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The SUIT research project

SUIT is a European research project supported by the key action 4 "The city of tomorrow and cultural heritage" of the Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development programme...

... It is more specifically targeting the theme 4.2.3. "Foster integration of cultural heritage in the urban setting". Its acronym stands for Sustainable development of Urban historical areas through an active Integration within Towns. Started in December 2000, the research project basically aimed at establishing a flexible and consistent Environmental Assessment methodology to assist with the active conservation of historical areas. The methodology has been designed to help municipalities and local authorities in assessing the suitability of new urban developments for a sustainable exploitation of urban and architectural cultural heritage. It should also help to match existing historical areas with current socio-economic requirements, through an active integration of this heritage within new development projects. Urban heritage as a key research topic The networks of buildings, monuments, streets, squares and parks uniquely define the European towns and cities that are the palpable, if unconscious, cultural horizon for those who live and work in them. Built heritage, as well as satisfying the mundane requirements of shelter and comfort, brings essential stability and richness to our lives and provides the singular, evolving expression of the achievements, values and identity of specific communities. As a consequence present conservation policies tend more and more to consider entire urban areas as significant pieces of cultural heritage. Yet the preservation and conservation of European historical urban areas raise specific questions. These areas are "living" systems, involving social dynamics, technical and building networks and the presence of people living in it. Their sound conservation suggests they must be kept within sustainable development activity cycles, otherwise historical cities will become "open-air museums". Furthermore, these peculiar areas get also their specific identity from the symbolic role they have to play in urban development as a whole. Urban development is no longer continuous and self-contained as in the past. Rather, its overall configuration is composed of limited, heterogeneous fragments among which European historical areas are supposed to bring a strong valued identity to the whole city. Municipalities and town councils are the public bodies politically responsible for the active conservation of these historical areas. Nevertheless they cannot claim to control nor decide on all the transformations that contribute to their development. They are caught between legal responsibilities enshrined in European and national legislation and responsibilities towards their constituents. Furthermore, given their acknowledged lack of financial means and political leadership, they are required to embrace an increasing diversity of participantsheritage protection bodies, private developers, global corporations, special interest groups and citizensin the decision making processes that mould future urban landscapes. The management of this emerging political situation requires the availability of open ad hoc procedures to bring social adherence to the decisions. In such a chaotic context, new kind of heritage experts (more pro-active and less reactive) can play an important role in producing more efficient argumentation, better strategic plans and more consistent analysis aimed at reinforcing the local authority capabilities to urge the involved participants taking the built heritage integration into consideration. Efficiently intervening in such a complex situation requires a high level of competence and a clear definition of new behaviours, and more appropriate roles to be played by the expert. Decision-makers generally lack the conceptual framework to do so, whether in terms of methodological experience, efficient tools to describe and simulate the outcome of complex situations or examples of best practice gained through successful as well as unsuccessful actual applications. Area-wide conservation policies An urban fragment has been defined within the SUIT project as a coherent area of the city, suitable for establishing a long-term management strategy. It may be characterised by its architectural, morphological, or sociological coherence (the area presents an internal set of features that are clearly different from those outside the area). For example, a grid of streets, an old Roman pattern of a city centre may define an urban fragment. An urban fragment may also be defined by obvious landscape limits (river, hill, place, wall, motorway, etc). It is not necessary physically continuous: a specific set of landmarks in a city, a given coherent townscape, skyline, perspective, may also be considered as an urban fragment, as their coherence and characteristics may be desirable to conserve. As such, the criteria for identifying an urban fragment should be that it must have a broadly recognised or acknowledged existence. It has been considered by the SUIT project that any appraisal of what constitutes the heritage values of such urban fragments should refer to cultural groups and cultural values. Ignoring this could lead to strong public reaction, resulting in controversy. Heritage values should be collectively identified, bearing in mind that they will change continuously. Urban fragments are indeed involving a large number of different stakeholders, with different and evolving attitudes towards the different values associated with each of its varied elements. Obviously then the conservation of the numerous heritage values of an urban fragment requires an approach from Competent Authorities which is more pro-active and more clearly focussed towards its inhabitants. Accordingly the public authorities role, for ensuring active conservation of an urban fragments heritage values, increasingly consists of four actions. Firstly, it requires stimulating private investment and action through public strategic and operational actions. Secondly, it also needs improving quality of life through strategic and operational actions (directly affecting social, ecological, cultural and economic concerns within the urban fragment). Thirdly, these actions will include steering and co-ordinating, as well as ensuring the sustainable design of the various actions and, finally, a fourth action involves steering the cumulative effects produced by the various actions on the urban fragment, in order to adapt future actions (adaptive environmental management). The European EIA/SEA Directives The European EIA/SEA Directives establish a useful framework for Competent Authorities to fulfil this role, by providing good opportunities for them to react in an appropriate manner when a new plan, programme or project, which is likely to produce significant effects on the environment (including urban heritage values) is proposed. The two Directives explicitly require the consideration of cultural heritage within Environmental Assessments. In particular, Annex III(2) of Council Directive 97/11/EC states that the characteristics of a projects location which must be considered when deciding if an EIA is necessary should include: (e) areas classified or protected under Member States legislation; (g) densely populated areas;(h) landscapes of historical, cultural or archaeological significance. Similarly, among the characteristics of the effects and of the area likely to be affected mentioned in Annex II(2) of Directive 2001/42/EC, and which have to be considered in deciding whether a SEA is necessary, are included: the value and vulnerability of the area likely to be affected due to: (,) special natural characteristics or cultural heritage; exceeded environmental quality standards or limits values; and the effects on areas or landscapes which have a recognised national, Community or international protection status. Annex II (1) among the characteristics of plans and programmes also includes: the degree to which the plan or programme sets a framework for projects and other activities, either with regard to the location, nature, size and operating conditions or by allocating resources. The use of EIA and SEA procedures to manage sensitive decision-making processes in relation to cultural heritage values is important as they impose a framework, likely to help in establishing a constructive debate or dialogue between all the concerned actors. Furthermore the SEA Directive explicitly requires to monitor the significant environmental effects of the implementation of plans and programmes in order, inter alia, to identify at an early stage unforeseen adverse effects, and to be able to undertake appropriate remedial action. This requirement promotes an adaptive environmental management. This would allow plans and programmes evolving throughout time, avoiding their rapid obsolescence, and optimising their effectiveness. Main results of the SUIT project The SUIT project proposes to assist Competent Authorities with the sustainable design of future actions by means of guidelines entitled Guidance for the Environmental Assessment of the impacts of certain plans, programmes or projects upon the heritage value of historical areas, in order to contribute to their long-term sustainability. To develop its guidelines, the SUIT consortium analysed about 10 case studies in order to highlight procedural practices, key moments of the decision-making procedures, place of the EIA/SEA within the decision-making procedure, etc. The SUIT project also developed or gathered tools/methods likely to allow a genuine public participation within the EA procedures involving urban heritage values. These methods include field survey methodologies, visualisation techniques, morphological analyses, Life Cycle Analyses and focus groups. All these methods have been tested and adapted to the context of the conservation of urban fragments. They are integrated into a coherent methodology following the different steps of the Environmental Assessment procedure. The SUIT guidelines, recommendations and tools are addressed to developers, environmental consultants and third parties most particularly members of the wider public and special interest groups for whom the formal process and legal procedures may otherwise seem daunting and confusing. All results are accessible from the SUIT website: Albert Dupagne, Christine Ruelle, Jacques Teller,LEMA (Laboratory of architectural and urban methodology), University of Liège, Belgium ; e-mail:; e-mail: ; e-mail: