Rethinking Sustainable Cities

Interchange, a thought leadership initiative facilitated by London Transport Museum, has just published their latest report, “Rethinking Sustainable Cities: This is all in the air”.   The need to make changes is highlighted at the outset.  The world is becoming increasingly urbanised; cities are one of the biggest detractors from environmental health; and focussing on cities worldwide can impact 70% of all carbon dioxide emissions.  However, the report is concerned not only with environmental factors but sustainability in a broader sense.

The report benefits from the perspective given by a year of periodic lock downs. The segregated nature of our city centres was highlighted, large areas were deserted for weeks and months.  Green spaces were found to be lacking.  Social divides widened.  The report surmises that we are in a period of opportunity “we have never been better placed to make change”.  The next three years are identified as a pivotal period within which to recover and rebuild.

Three important aspects of building sustainable cities are considered in the report: technology; infrastructure; and the built environment. The aim is to create cities that are long term socially inclusive, environmentally friendly and with economically sustainable urban design.

The report calls for the creation of a unified blueprint for building successful, inclusive and sustainable cities.  The blueprint requires redefining value away from short term economic gain and towards prioritising wellbeing and inclusion, making behavioural change at an individual level through education and empowerment and overhauling institutional governance to open up new ways of working.

Ideas within the report include a flexible energy model, aiming to flatten the peaks of energy demand (therefore reducing use of fossil fuel to cater for the increasing times of maximum demand) and generating individual wealth through the sale of surplus energy back to the grid.  Infrastructure needs to be considered from various angles.  The value of green infrastructure is increasingly recognised, however hurdles remain.  Thinking around park provision needs to recognise benefits of wilder parkland, and overcome concerns about maintenance.  More joined up thinking on infrastructure projects will provide opportunities for integrated, better green infrastructure funding and delivery.  Repurposing the bult environment rather than simply building anew where possible can create a more socially valuable space.  New development must achieve high levels of sustainability.  Opportunities to balance land use within cities should be taken to avoid areas being underutilised for much of the time.  The existing housing stock needs improvement to combat the major issue pollution caused by home heating, in turn creating jobs.

Much of the content of the report is not new, but it pulls together various initiatives and reinforces the need to consider sustainability broadly, in terms of economic, green and social sustainability.  The report adds weight to the need for an holistic approach as government looks to infrastructure projects to stimulate growth following the devastating impacts of Covid and in furtherance of its levelling up agenda.  The full report can be read here

Posted on 1 April, 2021 by Ortolan

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