Urban Planning

Research shows social impact of smart and sustainable urbanization

Combining the expansion of cities with smart solutions creates great social added value. That is the most important outcome of the study into the social impact of smart and sustainable urbanization, which consultancy firm Ecorys carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in The Netherlands.

The concrete question was to map out in a structured and quantified way the investments and effects for space, energy and mobility combined in the 44 largest municipalities in The Netherlands, with a time horizon to 2050.

Smart integration most lucrative

The researchers have investigated various options, compared to the so-called zero alternative. This  outlines future development without a new policy or project. It is about urbanization according to the traditional model, by expanding on the outskirts of the city.

In addition, two project alternatives were investigated. Incorporation in the traditional way – conventional neighborhoods within the boundaries of the existing built-up area – and, thirdly, the ‘smart’ infill: a combination of compacted low-rise and high-rise buildings within the existing building boundary with maximum use of innovative techniques and services. Smart city concepts in which digitization and data are used for the benefit of the city and society are central to the third variant.

Incorporation within boundaries more beneficial

From a social point of view, the incorporation of additional housing within the boundaries of the existing buildings is more beneficial than development outside the city. On balance, it is estimated that ‘traditional expansion’ will generate a social added value of approximately 1.2 billion euros over the entire period up to 2050. Incorporation in the existing built-up area can amount to almost 4 billion euros. This is offset by investments of 2.7 billion euros, which yields a slightly higher added value compared to expanding.

The researchers then looked at the added value of ‘smart’ incorporation. This is significantly more expensive than to the other two scenarios. Although the investments amount to almost 4 billion euros, this is offset by more than 8 billion euros in benefits.

Integrated approach necessary

‘In order to actually realize that great social added value as calculated in the research, an integrated approach is indispensable,’ say the researchers. “Only when major investments are made in three domains – energy, space and mobility – to optimization of the possibilities and an overall substantial social added value will be realized.”

The report emphasizes the importance of looking at the whole picture. The substantial benefits in the energy domain, for example, cannot be realized without investments in the spatial domain – think, for example, of the compact construction of energy-efficient homes. At the same time, relatively large investments in the mobility domain, such as mobility hubs, are recouped in the spatial domain. After all, by limiting space for cars, parking spaces become available and there is room for extra greenery in the city and, for example, children’s play areas.

Space, mobility and energy

Successful and sustainable cities are thus created through coherent investments in the domains of space, mobility and energy. What will such a city look like in the future? Dirks: “First of all, the use of public space will change”, the researchers say. “Maximum densification results in space gain. By cleverly designing areas and combining functions, attractive inner cities are created with space for greenery.”

In that context, the report refers to the fifteen-minute city as: “An area with several inner-city neighborhoods where homes, shops, entertainment venues, sports centers and facilities are within a radius of about 15 minutes walking/cycling distance of each other. In addition, mobility hubs make it easy to use a shared car, bicycle or scooter, thus reducing the number of stationary cars, so that even more physical space is gained.”

Read an in-depth article (in Dutch).
The Ecorys report (also in Dutch) can be found on Rijksoverheid.nl.

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