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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Urban environment / Urban environment

Urban environment

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Europe is a Union of cities and towns; around 75% of population of the EU have chosen urban areas as their place to live. But impacts of urbanisation extend, beyond city borders. Europeans have adopted urban lifestyles and they use city amenities such as cultural, educational or health services. While cities are the motors of Europe’s economy and creators of European wealth, they depend heavily on resources of outside regions to meet their demand for resources like energy, water, food, and to accommodate waste and emissions.

Urbanisation in Europe is an ongoing phenomenon, both in terms of urban land expansion and increasing population share. While urban growth takes many forms across Europe, the line between the urban and the rural is blurring. Nowadays, peri-urban space is increasing much faster than are traditional core cities. The Peri-urban Land Use Relationships project (PLUREL) was established to develop new strategies and planning and forecasting tools that are essential for developing sustainable rural-urban land use relationships.

Environmental challenges and urbanisation opportunities are closely connected. Many cities struggle to cope with social, economic and environmental problems resulting from pressures such as overcrowding or decline, social inequity, pollution and traffic. On the other hand, the proximity of people, businesses and services provides opportunities to build a more resource-efficient Europe. Already, population density in cities means shorter journeys to work and services, and more walking, cycling or public transport use, while apartments in multi-family houses or blocks require less heating and less ground space per person. As a result, urban dwellers on average consume less energy and land per capita than do rural residents.

Finding the balance between density and compactness on one hand and quality of life in a healthy urban environment on the other is the major challenge for Europe’s urban areas.

EU policies

Cities matter for Europe as a whole. European policy must enable cities and towns to manage their areas sustainably. Sustainable cities will form a cornerstone for achieving resource efficiency in Europe - an important goal of the Europe 2020 strategy.  

Policy integration between the European and the local level, and new forms of governance, are key to making the most of urbanisation. European Commission initiatives like the European Green Capital Award or the Covenant of Mayors, in which cities voluntarily cooperate with the EU, mark this new direction in policy. They implement the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment and complement EU policies targeting cities directly, like the directives on air quality, environmental noise and urban waste water, or indirectly, like the Floods Directive

These policies form the so-called ‘Urban Agenda’ of Europe, which also comprises EU urban policies in other areas, like the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European cities, the urban dimension in Cohesion Policy or the Action Plan on Urban Mobility.

EEA activities

The EEA regularly assesses the urban environment in Europe - the trends in land take, consumption and environmental quality - like the Urban Environment thematic assessment of the State of the Environment Report 2010. The EEA aim is to place the urban environment in the broader context of providing Quality of life in Europe’s cities and towns, which links to the socio-economic and cultural dimension.

The EEA produces or holds Europe-wide urban data sets such as Urban Atlas, AirBase and Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe (NOISE). These are listed together with urban data sets from other European organisations at the Integrated Urban Monitoring in Europe (IUME) web-platform, where the EEA cooperates with other European stakeholders to improve the urban data basis.

Outlook

In its assessments, the EEA currently moves from an assessment of single urban components like urban land use or air quality towards a more comprehensive concept – the urban metabolism. This concept allows for the description of functionalities of urban areas and an assessment of the environmental impacts of urban patterns and ongoing urbanisation processes. Such assessments are crucial for policy-makers aiming to make substantial use of urban areas’ resource efficiency potential for Europe.

 

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Phone: +45 3336 7100