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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Leonie van Beek

Sustainable urban settlements; past, present and future

Leonie van Beek

Sustainable urban settlements; past, present and future

This dissertation attempts to use some spatial metrics to develop principles for planning more sustainable settlements.
Dealing with urbanisation and its effect on climate change is a great challenge for our generation. Clustering of population and consumption in urban settlements disrupt the natural environment, both locally and globally, not least in the demand for energy. Urban settlements cause problems but also offer opportunities within the context of sustainable development.
The aim of this study is to locate and assess the urban planning principles and processes which contribute to the reduction of the environmental impact of settlements. Studying past and present approaches to implementation will be used as a way of learning lessons for the future. The literature review explores the relationship between sustainable development and urbanisation. Insights gained from studying both past and present urban planning movements give input for the development of future settlements in North-West Europe. Comparative case studies look at the (spatial) correlations between various planning principles for sustainable urban development. The subjects of the studies are three England-based masterplans, initiated from an eco-town approach. 2D contour maps and overlay maps derived from masterplan data form the basis of the assessment.
The literature review revealed that the process of planning and designing sustainable settlements is about understanding the context: considering and anticipating the settlement’s metabolism, ecological footprint and surrounding natural environment are key steps in the process towards a sustainable settlement which is responsible for its citizens and environment. The study then looked into urban planning movements; visions with a fluctuating attention to reduce the impact on the environment emerged in planning movements in the last centuries. After a period influenced by economic and functional motives the basic thoughts of Howards’ Garden City (1902) have become of major influence to visions found in recent planning movements.
Comparative case studies assess (spatial) correlations between the principles present in sustainable urban settlements: compactness (density and sustainable transport), green infrastructure, diversity, sense of place and energy. Despite the fact that the masterplans are designed with a similar vision, there is a distinct difference present between the implementation of the principles since masterplans differ in level of detail and focus. Also, the basic principles are treated differently in each masterplan depending on influences of the location specific characteristics, developer and stakeholders.
Planning future urban settlements is about complex decision-making which needs a basis of a clear vision and a holistic and integrated approach with consideration of sustainability at all relevant levels in the planning and design process.