Oslo Declaration, 8 June 2009

Climate Change and Urban Design

Sign the Oslo declaration!

On 14-16 September 2008, 220 scientists, government officials, educators, professionals and citizens from 25 countries were invited by the Council for European Urbanism to meet in Oslo, Norway, to assess the challenge of global climate change, and its particular implications for the discipline of urban design. We examined lessons covering the topics of science, policy, education and urban practice, and we concluded as follows:

WE AFFIRM the grave threat to all of humanity posed by anthropogenic climate change. We accept the ethical obligations that it imposes upon all professionals and all citizens to respond with prompt and effective mitigation and adaptation. We further affirm that this is a challenge that can be met, with intelligence and resolve – and that in doing so, we will necessarily find ourselves building better cities, and better ways of life.

WE UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT THE PREVAILING SCIENTIFIC VIEW that a rise in average global temperatures above two degrees centigrade would be catastrophic for humanity, and that to ensure this does not happen, all countries must join together to work to bring the levels of CO2-equivalent in the atmosphere back to 350 parts per million, as a long-term ceiling.† We therefore join the call for all nations to commit to prompt and steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, at a minimum of 25 percent or more below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50 percent or more below 1990 levels by 2050.†Further, we believe that by 2070, an 80 percent or greater reduction must be achieved.

WE RECOGNISE that this specific phenomenon is inseparably connected to broader and no less serious challenges: the depletion of natural resources; the destruction of vital ecosystems; the unintended consequences of technological advancement; the changing nature of economic opportunity; and the imperative of greater equity, human rights, and political stability. We assert that the climate change crisis is a “wake up call” to make long-delayed systemic changes in all these areas. This is a daunting but necessary task.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE that the phenomenon of climate change is inextricably bound to the ways we have lived, and in particular, the inefficient ways we have settled our cities and towns, over the past century. It is in our urban systems that we create the patterns of activity that fundamentally drive consumption, and emissions. Therefore, we cannot address this challenge through technological changes alone; we must comprehensively increase the efficiency of patterns of demand, by increasing the efficiency of patterns of urban settlement.

WE OBSERVE that on a comparison basis, efficient, compact, livable and beautiful settlements have significantly and often dramatically lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and other major benefits. We acknowledge that if we want people to live in low-carbon neighbourhoods, they must want to live there. Therefore we assert the importance of the link between the crisis of climate change, and the qualities of livability and beauty of our cities, towns and countryside.

WE RECOGNISE the lessons of history and the need to learn from the successes and failures of the past and present. We recognise the need for a new evidence-based approach to the planning of our cities and towns, taking its cue from induction and observation of what has worked in the best human settlements of the past. We recognise the need to grow in new, more sustainable ways, learning important and humbling lessons from the natural world, and from centuries of human experience.

WE CALL on governments, policymakers, researchers, educators, urban practitioners and citizenry, to work together to create a new generation of robust, low-carbon, resilient, beautiful settlements, that have the capacity to support the lives people choose to live.

WE WILL extend the lessons drawn in science, policy, education and practice, as follows:

Science: What We Know

  • The form of settlements is a critical contributor. Research shows that dramatic reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases can be achieved with a combination of strategies that increase efficiencies in energy generation, delivery and use, and – most overlooked – the form and character of settlements.
  • Urban sprawl is still an urgent problem. Compact, mixed-use, transit-integrated neighborhoods have dramatically lower emissions per person – as much as half or less per capita of sprawl developments. Such neighborhoods must be created in a comprehensive, regional and district-wide strategy.
  • Emissions from transportation – and in particular, private automobile use- is a major component of the problem,; but it is only the beginning of the story. We must also take into account the effects of infrastructure, embodied energy, operating energy, locational inefficiencies, lost ecosystem services, lost opportunities for cogeneration, and – apparently very important, but not well understood – the effects of “induced demand” and the growth of demand for energy, resources and emissions-producing activities. Buildings are also critical contributors, but their efficiencies can be easily dwarfed in an inefficient urban system.
  • Urban density is a key part of the solution; but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Higher-density settlement is closely associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions per person.† However, these benefits are less significant as density increases above about 150 persons per hectare, and there are also increasing negative impacts. These include embodied energy in construction, building egress requirements, wind and shade effects, ratios of highly exposed surfaces, heat island effects, diminished activation of urban streetscapes, and social segregation and isolation of populations within tall buildings.
  • Our heritage offers vital resources. Historic structures contain high levels of embodied energy and materials, and can be weatherised with minimal cost and great benefit. There is also evidence to suggest that historic structures are on average more resilient, more durable, and more likely to be sustained into the future.
  • Our heritage also offers vital patterns for modern construction. Many historic structures and urban patterns incorporate successful low-carbon strategies that can be of great value in new low-carbon designs.
  • The best designs exploit our instinctive love of natural forms. Biophilic factors appear to play a key role in the success and durability of a neighbourhood over time. This is especially true for higher-density neighborhoods that seek to promote walking, transport, outdoor recreation and other lower-carbon activities. But more research is needed in this area.
  • Many adaptive strategies will still be needed. Many effects of climate change are already unavoidable and will require successful adaptation, with a particular burden falling on coastal, temperate and arid regions.† There will be an increasing demand to mitigate flooding, manage heating, and provide alternate fresh water and reliable, locally grown and processed food supplies.

Policy: What We Must Do

  • Recognise that modern urban form is a critical problem requiring urgent action. Governments, at all levels, must acknowledge that the form and spatial pattern of settlements – where people live, work and shop, and the available choice of how they move about – is a fundamental driver of demand for energy and consumption, and thus of the generation of greenhouse gases. In consequence of this, we also believe that the reformation and adaptation of urban infrastructure must be a primary means for global GHG mitigation. This issue is particularly urgent in developing nations, where poorly-designed urban infrastructure will contribute to rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions for many decades to come.
  • Recognise that despite greatly varying political systems and policy frameworks, we must forge a globally coherent “joined-up” response. Governments vary widely in their policy frameworks, from highly market oriented societies where the role of government is held suspect (i.e. the US), to highly regulated new capitalist societies like China, to third world countries with populations radically separated between a small professional elite and a much larger underclass, to the more socially homogenous mixed economies of Europe. Nevertheless, we believe that just as cities around the world are characterized by common formal problems (sprawling suburbs, inefficient transit, wasteful buildings, poorly managed green infrastructure, and irrational urban form), they can be addressed by common formal responses (protection of natural green infrastructure, provision of mixed economic and social districts, compact communities organized around the public realm and transit, and formal logics for urban design).
  • Forge a better link between effective bottom-up local action, and an effective, coordinated global response. We understand that a successful local solution requires a unique mix of strategies and resources. At the same time, there is a need for over-arching frameworks and global targets, to coordinate and to support local action.
  • Define new models of development, and assess their efficacy against clear and scientifically credible performance measures. Study and promote existing exemplar models, and use them as the basis to inspire new models adapted to different local and national conditions. Regardless of country, each local authority must find the means to recognise the role of city design in GHG mitigation, and to organise their policies and actions to attack the problem.
  • Create a vision that inspires action. At a minimum, urbanists must articulate a clear vision of the inspiring kind of urbanism that is capable of addressing this global crisis, and to also provide the tools by which the efficacy and suitability of these city designs can be measured. Where there are existing tools, these must be widely promoted, adapted and applied.
  • Align policy, funding, regulation and design standards Together, these shape public and private investments in the built environment. Prioritise investment in critical infrastructure, which can determine patterns of movement for centuries. Prioritise the most sustainable modes of transport: walking, bike and public transport. Use public transport as a spatially optimised, regional organising structure to serve mixed-use communities with a balance of jobs, housing and other daily needs.
  • Develop the new framework for an equitable response. A disproportionate share of the burden of climate change will fall upon the developing world, which played a disproportionately small role in creating the problem. Therefore, wealthier nations have a particular obligation to assist with mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Until this is done, it is unreasonable and inequitable to demand that the developing world refrain from enjoying the same benefits of high-emissions technologies that wealthier nations have enjoyed.
  • Promote more aggressive research. A top priority must be given to additional research into the urban factors that contribute to emissions, since they are known to be highly significant. Put in place research policies and funding for public research and development endeavors, and to promote private pilot projects that can be tested and promoted as models. Prioritise research that explains and gives tools for the self-organising power of cities and towns, to develop greater “settlement efficiency,” and to increase their “resilience” to cope with stress and change.
  • Promote bottom-up as well as top-down strategies. Planning and design of low-carbon environments must be supplemented by changes to the generative rules that shape development, and the balance of incentives, regulations and prices.
  • Develop an array of powerful new tools, and be prepared to implement them promptly. Many new tools and approaches that were considered unthinkable earlier must now be regarded as necessary and inevitable. For example, carbon taxing must be on the table for prompt consideration and implementation. Prompt action is needed, but it must be implemented with a careful, evidence-based approach.

Education: How We Must Disseminate

  • Make climate change a core topic of study. Climate change is a central issue of modern professional responsibility and must be addressed through aggressive continuing education, professional development and research.
  • Use it as a lens through which to examine other issues. At the same time, climate change must be seen as a part of a wider set of environmental, social and economic issues, requiring a broad inter-disciplinary approach by practitioners.
  • Teach social and economic disciplines. Practitioners must directly engage the issues of social and economic sustainability, including diversity, affordability and social capital.
  • Teach collaboration and “soft skills”. Practitioners must learn to collaborate effectively with other fields to develop successful low-carbon projects that meet other human needs, and provide for resilient growth in the future.
  • Teach urban design as a core discipline. Architecture must be seamlessly linked to and anchored within Urban Design, as a practice and as a subject of study. The same is also true for planners, transportation and civil engineers, and other disciplines.
  • Teach a “Hippocratic Oath” for designers. Students must be aware of their primary duty to cater to human well-being and human self-determination. Students must understand the biological needs and human rights of users, and the duty to promote them. This is the essential basis of sustainability.
  • Settlements first, art second. A culture of artistic novelty and experimentation must be disciplined by the fundamental duty to create beautiful, sustainable, livable habitat for human beings. Therefore, teach this duty as a priority, informed by the disciplines of economics, ecology, sociology and human health. Employ the strategies and insights of “evidence-based design” – rigorously applying the lessons of what has worked, and what has failed.
  • Educate the public as well as students. Use public communications strategies to increase the understanding of the built environment and its importance in this challenge.

Practice: How We Must Implement

  • Recognise that many of the tools we need already exist. Use, and promote, tools and strategies that work, regardless of who may have invented them, or when. Learn from history, and do not be afraid of re-using what works.
  • Collaborate with others, and share lessons. Many of the solutions we will need exist in partial form with other potential collaborators. The key may be in working together to put these pieces together. We must effectively link those with ideas, tools and solutions together, in overlapping activities in research, education and practice.
  • Think incrementally. Urbanism is about changes over time, and our designs must be prepared to evolve and respond to unforeseen conditions.
  • Think globally. Our challenges are not confined to one country, and we must learn to work from a global perspective.
  • Act locally. At the same time, we must be able to deliver local solutions for local needs. Therefore, we must work locally, with local stakeholders, to develop the local knowledge and local capacity that is necessary.
  • Design with the evidence base of what works. The evidence base is clear, and getting clearer. More compact, more mixed use, walkable, transit-served communities will reduce emissions. The most sustainable buildings in evidence are very often those that have been built of durable materials, with timeless character, and have proven to be useful and lovable over time. There is enormous embodied energy and “collective intelligence” in such existing buildings, and in their urban patterns. Human beings and natural ecosystems both benefit from reduced paving area per person. We must learn to re-use and re-cycle our resources. Water will be a critical resource in the years ahead. Natural systems have much to teach us.
  • Support research, and participate in it. We need good research on actual projects, including post-occupancy research, case studies, and detailed research into project strategies, successes and failures. We must establish foundations, centres and other institutions to support this work.
  • Take time to continue learning. We must sharpen our skills and insights — by going back to school, or by learning on our own. We must be prepared to recognise when current practices do not lead to the desired outcomes, and new skills are necessary.
  • Affirm your profound duty to promote human welfare. We are more than fine artists; our professional charge is not unlike that of doctors &mspace; for our duty is to the health of the human environment.

We, the signers, pledge to continue the collaborations begun in Oslo We will continue with research, policy advocacy, education and practice through further collaborations, conferences and joint ventures, and otherwise continue to take initiative on this vital issue. We will create and maintain a website and a set of links and references, to be established at the Council for European Urbanism website en.ceunet.org under the tab “Climate Change Task Force”. We will give this global crisis our highest professional energy and dedication.

Signed this 8th day of June, 2009.

Joanna Alimanestianu
Faith Cable
Peter Drijver
Audun Engh
George Ferguson
Tigran Haas
Matthew Hardy
Ken Hughes
Delton Jackson
Harald Kegler
Lora Lucero
Joe MacDonald
Teresa Marat-Mendes
Michael Mehaffy
Hajo Neis
Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez
Martina Petralli
Rafael Pizarro
Leo Pols
Ellen Pond
Peter Robinson
Pedro Rodriguez
Emmanuel Rohinton
Mariam Simon Rojo
Joyce Rosenthal
Stephen Sheppard
Sandy Sorlien
Galina Tahchieva
Jorge Villanueva

Additional signatories to date

Dr. Harald Kegler – Germany
Besim S. Hakim – USA
Malak B. Hakim – USA
Leonardo Marques Monteiro – Brazil
Rafael E. Pizarro, PhD
Ann B. Daigle – USA
Marie L. York, FAICP – USA
Dr. Hajo Neis – USA
Prof. Krupali Uplekar – USA
Dr. Wolfgang H. Serbser – Germany
Dr. Anna Marson – Italy
Ir. Peter Verschuren – Netherlands
José Baganha, Architect – Portugal
Torbjörn Einarsson – Sweden
Ioannis Petroulakis, Architect – Greece
Goncalo Cornelio da Silva – Portugal
Susan Parham – UK
Jaap Dawson – Netherlands
Ulrich Maximilian Schumann – Germany
Mike Lydon – USA
Simmons Buntin – USA
Pedro Paulo Palazzo – Brazil
Alvin Holm – USA
Steve Arnold – USA
Bruce Liedstrand – USA
Arne Sødal – Norway
John Richard Chamberlain – USA
R. David McIntosh – UK
Robert Russell – USA
John Bayly – Australia
Cindy van Empel – USA
Victor Allen – Australia
Arnulfo Dado – Philippines
Lee Hardy – USA
Steve Mouzon – USA
Valentin Hadelich – Germany
Wolfgang Christ – Germany
Kinyanjui Karanja – Kenya
Harald Bodenschatz – Germany
Erling Okkenhaug – Norway
Samuel Cooke – USA
Lucy Rowland – USA
Tone Wien – Norway
Richard Bono – USA
Grant Rimbey – USA
Dr Joachim Langhein – Germany
Thomas Low – USA
Roger Ferguson – USA
Donatella Diolaiti – Italy
Jim Martin – USA
Patrick Condon – Canada
Duncan McRoberts – USA
Andrea Strout – USA
Ari Frankel – USA
Tanya Paglia – USA
Justin Meek – USA
Peter Kaplan – USA
David Corbin – USA
Lala Wu – USA
Ela Dokonal – Croatia
Iva Dokonal – Australia
Mark Greaves – UK
Olaf Mumm – Germany
Christopher Miller – USA
Meghan Sharp – USA
Stefanos Polyzoides – USA
Ryan Dash – USA
Demetrius Gonzalez – USA
Davor Dokonal – Australia
Hans Gillgren – Sweden
Lotta Hedberg – Sweden
Teresa Marat-Mendes – Portugal
Samir Younés – USA
Shannon Chance – USA
Javier Cenicacelaya – Spain
Cleo Hamilton – USA
Edmond Binjaku – Canada
Dr. Thorsten Schuetze – Netherlands
Yodan Rofé – Israel
Brian Hamilton – Ireland
Hillel Schocken – Israel
Marco Geretto – UK
Ngoc Nguyen – Vietnam
Greg Ramsey – USA
Clayton Preston – USA
Irit Solzi – Israel
Nicholas Montavon – Switzerland
Lucien Steil – Luxembourg
Ahmad Kanyama – Sweden
John Daglish – France
Paul Dijkman – Netherlands
Michael Stojan – Germany
Niall Murphy – United Kingdom
Raluca Zbarcea – Romania
Mihai Racu – Romania
Stephen Moore – Australia
Tatiana Martschenko – Canada
Gerardo Núñez – Mexico
Carl Wilhelm Tyrén – Norway
Mustafa Abu Raiya – Israel
Lena Hakim – USA
Steven Semes – USA
Martin Boles – Slovakia
Jana Milosovicova – Australia
José Antonio Hoyuela – Spain
Stefan Kruczkowski – United Kingdom
Alexandru Tiberiu Nits – Romania
Andrei Condoros – Romania
Nina Ilieva – Bulgaria
Gabriele Tagliaventi – Italy
Carlos Schwarz – Spain
Kathleen Casanta – United Kingdom
Janis Vanags – Latvia
Czeslaw Chlebek – Poland
Grieg Asher – USA
Mario Gallarati – Italy
Nils Sylwan – Sweden
Jorge Barbosa – Portugal
Padriac Steinschneider – USA
Manisha G. Das – India
Francisco da Costa – Portugal
Cristina Joarza – Romania
Mircea Atanasiu – Romania
Tomasz Jelenski – Poland
Anna Crosbie – New Zealand
Mario Gallarati – Italy
Tracey Scott – USA
Nemanja Sipetic – Yugoslavia
Jonathan Hughes – United Kingdom
Bryan Davis – USA
Emma Lees – Australia
Alex Ginard – Mexico
Marius Jivan – Romania
Pica Pau – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Kevin Durand – USA
Dr Dellé Odeleye – United Kingdom
Professor Dr Mohsen Aboulnaga – United Arab Emirates
Eliane Benvegnú – Brazil
Dr Nuno Canelhas – Portugal
Reinhard Stolle – Germany
Carolina Collaro – Italy
Gerhard Curdes – Germany
Nahoum Cohen – Israel
Gabriel Pascariu – Romania
Noch Dale – Vanuatu

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