Water and Sewage
Green Blue
Buildings & land use
Introduction Important issues Indicators + benchmarks Cross sector links References


The physical environment of European citizen's life...

Around 80% of the European Union´s population lives in cities and towns. Urban areas are therefore the places where environmental problems most affect the quality of life of Europe´s citizens. Urban areas also create environmental problems in their own right due to the high density of activities that take place there.

The physical environment of European citizen´s life and its management is the subject covered in this section called "land use and building". The idea is to look at the built environment we live in from the management of land use, urban planning, and development of neighbourhoods to the operation of a single building. This approach is coherent with a challenge that needs a sustainable and integrated approach to work in harmony with natural system.

"… people are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature…" (Rio declaration)

A particular focus on the decision-making process

Sustainable land use, urban planning and building have to invest the decision-making process a strategic point. In fact, in these matters long-term objectives are always on debate, even if not directly. The traditional approach has to be changed to a more integrated one that efficiently involve all the stakeholders and overcome boundaries of technical and experts´ fields of experiences. An adapted integrated approach is needed to prevent conflicts, to optimize the process and enable mediation at early stages.

Involvement of population, efficiency of the decision, assessment of future impacts, communication and information are some of the key-points to be well thought-out.
One of the major document to mention here is probably the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the ´Environment for Europe´ process.
The subject of the Aarhus Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments.
The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness.

For more information about the Aarhus Convention:

On 11 January 2004, the Commission adopted Communication COM(2004)60 "Towards a Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment".
The Communication sets out the problems and challenges facing Europe's urban areas, focusing on 4 priority themes, selected in conjunction with stakeholders:
• urban environmental management,
• urban transport,
• sustainable construction and
• urban design.

Communication starts with the premise that the knowledge and techniques needed to bring about significant improvements in environmental performance in urban areas are already known. Whilst there are some gaps in knowledge, the focus of the Strategy should be on achieving clear changes in urban areas rather than calling for further consideration of the issues.

The Communication proposes that the objective of the Thematic Strategy should be to improve the environmental performance and quality of urban areas and to secure a healthy living environment for Europe's urban citizens.

The Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment is one of the 7 Strategies outlined in the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme. These Strategies are a new way of developing environmental policy for complex priority problems that require a broad approach and support action at local level.

For more information about "Sixth Community Environment Action Programme":
For more information about "Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment": and

European directives

In addition to these programmes a number of practical approaches, methods and tools have been standardized to analyse the impact of proposed developments.
Specifically, 2 directives could be pointed out for the land-use, urban planning and building sector. Both are designed to support the decision making process and make sure environmental aspects are regarded at preliminary stages:

• The Directive on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) concerns projects
• The Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) concerns plans and programmes

The combination of these 2 directives should enable sustainable objectives to be taken into consideration at the planning stage (SEA for plans and programs) but also if a project is developed (EIA for project).
Nevertheless, EIA and SEA include only project of a certain scale of which most buildings are not included. So the regulation will have limited influence on buildings.

For more information about "The EIA and SEA directives":