homes, meeting places and quayside facilities. The challenge has attracted many stakeholders from construction companies to municipal authorities, Älvstranden AB and individual citizens, so there were numerous opinions and wishes to take into account.

Clear, consistent focus on sustainability

ÅF in Gothenburg together with architects from Kanozi began by identifying key stakeholders who will be influenced by or themselves can influence the planned new city district. These include the City of Gothenburg, Region Västra Götaland, residents in adjacent districts and visitors. The needs of “silent” stakeholders such as the natural environment, the climate and generations yet to come, were also factored into the assessment, which helped maintain a firm focus on sustainability throughout the process.

“What impressed me was how well our way of working conformed to cutting-edge thinking in modern urban development. The sustainability perspective was present from the very start.

"It wasn’t something we simply tacked on at the end,” Josef says.

He emphasises that success can only be achieved by working closely across professional boundaries. “The challenges posed by sustainability don’t recognise professional categories. They extend over the full spectrum of human activity. One of the strengths of ÅF is our ability to take a broad-based approach with teams that bring together different disciplines and the strongest specialist skills from our various offices. Consultants from Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm worked on this project.”

One important consideration was to form a structure plan based on the perspectives of the stakeholders – ordinary citizens, builders, companies and the local authorities. The parallel consulting assignment confirmed the critical importance of the ongoing dialogue for the work yet to be done. “Talking and listening to the people who live and work in the city is the only way to find the right solutions,” Josef says.

Having made a balanced assessment of the stakeholders’ short- and long-term needs the team formulated a sustainability platform on which to base the structural planning. Ten aspects of sustainability were identified as being of greatest importance during the initial stage. The five aspects in need of special attention and strategies were a cohesive city, a clear identity, sustainable transport systems, stakeholder dialogue and adaptability to climate change.

A city committed to sustainability

After several months of intensive work ÅF and Kanozi presented their structure plan in November 2014. “One of the strengths in the team’s presentation was social sustainability. The proposal contained a clear strategy for creating a variety of attractive environments, each with the potential to promote social interaction in shared spaces based on the needs of different groups of users,” explains Åsa Vernersson, Project Leader at Älvstranden AB.

In January 2015 the City of Gothenburg announced that it would henceforward work solely with ÅF and Kanozi. The joint proposal they had submitted was considered the most ambitious and flexible on which to build, with a credible main structure and the potential to live up to the aims of the “RiverCity Gothenburg” vision.

A number of other projects during 2015 have seen ÅF continue to work for a sustainable Gothenburg. The vision is a city that attracts more people to live and work there, and where future generations will have the opportunity to participate in city life, enjoy security and peace of mind and feel at home in their surroundings.


Did you know…

… Chongqing is the fastest growing city in the world? Around 9 million people live in the city itself, but there are 32 million in the municipality as a whole – and each year this metropolis grows by a population the size of Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg.

Photo: Kanozi arkitekter

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