For the last five years, a truly green neighbourhood called Dorpheide IV has been flourishing in the municipality Diepenbeek in Limburg province. The neighbourhood aims to be climate neutral by 2020. In 2007, Diepenbeek started selling properties in an allotment of 65 houses owned by the municipality. Buyers could pick up a house at 80% of the market price but under strict sustainability conditions.
The terms principally impose energy efficiency below the Flemish government requirements. Since 2009, new houses in Dorpheide IV have had to have an E-level of 60, while the Flemish government demands an E-70 limit on new houses, which came into force this year.
The E-level is calculated according to the Energy Performance and Interior Climate index (EPB), which measures the effects of factors such as insulation, ventilation, renewable energy and the efficiency of central heating. The lower the E-level, the more efficient the building.
“But the limit will go down to E-60 for the whole of Flanders in 2014, which shows the Flemish government is taking action,” says Griet Verbeeck, professor and coordinator of the research on sustainable architecture at the Provincial University College Limburg. “By 2021, all new building construction will have to meet a nearly zero energy standard.”
Verbeeck presented the Master’s thesis of architecture students Britt Simons and Evelien Kumpen, who analysed the developments at Diepenbeek, at i-SUP. The city also arranged an eco-friendly water management system at Dorpheide IV, with open ditches and a central water basin to use the rainwater efficiently. The inhabitants received building plan advice and other sustainability tips during information campaigns.
Diepenbeek, which is located just a few kilometres south of Hasselt, is now reserving another allotment for passive houses. “It is unique that these initiatives take place in the countryside,” says Verbeeck, “and this municipality has for Dorpheide IV favoured families from the Diepenbeek area”. The city also prioritised lower-income families “to sensitise people who are less familiar with sustainability instead of attracting those who are already eco-conscious.”
Ghent, meanwhile, has formed a “climate alliance” between its companies, organisations and residents. “The city signed the European covenant of mayors to reduce our CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 and has the ambition to be climate neutral by 2050,” says Indra Van Sande of the Environment Service Ghent. “But a mayor and aldermen can’t achieve these goals alone; we have to inspire everyone in the city.”
The city organised debates with 15 “frontrunners” from different sectors under the banner Transition Arena. That led to specific climate working groups. More than 20 cultural organisations, for instance, are brainstorming and implementing changes as part of the project Green Track to improve sustainability in their sector.
In March, meanwhile, Ghent University kicked off its project to develop a sustainability plan, Transition UGent, with a debate between about 80 eco-conscious university employees, creative thinkers, experts and policymakers. The city is also trying to integrate heavy industry and other companies into the sustainability philosophy. “Steel producer ArcelorMittal is already an energy-efficient frontrunner in the industry sector, for example, by converting blast furnace gas into electricity” explains Van Sande. “We are showing this and other good examples to all businesses.”
To map the energy efficiency of houses in Ghent, an airplane with a thermal infrared camera photographed roofs to see where heat is being lost. The city is also investing in the energy efficiency of street lighting and public buildings and has created systems that measure sustainable city development, used for, among others, the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station development project.
The ultimate aim is also to make Ghent a nicer place to live, notes Van Sande. “Fewer cars and more green areas will make the city safer, healthier and more comfortable for all Gentenaars,” she says. As a pilot project, the city will start a participation process in the district Sint-Amandsberg, where the population will be intensively involved in debates and other activities to discuss the best possible sustainable measures and build support for their implementation.
By 2022, the city will even replace trams and buses with horse and carts to make the transport system in the whole of Ghent as eco-friendly as possible. Or not? “That was a joke on the website referring to the many myths surrounding sustainability,” smiles Van Sande, “but we are certainly open to all such creative ideas.”