Living Cities: Decarbonizing buildings — Amsterdam says ‘nee’ to lads — One year of Living Cities

Living Cities: Decarbonizing buildings — Amsterdam says ‘nee’ to lads — One year of Living Cities
Опубликовано: Thursday, 30 March 2023 13:07

A conversation on what makes a livable city.



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Happy Thursday, city-lovers, and welcome back to Living Cities.

A year ago today this newsletter first appeared in your mailbox, bringing you the latest news on cities across Europe and our debut focused on the hype surrounding the 15-minute city concept.

One trip around the sun later, we’re still hard at work sharing the best stories on the bloc’s urban landscapes and — somehow — still talking about 15-minute cities.

Before we get into this week’s edition, we wanted to extend a heartfelt thank you for joining us on this deep-dive into our relationship with cities: Having you along for the ride has made this journey all the more interesting.

DON’T FORGET TO TUNE IN: This afternoon at 4 p.m. CEST, Gio and I will host a Twitter Space event where we’ll answer your questions on anything and everything related to Europe’s cities. Submit your queries here!

And see you April 13: We’ll take a short break next week for Easter. The next newsletter will land in your inboxes on April 13.



Cities need to double down on greening building stock, responsible for 36 percent of the EU’s CO2 emissions | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

GREEN BUILDINGS ARE HEALTHY BUILDINGS: Europe needs to decarbonize its building stock fast if it wants to hit its climate targets and avoid the kind of catastrophic scenarios that will have a serious impact on people’s health. In cities, that means doubling down on greening building stock, currently responsible for 36 percent of the EU’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. The bloc has passed ambitious legislation to slash buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by the end of the decade and ensure buildings are fully decarbonized by 2050, but despite the new targets, cities aren’t making progress at the pace that’s needed.

Read my story on how a lack of access to cash, technical know-how and public support is slowing cities down.


NO LADS ALLOWED: Employing the subtlety we all associate with the Dutch, Amsterdam this week launched a blunt new ad campaign asking British tourists to stay away. The city is fed up with rowdy Britons who hop on cheap flights and proceed to get drunk, take drugs and wreak havoc in the red-light district. A wild night in Amsterdam will earn them a €140 fine and land them in jail, the campaign warns. Brexit means Brexit, lads; go get messy in Maidenhead.

BERLIN CLIMATE REFERENDUM: A referendum to force Berlin to become climate neutral by 2030, rather than by its current goal of 2045, failed on Sunday. While the majority of votes backed the proposal, the required quorum of at least 25 percent of eligible voters was not met. Had the referendum passed it would have put the German capital in a tight spot: Currently, 80 percent of the city’s energy comes from fossil fuels.

THAT EXPLAINS IT: Some 16 percent of Brussels region drivers admit to watching videos on their mobile phones while driving; the same number of drivers said they also regularly took photos of or filmed themselves at the wheel. The data was compiled as part of a national study on road insecurity; 6,000 Belgian drivers participated.


Mayor Dario Nardella invited Florida’s sacked educator to visit Florence where she would receive an official commendation for defending culture | Laura Lezza/Getty Images

SUPER DARIO: Following the firing of a Florida school principal for allowing students to view images of Michelangelo’s “David,” Florence Mayor Dario Nardella this week invited the sacked educator to visit his city and said he would bestow her with an official commendation for her defense of culture. It’s the second PR coup for Nardella, who last week made headlines for confronting a climate protester who had the gall to spray paint on the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s medieval town hall. Bravo, Dario.

ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING? Ever wondered if community health concerns were taken into consideration when a council plans a new highway, builds a new housing development, or cuts down trees? Well, Lithuania’s health ministry has just signed an order making it easier for people to access information on how their comments were considered, or not, in urban planning. A victory for transparency.

ALL ABOARD THE SUPERLOOP: London Mayor Sadiq Khan this week unveiled a new “superloop” network of express buses to better link existing services and to service towns in the Greater London boundary. The goal is to have the speedy public transport connections in place before the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone this summer; the new circulation rules are expected to make private car use in the city even more inconvenient.

QUESTIONABLE SPENDING: The European Commission is crying foul over Italy’s plans to use EU recovery cash, aimed at boosting the bloc’s economies after COVID, for local projects. Among the most controversial are a multimillion-euro upgrade of Fiorentina’s 1930s football stadium and the construction of an entirely new stadium near Venice. Rome claims the projects are in line with the recovery fund’s aim to “regenerate, revitalize and enhance large degraded urban areas,” but the Commission is skeptical — Venice’s stadium would be built on a greenfield site, while Fiorentina’s stadium is in one of Florence’s wealthiest areas.

Our Brussels Playbook colleagues report that Rome and Brussels have extended the assessment until the end of April. The Italian government promises to “provide further evidence to support the eligibility” of the proposed projects.


The Portuguese city of Alcochete used €12,000 of recovery cash to finance bullfights | Creative Commons

Sounds like a lot of bull: Eyebrows were also raised in Portugal, where the city of Alcochete used €12,000 of recovery cash to finance bullfights. The municipality claims the expenditure is justified as spending that “promotes active and healthy aging.”

NO ICE FOR US, DANKE: EU countries endorsed the plan to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 this week. Although the German government was reluctant to back the plan, at the ground level German mayors came out in force to support it. The decision was also cheered by Eurocities, which stressed that over 74 percent of urban residents are exposed to harmful levels of air pollutants and that road traffic is one of the main sources of that pollution.

BUILDINGS BENCHMARK: In its latest ranking of the world’s 50 most influential buildings companies on their low-carbon transition, the World Benchmarking Alliance finds that there is a “systemic lack of commitment and action regarding the fundamentals of responsible business conduct in the buildings sector.” Check it out here.

DARK STORES ARE WAREHOUSES: France’s Council of State this week upheld Paris’ decision to declare so-called dark stores to be warehouses and banish these establishments to industrial areas. For a refresher on the controversy, read our story from last fall here.


YEAR ONE: I usually use this section to spotlight a trend or give voice to someone who is shaping Europe’s cities. But to celebrate our birthday this week, I’d like to pull back the curtain and let the other folks who make Living Cities happen discuss their favorite stories from the past year.

Giovanna Coi, POLITICO’s brilliant data journalist and my co-pilot on this project, picked our report on Vienna’s social housing model. “This is the quintessential Living Cities story,” she said. “It examines a problem many of us are sadly too familiar with — the housing crisis — and the solutions adopted by a city who’s been getting it right all along.”


In Vienna, living in social housing is an indicator of high-quality urban life | Marylise Vigneau for POLITICO

For Giulia Poloni, the wonderful producer who ensures this newsletter looks great and goes out on time, that stand-out feature was Gio’s piece on how the Swedish city of Umeå was redesigned to address the needs of its female residents. “This story showcases the kind of reporting that we need more of, the one that sheds light on issues (and solutions) that normally go overlooked by mainstream coverage,” Giulia told me. “Who would have thought that gender equality was not only the right choice, but also the smart choice for cities? Gio did.”

Kelsey Hayes, our intrepid London-based editor, chose our piece on how the Spanish city of Pamplona used infrastructure and e-bikes to help cyclists conquer its hilly landscape as her favorite, with our story on how cities were tackling a climate-related pest boom as a runner-up. “Pigeons … on birth control,” she said. “Sold.”

And Esther King, the generous editor who turns our rough copy into smooth reads and shows immense patience in putting up with my antics, picked the final piece from our sustainability chapter: a dire piece on how climate change spells doom for many of the European cities we know and love. “This piece offered up a sobering look at the threats facing cities as climate change starts to bite, from flooding to higher temperatures and food shortages, and how sluggishly cities are preparing for what’s coming,” Esther said. “It’s full of data and damning quotes that’ll make your hair stand on end — at least, it did for me.”




Now that you’ve heard from the people who make Living Cities, we’re keen to hear from you: Which were the stories you most enjoyed this year? And what topics would you like us to look at moving forward? Let me know.


— The New Yorker has a fun deep-dive on participatory budgets in this week’s edition, echoing a lot of the findings we discussed in our own look at the topic last year.

— It’s not your imagination: A new study in Cities confirms that the brief, pandemic-related collapse of the short-term rental market led to the rise of platforms designed to keep housing out of the long-term residential market, making rental prices less affordable and access to housing all the more difficult.


The Belgian capital doesn’t have many female taxi drivers on its streets | iStock

— I really enjoyed Bruzz‘s profile of Véronique Shdanoff, one of the few female taxi drivers in Brussels. “I do notice that many women are happy when they see me come to pick them up,” she says. “Maybe it’s because I drive a little more slowly than some of my male colleagues.”

MANY THANKS TO: Zia Weise, Peter O’Brien, Pieter Haeck, Nicolas Camut, my editors Esther King, Kelsey Hayes and Stephan Faris and producer Giulia Poloni.

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POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab is a collaborative journalism project seeking solutions to challenges faced by modern societies in an age of rapid change. Over the coming months we will host a conversation on how to make cities more livable and sustainable.