Globally cities are seeking to become more resilient to the day-to-day challenges faced by urban communities. The TURAS project, which stands for Transitioning towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability, was established to bring this difficult task closer to a reality. ‘TURAS’ is the Gaelic for ‘journey’; and this project is a journey to provide a blueprint for building and supporting resilience in urban areas. To achieve this, the TURAS project aims to bring researchers, local authorities and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) together with local citizens and communities in order to research and demonstrate transition strategies and scenarios. It is expected that this will enable European cities and their rural interfaces to build vitally-needed resilience in the face of significant sustainability challenges. To ensure maximum impact, the TURAS project has developed an innovative twinning approach bringing together decision makers in local authorities with SMEs and scientists to ensure meaningful results and real change are implemented over the duration of the project. Over the five year duration of the project, the feasibility of these new approaches will be tested in selected case study sites of the participating cities and new measures to enable adaptive governance, collaborative decision-making, and behavioural change towards resilient and sustainable European cities will be tested. The impact of these new approaches will be measured and results compared between participating cities before a final set of strategies and tools will be developed for demonstration, dissemination and exploitation in other European cities. SMEs are involved in all work packages of the project and specific measures have been put in place to ensure the optimal economic impact of the project is achieved. The cities in the TURAS project are representative of European regions in terms of size, geographical location and sustainability challenges. This report describes the achievements and outcomes of the first 18 months of the TURAS project; 18 months of challenges and rewards. Like all research and demonstration projects, each of our work packages starts with a difficult and complex question.
How do we communicate to build resilience? This was a key issue when TURAS was being devised. WP1 builds a foundation for the TURAS project and has created a web interface for public access to data and tools that are used and developed by other work packages. These other packages, described later, focus on urban economy, energy, sprawl, green infrastructure, regeneration and urban design. A lot of communication is necessary, so the purpose of the interface is to enable visualisation and therefore an understanding of real urban issues and sustainability challenges. WP1 first seeks to facilitate communication and interaction amongst project partners (academic, local authority, SME and community) in addressing those challenges. The Internet-based data are provided and tools are being developed for implementation in the project case study areas within the TURAS cities and urban regions. This new interface is now a part of the TURAS project website, and accessible to the public. It is linked to the local authorities’ websites in those cities or urban regions. The WebGIS database and other tools have been developed in close cooperation with the other TURAS work packages, based on their local case study context and methodological approaches. In order to achieve the objectives at the start of the TURAS journey, WP1 has been divided into two stages. Stage 1 is the development of a WebGIS database with general as well as specific case study data. Stage 2 is the provision of tools to support much better community engagement with the TURAS WP1 specific research. The first part of Stage 1 was successfully undertaken in the projected timeframe, producing a report on what area data available and where. So, there is now a live WebGIS for most of the TURAS case study cities as well as an interactive ‘geowiki’, where the public and urban communities can upload their own information. In time, TURAS will seek more and more input from urban communities using this geowiki. The collection and incorporation of case study specific data into the WebGIS interface will be pursued in the next phase of Stage 1, as it relates more directly to the tasks undertaken by other work packages. At the same time, work has already started on Stage 2 which seeks to understand the requirements for the WebGIS tools needed to support the remainder to the TURAS project as well as the cities and urban regions.
What is green infrastructure and why is it important? This is an exciting area of research and design because it aims to learn from nature and integrate this into urban living. Therefore, WP2 aims to enable cities to reduce their urban ecological footprint through better implementation of public and private green infrastructure, using organic materials and/or products and green processes that are inspired by nature (called “biomimicry”). This may lead to the rehabilitation of damaged urban ecosystem services and boost urban biodiversity. This is a very complex WP and progress in the last 18 months has been excellent, with all targets either achieved or exceeded. The initial focus for the first 18 months was on the development of the urban green infrastructure model for Rome. WP2 has now started some complex experiments. The Barking Riverside brownfield landscaping and green roof experimental facilities are now established and are being monitored. In Stuttgart, a novel experiment to see how natural features can create what is know as “Urban Comfort Zones” will see a ‘green wall’ experiment being carried out. Additionally, WP2 has seen the preparation of green infrastructure guidelines for local authorities, which will ultimately be used by city planners and designers to promote better urban resilience. In addition, WP2 has established design principles for a novel green roof experiment, which received a commendation in the 2012 Integrated Habitats Design Competition. Furthermore, a unique ‘beetle bump’ has been built on the grounds of the University of East London. This was shortlisted for the prestigious Times Higher Education Award. WP2 reports that demand for green infrastructure information has been very high, and numerous other institutions, including the London Olympic Park, have offered areas for future collaboration and experimentation.
Can abandoned sites, used and unused, make cities and urban communities more resilient? WP3 has as its goal the aim of developing transition strategies and scenarios that will enable cities to improve planning. To address urban industrial regeneration challenges requires the incorporation of creative design. WP3 also is progressing in line with the TURAS programme and held a series of informative and enlightening meetings and site visits to case study locations in Dublin, London and Nottingham. There is a huge amount of information, much of it hidden away in reports and old documents, so much of the operation of the WP has been devoted to building research capacity among the partners. It has also carefully selected differing sites and urban issues, necessitating numerous visits and communications with sometimes difficult to access urban authorities. So far, the ongoing extensive and comprehensive literature review has shown an increase in awareness of the necessity of the integration of resilience into mainstream planning and design. Many similarities between cities have been discovered and there have also been some disconnects identified between policies and actions, which is a prime motivator for this work package. A high number of papers and presentations have been given in both academic and public settings, broadening the awareness of TURAS and of the aims of WP3 as well.
How can urban communities tackle the complexities of climate change? WP4 seeks to create visions, feasible strategies, spatial scenarios and guidance tools that will enable adaptive governance, collaborative decision-making, and behavioural change. The goal is to seek to contribute to improved climate change resilient city planning and climate-neutral infrastructure, throughout the TURAS project network and in a wider European context. Within WP4 various aspects of city planning and infrastructure are addressed in a number of case-study cities, notably: Rotterdam (flood risk and urban services), Ljubljana (transport and water management), London (green roofs), Seville (integrated solid waste management), and Aalborg (energy). The activities in the various cities and on the various themes will come together in an overall report setting out recommendations for strategic urban planning for European cities. A peer-reviewed publication has been published in Regional Environmental Change and the report on flood risk from regional waterways in Rotterdam has been finished. A Beta version of GIS micro-communication platform has been developed, and a new demonstration site for ‘ecosystem technologies’ has been selected in Podutik (a Ljubljana suburb). Finally, a draft framework for sustainable city planning (for final deliverable) has been developed by the WP3 partners.
What effect does urban sprawl have on the resilience of urban communities? WP5 seeks to improve understanding of urban growth and to propose regulations, recommendations and guidelines on managing urban sprawl. This would see the compact city approach being favoured leading to a reduction in transport and energy costs, whilst retaining green belt and natural areas, while limiting the negative effects of densification. To date, the complex analytical phase of WP5 has been completed. Though further research in respective areas will be carried out during the next 18 months, one of the main findings has been that the scale of urban sprawl in the Eastern European cities that were studied is lesser than that of similar cities in Western Europe. However, this trend is steadily changing with a turn towards sprawl in Eastern European cities. As a consequence of the work in WP5, TURAS research and modelling has been accepted by the planning authorities in the city of Sofia, and has resulted in new policies being discussed and formulated.
How can we help businesses to help urban communities become more resilient? This question has become a key issue in the European economy, particularly in an era of austerity and short-term planning. WP6 was designed to address this. It aims to research, develop and demonstrate the impact of different approaches to supporting short-circuit economies and increased reliance on local goods and services and to integrate these different approaches into a holistic approach to the development of short-circuit economies at local level. Research on clean-tech processes and eco-design has been carried out and a key TURAS report on this topic is now available for viewing, and related deliverable D6.7 are now both completed. In addition, WP6 has produced a database of inspiring Product-Service-Systems business models. Case studies areas and sectors were identified in Rome and another TURAS partner, BicLazio, is currently working on an incubator model to support urban agriculture businesses and creative/cultural industries. This will be tested in May 2013.
How do we combine our research in a way that makes sense to urban communities, city planners, designers and other agencies? The aim of WP7 is the preparation of an integrated transition approach combining the outcomes of the work packages 2 to 6, and the development of a methodology for guiding European cities through the creation of their own transition strategies based on TURAS outcomes. It is a daunting task. WP7 does not officially kick off until half way through the project. However, there has been some enthusiasm in the lead partner organisation, the University of Stuttgart, and a lot of conceptual planning and general discussions have taken place, especially with devoted time during all steering committee meetings as well as at the kick off meeting in Dublin. This has resulted in the identification of potential barriers to achieving an integrated transition strategy and some new and unique thinking for bridging these barriers.
How do we tell our story? WP8 is solely dedicated to dissemination and outward communication. The main activities of WP8 have been the complex development of an interactive web platform, which supports both internal collaboration between partners (WP discussions, information gathering and storage, reporting) and communication about the project to the general public in particular in the case study cities. Since the start of the TURAS project, this WP has seen the completion of interactive ‘mini-sites’ for 10 out of the 12 participating TURAS European cities (which are also linked to the web GIS from WP1 discussed earlier). These are accessible from the home page of the TURAS site which is regularly updated with partner editorials, news and event items. Future activities will concentrate on presenting project results, as they emerge, in order to spread TURAS findings and emerging ideas to the whole community.
Who keeps the show running? University College Dublin (UCD) is the lead partner in TURAS, and WP9 is responsible for the management and reporting to the European Commission. UCD invited key thinkers and activists worldwide to participate in steering TURAS along its journey. Members of his High Level Advisory Board (HLAB) have been giving TURAS external advice and, in some cases, working with individual work packages to overcome difficult areas of research. The proudest moment came in 2012 when UCD was awarded first place in the Champions of European Research Award, by Enterprise Ireland, presented by the President of Ireland.
The TURAS project is on track to achieve the expected results from individual research work packages 1 to 6. The outcome of these individual research work packages will culminate in the development, demonstration and dissemination of Integrated Transition Strategies (ITS) in a few years time, in order to enable European cities to build resilience to ongoing sustainability challenges. Already, in the first 18 months of the project, we can see that the unique twinning approach of TURAS bringing together local authorities and research partners to work together has begun to produce tangible results and excellent working relations. In WP2 for example green infrastructure guidelines have been produced for local authorities in England while in WP5 TURAS research findings have been accepted by the planning authorities in the city of Sofia, and have led to new policies being discussed and formulated to limit the negative effects of urban sprawl. The translation of TURAS research into local authority policy will have a major societal impact in these cities and countries however it is the aim of TURAS to ensure a European wide societal impact through the development and successful dissemination of an ITS approach combining all these individual research findings.
The first 18 months seemed to fly by. The TURAS team has been extremely busy and extremely thorough, and we are delighted with our progress so far. The next phase of TURAS will see even more activity as the tasks get harder and the difficulty of establishing integrated transition strategies becomes a reality. Exciting months ahead…!