UCD Earth Institute

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The Built Environment

In 2050, the Earth’s population is expected to hit 10 billion and 75% of those people will live in cities. This will pose unprecedented challenges to urban areas and their surrounding regions but also large-scale opportunities

Cities offer ‘living labs’ for market, public, social and cultural innovations that address concrete local and global challenges.

UCD Earth Institute engineers, architects, planners, and policy experts work together to make cities smarter and more sustainable through energy-efficient buildings and neighbourhoods, smart infrastructure and innovative and inclusive urban design. We also study how social cohesion and citizen involvement can advance change, improve the way we make decisions, address environmental issues and ultimately increase our quality of life.

We explore the linkages between cities and rural areas in terms of food security, energy demands and ecosystem services provision in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Key words: Energy Efficient and Smart Buildings, Transport, Urban Environment, Land-use, Policy and Governance, Social-ecological Interface, Rural Land-use Conflicts and Environmental Citizenship. Quality of Life and the Environment

Earth Institute academics working in this area:

Research impacts

A big idea in environmental economics is that market forces on their own fail to protect our environment, in part because there is no price that tells us that nature, high quality water and air, and the ability of the atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gasses, are scarce. As there is no price reflecting scarcity, we waste these precious endowments.

The solution to this market failure is to apply the polluter and user pays principle – we should be charged for our use, and this will encourage us to conserve, to find new and better ways of using scarce resources.

This principle has been applied by Prof. Frank Convery and his collaborators at UCD Earth Institute to a number of key resource and environmental challenges in Ireland and in Europe. Their research looks forward – exploring new ideas for the application of prices reflecting scarcity – and back (ex post) – assessing performance and scope for improvement.

In the resource efficiency area, social scientists have been assessing the impact of the plastic bags levy (90%+ reduction) as well a trying to understand the role of water pricing in managing its conservation and showing that pay by weight or pay as you throw increases recycling and reduces waste to landfill (by 30%).

Developing more resilient and sustainable city-regions requires new ways of thinking about both urban problems and also urban management policies.

In this EPA funded project, Dr Mark Scott and his colleagues at UCD Earth Institute are investigating the potential of integrating ecosystem services into the management of the built environment through the spatial planning system. This will help address challenges relating to biodiversity threats and mitigation and adaptation to anticipated climate change.

Working collaboratively with key stakeholders in the Dublin Region, including planning practitioners, heritage/biodiversity officers, engineers and local authority parks departments, the project team is investigating the potential of spatial planning policy frameworks to enhance, restore and create new ecological networks within the urban environment. A range of spatial scales will be addressed: from exploring the benefits of strategic green infrastructure corridors to the local scale such as retrofitting neighbourhoods to cope better with flood water or the potential for green urban design to enhance local biodiversity through green roofs or green walls.

The principal output from the project will be a step-by-step framework for the development of an ecosystem approach, which operationalises the Green Infrastructure concept within the planning system. To support the use of the guidelines, policy-makers and major environmental stakeholders will be involved in the process. As part of post-project dissemination, a web-based planning toolkit will be developed along with a series of CPD seminars for planning and design professionals.