Challenges in achieving sustainable energy goals in historical cities of the European Union: a reflexive debate about contemporary urban development and the purpose of planning

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The purpose of this paper is to prompt a debate about opportunities and challenges of sustainable development in historic districts. Taking into account the development of urban planning thought and with a special focus on energyefficiency, we aim to evaluate how values embedded in energy efficiency policies shape the development of urban historic districts. In the paper, we stress that urban heritage sites are significant part of building stock and could contribute to sustainable development goals (EFFESUS 2011). Historical areas are also places of high value, but also vulnerability (Phelps et al. 2002; Lewis et al. 2013). We also claim that the European Union plays increasingly important role in establishing limits of available interpretations of sustainable development by defining breadth and depth of values and norms in the context of its policies.

We use reviews of selected policies of the European Union and its Member States with regard to energy efficiency in order to identify key areas of focus of policymakers and values they reproduce. The analysis leads to the arguments that (i) there is a void of policies on energy efficiency targeting at historical areas, in the context of EU; (ii) existing policies with regard to energy efficiency point to the role of public sector officials to guide progress towards sustainable development and that the process involves a range of challenges; (iii) the domination of scientific logics, while downplaying the role of lay and local knowledge, in the context of policies of the EU and its Member States.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpatial Planning & Energy Young Planners Workshop
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • planning theory, energy efficiency, sustainable development, historic cities