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Editorial Vol 35 NO 2

By : Evert Hasselaar

What can a special issue on sustainable and healthy housing contribute to the widespread ongoing debate? Well, there is a need for good examples, for successful strategies and for "stepping stones", meaning that better practices are based on acquired experience. Also, the young generation has to be prepared for state-of-the art sustainable principles and products and not to treat them as innovations. The topic of Sustainable and Healthy Housing was boosted by pollution issues in the 1960's and the two energy crises in the 1970's. The generation that became aware of environmental effects has retired now. Since 1987 the Brundtland report formed the guideline in global climate meetings, for instance the summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and in Kyoto in 1997. It took until 2005 before the Kyoto Protocol was ratified. The ambitions for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have been set and policies at the national level are being executed. The generation that received its advanced education then is in power now. Sustainability is on the agenda, but is not mainstream. The second generation recognised the early adopters as innovators and demonstrators, they were confronted with the call to get involved, but this involvement has had minor effect on global sustainable performance quality. This situation creates pessimists and optimists. The pessimists blame the economic crises for the drawback in sustainable policies. The optimists see a worldwide awareness and popular support and take the crises as a challenge to change priorities. In the Special Issue we follow the optimists, because the conditions for change are available: the proper knowledge, the technical solutions for better sustainable performance, the money to do it, the wide support and last but not least, the creative imagination to follow a new path toward a sustainable world. The third generation visits colleges and universities now and they can become fully prepared to adopt an integrated sustainable reality: CO2 neutral, sustaining in the social and economic meaning, with high quality urban developments. However, we are not there yet. We face many challenges. The course designer in higher education is facing the challenge to create the expert specialists on sustainable issues. Should sustainability be part of all courses, or be treated as a field for specialists? Two teachers discuss this challenge and opposing views illustrate that preparing the next generation of experts in all kinds of fields poses important dilemmas (Itard and Van den Bogaard) Climate change indicates an increase in extreme weather conditions, with regions where draught and other regions where extreme rainfall will cause problems: deserts and deltas. Large cities generate a micro climate with overheating and negative side-effects on health and comfort and. An example is provided of what an extreme warm period brings about in houses in the London city area (Mavrogianni et al.). Energy is still the keystone in sustainable performance. In buildings, the environmental load is often not determined by construction activities, but by the energy use and maintenance activities over the exploitation period of 20 years for installations, 35-50 years for fašade elements or even 100 to 200 years for the main building structure. Heating and cooling and the periodic maintenance activities are the major parameters of the environmental load over the life cycle of the building. Energy efficiency of the built environment is a major policy goal. Three articles focus on promotion of the sustainable performance and in particular of the energy performance. Strassl, who is a key figure in promoting sustainable building in the city of Salzburg in Austria, brings a first hand account of the important role that local authorities have and the type of instruments that support the high ambitions. Mlecnik is deeply involved in promoting passive houses and renovation according to the passive house standard. He evaluates 11 projects of energy efficient renovation in Belgium and discovers that demonstration projects contribute to the diffusion of innovations in the housing sector. The energy consumption or the ecological footprint is very much influenced by user behaviour. Little is known of the effects of different occupancy patterns and user behaviour typologies. This is a topic for future research. However, occupants that were involved in the design and execution of refurbishment projects have a better understanding of complex technologies that control indoor climate and save on energy consumption than unprepared users. Participation in planning creates a learning environment in which users learn how to be in control of the environment and how to adapt to circumstances that are in conflict with comfort or health. Participative design promotes user oriented solutions, for instance robust control features and environments, designed to support positive social interaction and a sense of identity. Suschek-Berger and Ornetzeder focus on the role of occupants in collective sustainable refurbishment projects and argue that participation promotes better plans. The role of occupants is also crucial in urban renewal projects. Participation is one way to empower people to take better control over the neighbourhood. A social stable neighbourhood that can adapt to changes, for instance influx of immigrants, is a sustainable neighbourhood. Physical and social sustainability are connected. Wassenberg looks at the policies and processes of 50 years of urban renew-transition periods, with changes based on shifting urban problems and on paradigm shifts. The latest shift is the withdrawal of the central government, while he comes to the conclusion that a stronger role of authorities in solving urban problems is needed. The focus is now on the social quality of neighbourhoods. The urban renewal strategy has become more interactive and integrative and more dependant on private investments. Blueprints for future ideal environments have been replaced by programs and processes. Focus on the poor part of the population shifted to community building: social sustainability is very much a social process. Low carbon cities can only be achieved in vital communities that support climate related strategies. Health is the quality of life here and now and as such the human aspect of sustainability. The relationships between the environment and health are apparent, but not specific: many indicators of health hazards, health perception and of physical and behavioural influences interact. The paradigm shift is from focus on hazards to the effect of hazards. Evidence based priorities are set, making slips, trips and fall accidents relatively more impartant and the traditional focus on the triggers of asthma and other respiratory problems less important. Ormandy, who is deeply involved in the development and use of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System in England, explains the shift from defects to the effect of defects. Health promotion through better -evidence based- performance of housing is the result of this new approach. The social performance quality is emerging as a robust indicator of integrated sustainable performance. Where occupants play an important role, for instance in cooperative housing, semi-public spaces emerge as a buffer between private and public areas, while the quality of semi public spaces has a low priority in mass-produced commercial developments. Outdoor spaces are an indicator of the sustainable quality of housing areas. Hussein et al. compare traditional with contemporary housing in Palestine and discover that the poor quality of outdoor spaces in modern housing conflicts with social sustainability, but also with ecological sustainability, because of higher cooling demand and related CO2 emissions. The special issue opens with an overview of topics in building energy and environmental health that are important. The impact of climate change on housing and health was explored. This article is illustrative of the emerging focus on the effects of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Housing managers face the dilemma of constantly picking low hanging fruit or of improving the performance level of retrofitting projects to the highest possible standards of energy saving or sutainable performance. The passive house strategy represents the high-end option and claims positive results in the long run. The local community has a key role in bringing together different stakeholders to reach high performance quality in urban restructuring and renovation projects. Effective instruments range from design contests to subsidies that increase in accordance with the proportion of the sustainable and health performance level. In England, instruments for assessing and improving housing health and safety are in operation, with attention to the effect of defects in housing. Different strategies are followed to include the occupant in housing maintenance and renovation and to optimize the mutual benefits of social processes and technical measures. The contributions show that the scale of sustainable and healthy housing is the neighbourhood and city, which includes the social and cultural dimension of individual buildings. The time frame is the future starting today, and learning from the performance now. The popular concepts of sustainable neighbourhoods are renovation, community building, urban restructuring and climate change adaptation. All is interwoven and the professionals in the field are learning to deal with open ends. The professional world takes an interest in example projects, while the involved stakeholders consider each individual project as a demonstration. Well, sustainable and healhty housing follows patterns, a stepping stone strategy and a learning by doing approach. The perspectives are education, sustainable communities and climate change. Evert Hasselaar, OTB research Institute for the Built Environment, Delft university of technology, Delft, the Netherlands E-mail:

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