WASTED SQUARE METERS IN CITIES: Improving the use of buildings in time & space



The 22 June 2023 from 12:00


Brussels, Belgium



The workshop is a side-event of the European Sustainable Energy Week taking place the same week in Brussels. It is organized in the framework of the PATH2LC project, an Horizon 2020  project.

Europe loses about 1.007 km2 of soil due to land take annually (EEA, 2017), which is approximately a loss the size of the city of Berlin. Impacts are manyfold: loss of soil functions and ecosystem services, habitats for soil biodiversity, healthy water, and nutrient cycles. Land use needs to improve. The EU soil strategy for 2030 calls on Member States to only set land take targets for 2030, with the aim of reaching land take neutrality by 2050. As proposed in the soil strategy, Member States are requested to implement measures that follow the land take hierarchy: to achieve no net land take, (1) land take needs to be avoided, (2° more land needs to be reused, (3) land take need to be minimized, and, finally, (4) land take needs to be compensated for.

At city-level, in a context of scarce urban land and the fight against climate change, many urban spaces and buildings remain paradoxically under-occupied. For many years, cities have been built with monofunctional buildings leading at the same time to planned obsolescence. If the way of conceiving the city has evolved, cities are still consuming far too many resources including land and building materials. As an example, if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world, behind China and the US.

According to the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion (ESPON), land take exceeded the population growth during the 2000 – 2018 period. “Even areas experiencing depopulation usually still show increases in artificial surfaces.” Cities need to go through a resource diet. And the use of space and buildings in cities is one of the sectors that must radically change. On average, the use rate for a school is around 20%, when an office building is used around 30% of its time across a year.

This workshop will explore alternative ways of doing the city, particularly by better occupying and sharing the built environment. Building less means first dealing with existing buildings, either because they are unoccupied, under-occupied or no longer correspond to the use for which they were designed. During this one-day workshop, participants will try to imagine cities that would stop eating their surrounding land and focusing on their renewal, densification, and repair.

This topic poses the question of how we use and share our resources (in this case, the buildings and space in cities) to meet the basic needs of all. The problem is not so much about the availability of space and buildings, but how these resources are shared among a territory.

Participants will have the chance to discuss in small groups with pioneer cities reactivating vacant buildings, densifying their territories through innovative approaches such as BIMBY (Build In My Back Yard) or facilitating temporary uses.


This event, which runs in parallel to the final conference of Path2LC, will be a combination of presentations, conversations amongst participants and a field visit. Join us in Brussels to learn more about sustainable urban planning practices, get inspired from speakers and exchange with municipalities and other organizations that are active in this field.