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#2 Urbanism and Sustainable Building

06/30/2022 |

By Birgit Baustädter

Aglaeé Degros is a professor and researcher at TU Graz. More precisely: at the Institute of Urbanism. She explains why urban development is so central to a sustainable future in an interview on Talk Science to Me.

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Talk Science to Me – der Wissenschaftspodcast der TU Graz

Welcome and thank you for listening again today to the TU Graz science podcast Talk Science to Me. My name is Birgit Baustädter and today I have the pleasure of talking to Aglaeé Degros, Head of the Institute orf Urbanism, about sustainable urban development. The interview in this episode is in English. You can find a written translation on the TU Graz website at tugraz.at/go/talksciencetome

Talk Science to Me: Thank you for being my guest today Aglaeé! First of all, could you tell us what you are currently working on?

Aglaeé Degros: Thank you for the invitation. I am currently working on making the city more sustainable of course. And not only the core city, but also the periphery of the city.

Talk Science to Me: Your institute is the Institute of Urbanism. Why is it so important for a sustainable city to think about the organization of a city?

Degros: When we think a lot about the material, about the object, architecture itself. But of course the way we organize those objects, the way we organize the buildings is very important. It makes it possible to consume less ground for example or to provoke less mobility, if you organize them in a way, which is more sustainable. It also can improve even the climate. If we create flow of wind within the city just by organizing the buildings.

Talk Science to Me: What in your opinion are the most important topics in city-organization?

Degros: They are different at the moment. But I think creating a sustainable mobility is very important. Organizing the buildings in a way that they create a climate-friendly environment. But also having a mix of function. Because it allows to develop an urbanism which is based on the proximity. Which basically means that you don’t have to commute to go to a shopping center or to commute to walk your dog, which is really strange basically. Because you have these in a proximity for where you live. It is much more sustainable.

Talk Science to Me: How did you get into the field you are currently working in?

Degros: I am basically an architect, but was always interested in the collectivity. And I discovered very soon, that urbanism was a lot about the collectivity. And that’s why it interested me. And now that we are facing these challenges from the climate change and social challenge I shift I think from a more classical urbanism to an urbanism that is more sustainable.

Talk Science to Me: Why urbanism? Why are you interested in cities?

Degros: The cities are the core business of urbanism. They are the place where you have a very high density of people living. And we have to take care of the organization in cities. It is a form, which is very sustainable. Cities are compact, they are by definition a mix of function and they also are a place where you can develop sustainable mobility.

Talk Science to Me: Is there a specific concept of a city where you think it could be the future?

Degros: Yes. There are several I think. One I really enjoy is the concept of 15-minute-cities. That means, that in a reach of 15 minutes by walk or bike you have all the amenities you need. But also some green space. That’s very compact, but that’s also a city that allows a lot of social interaction, because you have everything around you to have a social live. Then I think there is another concept that I think is promising. So called regenerative urbanism. That means that when you plan an ensemble of buildings, that you must think how it can provide a kind of positive value to the neighborhood. That means, that if you plan a new part of the district that you also plan a new green and the green can be used from the whole neighborhood. I like also this, that planning is not only adding buildings, but it can also bring something to the neighborhood.

Talk Science to Me: Why is it that important to have common spaces and all the daily amenities in an 15-minutes surrounding?

Degros: I think for different reasons. Because first as I mentioned it triggers a social life. And of course the social interactions are the fundament of a city and how people live together. But also the common space is also the project of the whole society and you can share things. And you can put resources together. And that is very important I think. If we think of sustainability, we have to make the step to the kind of mutualization. That means that you don’t have only that space for yourself, but you can share the space. And it is a way of course for saving space. Instead of everybody having his or her own garden, it is possible to think that you will have something in common. And that will be a bit consuming less space. But it is also a place where you can develop those social interaction.

Talk Science to Me: Is there any example, where it works that way today?

Degros: There are many examples, where you see an ensemble of buildings that is designed with space that you will share. There is a beautiful example in Vienna at the Nordbahnhof. And you have a bit everywhere in Europa, where the building and the open space are thought together and are also thought how to bring something to the neighborhood where they are implemented.

Talk Science to Me: You are about to start a new research project to look at the relationship between the river Mur and the inner city of Graz. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What is so important to you about this topic?

Degros: I think if we want to develop the nature in the city, the waterways are a very good way to introduce the nature and to develop it in the city. That’s why I think that such a river like the Mur is very important for the city. And to reconnect the city with the Mur will be to reconnect the city with the nature also. It is not a priority, but it should be. Because it will not only provide this proximity green that, I talk about. But it will also improve the climate of the city itself. Because as you know the water is very good to refresh the city in the summer. That’s why we see, that the river is quite disconnected because we have a lot of infrastructure around the river. And we would like to study a way that we can integrate it much better and study to use it in a way that is a kind of cooling system also within the city fabric.

Talk Science to Me: When we think about a city, we often think about the centers. But there is also the surrounding of a city, which also belongs to the city. Is there a huge difference?

Degros: Yes, there is a huge difference between the city center and the periphery. And it is something very interesting. The periphery is most of the time based on car mobility. That means that the pattern is much more spread. That the buildings are not so compact then in the core city. And they are much more based on individual properties. And of course, there is less public space or collective space. That’s why it is very interesting. We see, that in the periphery at the moment, there is a lot of pressure. We see that from a very undense pattern we go to a more dense pattern. The density is increasing. Because the periphery is based on the car. And on the very spreaded pattern. The future is very challenging. Of course, you will not only have to change the mobility system if we want to reach some sustainable goal. But we will have to also increase the density. Just we know that the quality of these neighborhoods is based on the green characters. Then I think the challenge will be to increase the density, change the mobility but also introduce kind of collective space, which could guarantee the green quality of this periurban area.

Talk Science to Me: How do you think that could work?

Degros: I think we will need a very good strategy defining what will be in the periurban, what will be the public space. Now the public space in the periurban is limited to the streets. But I think, we should reconsider that and develop some kind of network of public space. This public space must even be green. And we have to reclaim different kind of space in the periurban to form this network as I can imagine that the parking allotment from shopping mall or some green agrarian area or even productive Area can be reclaimed and form a kind of network of green public space, that could structure the periurban.

Talk Science to Me: We are now in the second or third year of the pandemic. How did the pandemic change our view on living and working?

Degros: I think the pandemic has changed our view in the sense that so far we were not so aware of our neighborhood. I think we would work during the day, come back home and we could say almost, that we were from everywhere and not from a specific place. I think with the pandemic we rediscovered we were living in a specific place and sometime we were a bit disappointed maybe by our surroundings. Because we noticed that they were lacking from other amenities. Or they were lacking from contact with the nature. I think the pandemic was an opportunity to rediscover our neighborhood basically. And it was very interesting to notice that with the mobility we had kind of a rebound effect, that people were not going to work. Which was the case because you had to work at home. But they were taking the car and going to the baker to buy the bread by car. And I think it was a high hope to think to show you, that your neighborhood needs more amenities and more green and that if our future will be more at home it is very important, that those residential area improve in quality.

Talk Science to Me: Do you think that our future will be more at home?

Degros: Yes, I think our future will be more at home. We dissociate a lot since the 50s the function of living and the function of working. And we had to commute between them. And we see, that with the pandemic we discover, that working remote and digitally basically there was no reason anymore to disconnect it. We did it because it was of course the production or we had to locate our office all together. But now we discover, that we can work remote. And it will have a lot of consequence. It will make a lot of mobility quite different in the sense, that we will travel less for the daily commuting home and work.

Talk Science to Me: If these things change, is there even a reason for cities anymore?

Degros: Yes, I think that there is the reason, that even if we work at home we still want to meet people. We still want to have amenities. We still want to do things together. And that’s why the cities are really important. They should really be this mix of things that we have forgot a bit, because we were in this planning that is a lot dedicated to zoning to segregate the function one to another.

Talk Science to Me: How do you live yourself?

Degros: I am living 10 minute by walk from where I work. And I am living in an apartment with a collective green. With my family. We enjoy the corner shop and we go a lot by bike. But what I think is more important than where I live is that this quality of live can be reached by everybody. And that it is not only few people that could enjoy such proximity city. But that it is a very large amount of people.

Talk Science to Me: Thank you for being my guest today and answering all my questions!

Thank you very much for being with us again today! We'll be in touch.