SymbioCity promotes a holistic and inclusive approach to sustainable urban development in all its dimensions: environmental, sociocultural, economic and spatial. It seeks to improve living standards, safety, comfort and quality of life for all by including stakeholders and citizens in the urban development process. The conceptual model lays the theoretical foundation for all SymbioCity projects while the six-step working process with associated entry points and tools forms the practical methodology.
The model centres on people as its point of departure, with special emphasis on gender equality and pro-poor perspectives.
We look into the environmental, economic and sociocultural dimensions of urban sustainability that a city needs to ensure health, safety, comfort and quality of life for all inhabitants.
We seek synergies between the urban systems and structures that we use in our everyday life, such as water, energy, waste, transport and traffic, buildings and architecture, information technology, landscaping and social spaces.
An effective and transparent institutional framework is essential for making processes and results sustainable. Institutional factors include management, distribution of responsibilities, and internal and external linkages, but also legislation, financing, urban governance and political leadership.
The spatial dimension combines various locational aspects of urban sustainability in order to understand the relationships between different functions. It concerns the urban and regional built and natural environment, the distribution and location of urban functions and the provision of services in urban systems.
Our six-stage working process can be adapted to prevailing local conditions and applied at different levels – the region, the city, the city district, the neighbourhood or a single block. For example, the process can be used to review city plans, to provide strategic orientations for sustainability, to implement existing plans or to identify necessary institutional, organisational and managerial changes.
Good planning and organisation is crucial to the success of any project. An organisational plan should define activities, their interrelationships and all relevant stakeholders. People must form an integral part of the organisational plan, with special attention to gender-sensitive and pro-poor perspectives.
Local conditions should be mapped to identify needs, problems, challenges and opportunities. The situation of the most disadvantaged groups should be in focus. Positive features are also important as assets to be further nourished. The cause of problems should be identified as a basis for developing effective and integrated solutions.
The aim is to articulate ambitions for the city’s future without pre-judging specific proposals and solutions. Targets and indicators are drawn up to formulate measurable objectives. Objectives should be based on the preliminary diagnosis and can be qualitative or quantitative.
Alternatives are now identified, since urban challenges are complex and often have multiple solutions. For any solution or investment to be relevant in both the short and the long term, it is essential that alternatives are flexible and focused on synergies between different urban systems. Solutions should prevent environmental problems, or at least mitigate them.
The economic, social, environmental and spatial impacts of alternative proposals should be evaluated as a basis for informed decision-making. Impact analysis is an important step in developing integrated and innovative proposals, and also a core aspect of sustainability reviews. Best practice requires special attention to the conditions of the urban poor.
The final proposal may highlight one preferred alternative or combine several options. Synergies between different systems are vital for optimising the effects of the planning process and on the quality of the built environment.
Each step in the process is facilitated using various tools. Some of these can be used in more than one step. The main entry point of the process will be defined in accordance with local priorities and circumstances as well as ongoing planning cycles. The various tools used in SymbioCity projects are categorised as follows:
In our projects we engage with both political and executive levels to improve internal dialogue and knowledge transfer. This safeguards broad local ownership and sustainability, which in turn builds a foundation for institutional change.
We also form horizontal and multi-sectoral working groups that involve a diverse range of stakeholders in the planning process so as to enable a holistic development perspective. Our aim is to help our partners see urban development in a new light where challenges can be opportunities and negative trends can be turning points.
A multi-disciplinary Working Group was established and assigned to the project by the Mayor. Members, both women and men, represented different departments from the city administration such as urban planning, health, environment, economic development, social inclusion, and legal matters. The group developed a work plan and carried out a stakeholder analysis, identifying key stakeholders to include in the process. They also elaborated a communication plan in relation to the different stakeholders.
The working group carried out an Urban Sustainability Review (USR) of Pitalito, assessing the different dimensions of sustainability: spatial, environmental, sociocultural and economic. Through a series of workshops, both internal and with public participation, the group formed a holistic, common picture of the town’s challenges and opportunities. Based on the USR a list of urban development themes offering good potential for synergies was identified. Sustainable mobility was selected as the focus area. A vision for sustainable mobility for the city was then developed based on the public participation events.
The working group developed a set of objectives for the project, starting out from the overall aim:
To develop areas for walking and bike lanes as the main drive for innovation in the urban environment, taking advantage of the potential of the environment, public space and civic culture, converting Pitalito in an attractive and inclusive city.
The working group went on a study trip to Sweden to learn about different Swedish solutions for sustainable urban development and to find inspiration for Pitalito. Through a scenario analysis exercise the group outlined four development scenarios and compared the potential of these to fulfil set objectives. This helped the group to choose a preferred pathway towards achieving their vision. They continued to develop solutions through brainstorming exercises, broadening the perspective to look at physical, institutional and behavioural changes as well as high/low cost and short/long term solutions. To deepen understanding and develop tailor-made solutions, school children and adults were interviewed about their mobility habits and attitudes towards change in public space and mobility options.
The alternative proposals and solutions developed will have varying social, environmental and economic impacts. In order to maximise positive impacts and minimise any negative impacts, the economic, social, environmental and spatial impacts of the alternative proposals and solutions were therefore assessed. Necessary adjustments were made to improve possible outcome and result.
The work resulted in a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) with integrated solutions to be implemented in the city. The plan covers a new map for bicycle lanes, more pedestrian streets, more room for pedestrians and street vendors, increased access to public transport, more green areas and improved traffic security. It also includes the concept of tactical urbanism. A SUMP for Pitalito had been a long-standing wish but the city lacked the resources to develop one itself or to contract a consultant for this purpose. At the end of the project, with resources from the Ministry of Transport, the city was able to construct an 800-metre bicycle lane for students on their way to school.