The Importance of Integrated Rural and Urban Sustainable Development

VIP BLOG on Sustainable Development: Views from
Southeast Europe*

Marija S. Todorović

Natural catastrophe data base shows that the number of “extreme weather” events such as windstorms and floods has tripled since 1980, which characterizes them more as a result of global warming than that of natural weather events. The whole Arctic-Siberian continent is permafrost-covered and contains all pre-Ice Age carbon deposits that keep sinking into the water as a result of permafrost towing, and subsequently coming up as methane (which is estimated to be 22 times more potent than CO2 in trapping solar radition). In order to stop global climatic changes and its increasingly obvious consequences, it is urgently necessary to further develop independent, vital and elastic energy systems—ones in which both miniaturization and a distributed renewable-energy-sources-based (RES) production will play vital roles.

The existing course, implying irreversible destruction needs to be stopped immediately, while a more significant energy efficiency and RES utilization are to be reached soon, especially in the building sector. Energy efficiency of buildings is particularly important due to its high share in the overall energy use and the potential to foster large savings. Energy-related building impact must be considered in their life-cycle analysis. Whilst occupant comfort should not be neglected, a multiple domain comfort assessment remains a key requirement for indoor environment quality.

Building performance simulation (BPS)—conducted in the scope of designing, redesigning, reconstructing or refurbishing buildings—should encompass all its relevant aspects, including total building intrinsic performances and life cycle impact assessments, which all help identify the environmental impacts of building energy consumption and processes occurring during the life cycle (such as con¬struction, use, maintenance and deconstruction phases). BPS is a powerful method for predicting building’s thermal dynamics, energy efficiency and RES integrated optimization. Besides, it also effectively enables building’s environmental technologies and sustainability harmonization.

An extremely intensive migration is under way around the world, particularly in developing economies. In rural areas, people are leaving their homes and villages, and moving to dense urban centers, thus causing a series of social, political and economic problems. In order to reduce migration to cities and reach sustainable social and economic development, we first need to harmonize rural and urban development by reducing disparities in living conditions—which includes increasing accessibility to energy supply, reducing and suppressing pollution, as well as CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. Intensively and uniformly spread refurbishment of the existing buildings in both rural and urban areas—in conjunction with renovation and reconstruction at master and urban planning levels—is needed in order to reach Zero Energy, Energy+ (E+ or “net-positive”), and Zero CO2 Emission (ZCO2E) buildings.

Series of projects around the world (Hein De Haas, 2010, Westhoek H.J., M. van den Berg, and J.A. Bakkes. 2007, etc.) demonstrate that it is possible to reach ZE&ZCO2E status of buildings in rural areas, and even more so when it comes to reaching Energy Plus (E+) status. Still, this in many cases appears impossible to reach in dense urban centers. This serves as a very important argument in explaining why rural-urban harmonization remains crucial for our civilization and Earth’s sustainable future. The implementation of RES and RES-integrated deep refurbishment of existing buildings, just as designing new E+ level buildings, might just be the right approach to harmonious and integrated rural and urban development.

However, there are many unknown variables within the corresponding row of complex subsystems and related hierarchic structures at local levels. Hence, a method that would result in an adequate plan to approach sustainable local development remains to be developed. Among crucial issues in defining such a methodology are the topics and procedures pertaining to harmonizing aspiration hierarchies of local, sub-regional and regional targets. For instance, preparing a political document, which effectively demonstrated convergence between the EU and national priorities, and comparability to the goals of the Local Development Pilot Project (LDPP), had subsequently led to creating the guidelines for promotion of heritage and sustainable development of Serbia’s municipalities of Despotovac and Zagubica. Moreover, it had helped set up the methodology for a long-term sustainable development of local communities and wise management of their capacities, particularly in terms of using their RES potential to generate electricity and enhancing the ability to proceed with developing specific sustainable building components and housing design.

PhD. Marija S. Todorović
Guest Prof. Southeast University, Nanjing, China