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IMPORTANT: Please note this blog has now been upgraded and moved to a new location here.

There at SustMeme.com you will still find the full archive, plus all usual features, as well as a few extra elements and pages. From now on, all new posts and updates will be made at the new address – please take a look and kindly Follow/Subscribe if you like what you see.

Thanks for reading, hope to continue to connect and share.

Thanks & Regards,

Jim

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Cultural Tourism: Prodigy, or problem child?

A version of this article – which explores the sustainability of Cultural Tourism, its benefits and risks for Business, the Arts, Society and the Environment – first appeared in Artworks Journal, 3 December, 2013.

HI-LIGHTS by Martin Warden, LUMIERE 2011, produced by Artichoke in Durham. Photo Matthew Andrews.

HI-LIGHTS, Martin Warden, LUMIERE 2011 Durham, produced by Artichoke. Photo: Matthew Andrews.

Tourists are money, as the Sex Pistols once said. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), just over one billion international tourists, together with almost six billion domestic, pay the wages of one in every 11 workers worldwide and pick up the tab for US$1.3 trillion in global exports. The numbers are not just big, but getting bigger: From a starting point of a mere 25 million international tourists enjoying post-War travel back in 1950, the forecast for 2030 is 1.8 billion, some 72 times that original figure.

Culture and the Arts are both drivers and beneficiaries of this wanderlust boom. Visual, performing and culinary arts are key players in the sustainable development of cultural tourism and, as tourists, culture vultures come in many forms – ranging from opera-lovers and theatregoers, to gastronomes, history buffs, ‘ethno-freaks’ and ‘archi-trekkers’. The one thing they have in common is the potential to impact the local economy, environment and community, for good or ill.

Show me the value

The challenge with cultural tourism is not just to ‘show me the money’, but the value; plus, to do so sustainably. Associated benefits can and should be calculated, not just for the tourism industry itself, but for the wider economy and community in general; in terms of placemaking, productivity, diversity, liveability, happiness, and wellbeing. Potential impacts should also be estimated, as regards environmental footprint and degradation, social disruption and commodification, divisiveness and even exploitation.

In economic terms, whilst sustainability asks us to look beyond value measured in financial capital alone and factor in figures and formulae for natural, human and infrastructural capital, why stop there? What if we were able to ‘do the math’ for artistic, architectural, historic, social, culinary, gastronomic, religious and spiritual capital, equating them together into a complex sum for cultural capital?

If tourism is measured in trillions of dollars and billions of footfalls, it is not enough for champions of culture simply to count the number of booksellers in Hay-on-Wye, oompah bands in Munich, mascareri in Venice and Michelin Stars in Copenhagen. To say the economics of culture is all about pre-theatre dinner deals, is tantamount to telling the story of tourism in terms of pillow mints sold. Culture and the Arts need to tool up with bigger, broader, better metrics if they want to be taken seriously as an economic investment vehicle.

The Creative Economy

Running at around four percent, current market growth for the global tourism sector might exceed national rates of recovery from recession, but almost pales into insignificance alongside recent figures for the creative economy, which saw exports booming at 14 percent in 2008, even as the financial crisis bit hard elsewhere. World trade in creative goods and services rose in 2011 to US$624 billion, with annual growth 2002-2011 averaging 8.8 percent.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2010 report, the ‘creative economy’ “is an evolving concept based on creative assets potentially generating economic growth and development. It can foster income generation, job creation and export earnings while promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development. It embraces economic, cultural and social aspects interacting with technology, intellectual property and tourism objectives.”

At the heart of this economy, UNCTAD identifies the creative industries themselves:

“The creative industries are at the crossroads of the arts, culture, business and technology. All these activities are intensive in creative skills and can generate income through trade and intellectual property rights.”

According to the UK Government Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) classification, referenced by UNCTAD in the report, these industries fall into 13 categories: Advertising; architecture; art and the antiques market; crafts; design; fashion; film and video; music; performing arts; publishing; software; television and radio; plus, video and computer games.

Taken as a whole, this expansive and systemic model of the cultural and creative engine of 21st-century growth is a big economic beast, weighing in at US$1.6 trillion global market value.

The numbers do not lie. Given the strength and size of the Culture and Tourism parent economies, ‘Cultural Tourism’ clearly has enormous potential. The question is whether its two sets of monster-market genes combine, or clash? In practice, which is the true nature of cultural tourism: Prodigy, or problem child?

Tourism and Culture – chicken and egg?

Tourism might bring short-term economic benefits to an area or region – through spend in restaurants and hotels for example – but does it really grow the cultural capital by creating quality job and business opportunities in creative industries and so helping attract talent?

“It might”, is the short, but cautious answer, according to cultural economist Tobias Nielsén, CEO of the research-based Stockholm firm Volante. “A growing market often leads to opportunities for a growing supply. If there are more people around it will be easier to find visitors to your show or gallery.”

To assume that, as a rising tide lifts all boats, everybody wins an equitable ride on the tourism wave, is over simplistic, though, as Nielsén goes on to explain:

“I would argue that there is often an unfair distribution of revenues stemming from cultural events. The organisers, for instance a theatre group in a rural region, get only a fifth – in terms of ticket revenues – of what the visitors spend on hotels, food, transportation, shopping, and so forth. From a policy perspective, it is therefore important that you get the whole picture and recognise the value of what it was from the beginning that attracted the visitors.”

If culture might have played an important part in the initial draw for tourism, is this really reciprocated? Does tourism grow culture in return, or just more tourism? Moreover, do the perceived commercial demands of catering for tourists potentially distort regional arts programmes, showcasing a lot of visiting acts and touring exhibitions at the expense of local talent, so disconnecting the cultural experience from the place?

“It is a challenge to develop a strategy that combines the ‘who’ and the ‘where’, acknowledges Nielsén. “But, generally speaking, one can think about the big names as the ones that attract most of the tourists, but the local talent as creating the feeling and ambience, which very much contribute to what visitors will remember from their trip and eventually recommend about the place to friends.”

Artichoke Trust is a creative company and registered charity that works with artists to create large-scale events that appeal to the widest possible audience. Debunking any notion that the Arts should take place only behind closed doors in theatres or galleries, they put on shows in unusual places – in the streets, public spaces or in the countryside – ranging from Peace Camp installations at remote locations around the coast of the UK, to the Sultan’s Elephant, the biggest piece of free theatre ever seen on parade through Trafalgar Square, London.

Sense of place is fundamental to such projects, as Co-Founder and Director Helen Marriage reveals in the thinking behind the happenings, the creative intention:

“Artichoke sets out to connect the cultural experience to the place, inserting the work of its artists squarely into the DNA of a city’s life. Our programmes combine initiatives developing local talent with commissions for internationally recognised artists — all responding to the physical and social landscapes of the cities in which we work.”

Capital cities might buzz 24/7 365 days a year, but as anyone who has visited a seaside resort out of season will testify, not all tourism appears to be able to sustain local economies month-in, month-out. In particular, festivals might well be described as being almost the ultimate cultural ‘one-night-stand’ – so, how can they contribute to sustainable development? Helen Marriage makes the case for the before-and-after benefits of major events:

“Think Edinburgh. Festivals may manifest themselves to the audience for a few nights only, but the work that goes into them is a year-round effort, with jobs created and sustained in the arts and ancillary industries.”

It is also perhaps worth remembering just what a rich choice of festivals is available on programmes popular with both international and domestic travellers, of all ages and backgrounds. Figures from the Norwegian Cultural Barometer, for example, show that as of 2012, almost 1 in every 3 members of the active and independent population (aged 9-79) had attended a festival within the last 12 months. Culture appears mass-market popular and associated benefit-potential to the tourism sector is manifest.

Eco Tourism – more than just green

For developed nations, discussion of cultural tourism typically focuses on upmarket galleries, theatres and restaurants in prime urban locations. In short, culture is something that happens in cities and its value in relation to ‘eco’ tourism in more rural and provincial areas is often poorly understood and under-promoted.

In a more holistic and sustainable view of tourism as a whole, eco comes in colours other than green: It should not be viewed solely from an environmental perspective, as involving just flora and fauna, rather than local people and culture. Joining up the dots, however, requires not only understanding (which is often in evidence), but also expertise and money (which are not), as strategic tourism planner and Managing Director at South Africa-based Lorton Consulting, Darryl Lombard, explains:

“Most developing nations are very conscious of the link between nature-based tourism and cultural tourism, as well as the economic value that authentic culture holds.

“More and more tourists are saying that an important factor in their travel decision is the desire for an authentic experience through interaction with the local culture in its natural context. The addition of socio-cultural content to the eco-tourism experience gives visitors greater depth of understanding. However, more work needs to be done in the area of education and interpretation for eco-cultural tourism to be fully functional. The main inhibitors to achieving greater success are lack of funds and lack of skilled practitioners to guide the integration of the processes.”

One of the concerns around inadequately managed and ill-informed efforts to take cultural tourism off the beaten track, out on safari into economically-deprived native and remote areas, might revolve around fears of exploitative and patronising poverty-tourism, or ‘poorism’. Whilst there is call for some caution in this regard, there is greater need simply for standards and guidance, policy and strategy, as Lombard, concludes:

“There is a risk, but communities generally welcome guidance, and are sometimes surprisingly savvy when they sense exploitation. Guidelines for informing and educating host communities about the risks and preventative steps should become standard practice where eco-tourism and cultural tourism meet. The policy lead must of necessity come from government (after broad consultation). However, focused and funded NGOs are often more successful in implementing these strategies.”

Communication is key

One philosophical and intellectual trait increasingly common amongst commentators, creatives and consultants right across the spectrum of cultural tourism is a resistance to ‘classist’ interpretations and attitudes. Linguistic connotations and traditional values associated with the word ‘culture’ itself can colour perceptions and give rise to outmoded messages. Preconceptions about parts of the tourism trade prove unhelpful, too. Mainstream travel and hospitality are unfortunately known for having long-standing service-sector issues with use (and abuse) of low-waged and migrant workforces. Prejudice comes into play in equal regard and both sectors are in many minds due an image makeover. Communication is key to embedding collaboration.

Communication is also the key to envisioning the convergent future paths trending for culture and tourism, in the sense of social and mobile technology. Whether employing exotic filters in Instagram to moody silhouettes of architectural landmarks, or snapping sun-drenched and smiley-faced festival celebrations with Facebook friends, we are many of us in the market for making and sharing visual memories of our experiences as a cultural tourist. We may be posting online, rather than in the mailbox, but we are still sending postcards home from Planet Culture.

Artworks Journal can be found on ArtStack, Behance, Twitter and Facebook.

The full Artworks Journal article, complete with images and stats, can be viewed/downloaded here: Drawing the Crowds.

Author: Jim McClelland

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Powering the future: 5 innovations of interest

A version of this article first appeared in a Special Report on ‘Powering the Future’, published in The Times, 1 May, 2013.

BIOFUELS FROM ALGAE

Lava lamp InstaA near-perfect poster child for sustainable energy, algae is both a biodegradable living organism and literally green. Cultivation is possible on lands unsuited to traditional agriculture and with minimal demand on freshwater resources.

Research and development funding for farming (algaculture) has flowed into institutions around the world, including the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the EnAlgae project, a strategic initiative supported by the INTERREG IVB North West Europe programme.

The world’s first algae-powered demonstration building has also been constructed in Germany, featuring bio-reactive louvres, yet, whilst promise and expectation run high, commercialisation is still work in progress, as Laura Stowe of EnAlgae, confirms:

“Algae has great potential, not only as a source of bioenergy, but also for products including pharmaceutics, food and cosmetics. However, more research and development is needed to create a viable marketplace.”

Exxon Mobil has already invested $600M in motor fuels from algae with human-genome scientist J Craig Venter, however CEO Rex Tillerson also acknowledged recently that development success was “probably further” than 25 years away.

PETROL FROM AIR

Generating energy from nothing more than air would seem another utopian vision, however several successful related initiatives have already been brought to market. These include air-source heat pumps for domestic installation and compression technologies, such as that deployed in the brand new car from Peugeot Citroën, the Hybrid Air, in production 2016.

For industrial-scale applications, offering closed-loop generation opportunities at facilities such as distilleries which produce ‘waste’ CO2, there is also now a renewable energy solution for liquid fuels from Darlington-based Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS).

The AFS system uses renewable energy to capture carbon dioxide and water from the air, electrolyses the water to make hydrogen and reacts the carbon dioxide and hydrogen together to make hydrocarbon fuels.

Whilst very different in origin from traditional fossil-fuel products, the resultant ‘petrol from air’ is perfectly compatible in use, performing in a manner similar to standard 95 octane fuel. It is a renewable hydrocarbon and can therefore can be blended in any proportion with normal petrol, easily stored, transported and used in existing vehicles.

ENERGY FROM CHANGE

Phase Change Materials (PCMs) are capable of transforming from solid to liquid and vice versa to absorb or release large amounts of latent heat at relatively constant temperature. Whilst PCMs have been around for over 50 years, only in the last decade have they been microencapsulated and incorporated into building products such as commercial ceiling tiles and wall panels.

On installation, total energy demand for mechanical heating and cooling from existing HVAC systems can be reduced by up to 60 percent. PCMs are compatible with renewable generation and offer win-win efficiency by helping flatten both high- and low-temperature energy-usage peaks, as Mike Berry, MD of UK producer, Datum Phase Change, explains:

“We are working on solar-thermal systems which require zero energy and provide duel benefits. They utilise hot water through a radiant ceiling system for free heating during winter months and also deliver radiant cooling during summer periods.”

Growing mainstream interest in PCMs is evidenced by the recent investment in Datum Phase Change made by Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco.

POWER FROM PEOPLE

Kinetic energy, produced by acts of motion, has seen numerous applications in road and rail transport, powering street lights and monitoring systems via energy from cars passing over ramps and from track vibrations or regenerative braking systems on trains.

Through human footfall it has also recently been generating excitement of Olympic proportions. For the London 2012 Games, energy-harvesting floor tiles were installed along the temporary walkway from West Ham Station to the Olympic Park, providing people-powered illumination, around the clock, thanks to millions of spectator footsteps.

The tiles, manufactured by Pavegen Systems, have also been utilised by Japanese retailer Uniqlo, in a campaign to raise awareness of an innovative clothing range. For Uniqlo, ‘Heat Spot’ games in UK shopping areas generated thousands of both joules of renewable energy and Facebook ‘Likes’.

The importance of human engagement is echoed by Mark Randall, Founder and CEO, Renaissance Capital Partners, who installed Pavegen at the company HQ:

“Our experience is that this footfall harvesting technology really engages staff and clients with issues of sustainability.”

FUTURES FROM WASTE

Public engagement of another kind is driving the market for advancements in waste-to-energy solutions, as local opposition to incineration projects and their emissions opens the door to alternatives.

Key solutions are pyrolysis and plasma gasification, both thermal processes employing high temperatures to break down waste, without combustion. They produce synthesis gas, or ‘syngas’, predominantly formed of hydrogen, which can then be used to generate electricity either via a turbine, or hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

John Hall, MD of Waste2Tricity, is working with Alkali Power & Energy on the significant next phase in development. He said: “The latest concept is to link alkaline fuel cells to the process, using hydrogen from syngas to increase electrical output by over 40 per cent compared to traditional internal combustion.”

At present, the world’s largest energy-from-waste plant, capable of powering 50,000 homes, is under construction on Teesside. As opposed to being seen only as part of the problem of our resource-consuming past, waste is now fast being recast as part of the solution for our energy-generating future.

To view the Special Report in full online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

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Sustainable community: It’s a people thing

A version of this article first appeared on the Sustainability Talk & News website, published 23 April, 2013.

Fringe InstaWhat is a sustainable community? Some might say there is no such thing. I would counter, in fact, that there is no such thing as an unsustainable community: Once it becomes unsustainable, it is no longer a community. It is about people, not place. Once the people are socially disconnected, community is lost, regardless of proximity.

How we understand and use the word ‘community’ is more than simply a matter of semantics, it impacts on the systemics of sustainable development, especially in relation to the future of the built environment. So, what do we mean when we talk about community?

Positive images of community in the mind of the general British public perhaps picture hearty sing-songs in the local pub, cricket on the village green, or street parties with homemade buns and bunting.

Blade RunnerNegative perceptions are also readily referenced in popular culture. Fiction is full of dark visions of dystopian futures, played out in societies and communities short on human values, but long on rebel mavericks: From Oceania and rat-fearing resident Winston Smith, in George Orwell’s 1984; to Los Angeles 2019 and Richard Deckard, fighting his way across and out of town in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Real-life cases of unsustainable social collectives might include the ill-fated inhabitants of Easter Island and even the Big Brother House. By contrast (and to the delight of wildlife documentary filmmakers and viewers), the natural world provides us with many examples of successful community models, habitats and homes – from ants in hills and bees in hives, to termites engineering and living in mounds.

In its broader, proper sense, ‘community’ should refer to a group of individuals united by common social structures, relationship bonds, interests or beliefs. We see this definition applied widely and diversely across geographic boundaries, whether via social media networks such as Facebook groups, or international Star Trek conventions.

As used in the term ‘sustainable communities’, however, the word often takes on a much narrower urban-planning and local-government definition. It typically denotes a body of people primarily identified and defined by their locality. For built environment professionals, this subordination of the needs of people to the deliverables of place is part of the problem, not part of the solution for sustainability.

Moreover, it is only likely to get worse with the quickening pace of urbanisation as a global pressure-pot phenomenon.

According to data from the United Nations, in 2008, the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas passed the 50% mark, heading for 70% by 2050. With 5M new residents arriving every month, the global city-dweller total is estimated to hit around five billion by 2030. These inhabitants already consume 75% of the planet’s natural resources and contribute to urban activities responsible for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions. All this happens on a mere 2% of global land mass.

Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The challenge for built environment professionals is to respond in a creative and dynamic way to opportunities for neighbourhood, town and city planning, development, design and construction, such that communities can inhabit the space sustainably, on an ongoing basis. In short, creating places where people want to live.

As the success of sustainable development can only be measured in relative terms over time, adaptability is critical, both for resilience planning and responding intelligently to patterns of social change.

A people-centric approach provides an organising principle for strategic development. Quality of life is driver number one and putting people first key to meeting aspirations for places. The physical environment is where we live, but a sustainable community is who we are.

To view the original article in full on STN, a Carillion PLC initiative, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

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Race against time for future cities

A version of this article first appeared in a Special Report on ‘Future Cities’, published in The Times, 26 March, 2013.

Make it on BroadwayAccording to data from the UN, in 2008, the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas passed the 50% mark, heading for 70% by 2050. By 2030, the total for city dwellers globally is estimated to hit around five billion. These inhabitants already consume 75% of the planet’s natural resources and contribute to urban activities responsible for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions. All this happens on a mere 2% of global land mass.

The numbers are daunting.

The future is not for the faint-hearted, but neither is it for the disjointed, or disconnected. Shaping cities is a team game, as Jon Lovell, Director and Head of Sustainability at Deloitte Real Estate, explains:

“Without a serious shift in urban thinking, the consequences of escalating climate change, pollution and resource depletion pose an ever-more serious threat to the resilience of cities right around the world.

“This requires much more than, say, integrating solar panels into buildings, and needs all elements of the urban jigsaw – buildings, infrastructure, communities and institutions – to be much more integrated and better adapted to future challenges.”

In response, there is a spirit of cooperation and collaboration in evidence, with peace breaking out between public and private sectors. Austerity has heralded in a new development pragmatism, as Hugh Roberts, Practice Leader, Urban and Regional Planning, at SKM Colin Buchanan, observes:

“Among more enlightened authorities and developers, there is now greater realisation that ‘they need each other’ – municipalities need the private capital and profit motive to drive projects forward to acceptable deadlines, whilst investors realise that suitably consented schemes will only come through full consultation with public agencies.”

As public/private partnerships become increasingly common, so too do issues of hybrid governance. There are investment implications and reputational risk/benefit impacts for established urban centres to consider when entering into commercial contractual arrangements, in a bid for global competitiveness.

The dangers of ‘branding or blanding’ of cities, either through overt corporate badging of service solutions, or (inter)national homogeneity of offerings, can threaten or diminish cultural heritage and conservation of marketable local and community character.

Ultimately, though, the guiding principle for uses of the public purse remains constant and simple: Improving the quality of life and wellbeing of citizens. Understanding how best that can be achieved, working against the clock, calls for smart thinking, as much as smart technology.

There are well over 1,000 cities in the world with populations in excess of 500,000. The opportunities are limitless for experience to be shared and knowledge transferred between countries and even continents.

One of the key lessons coming out of new-build urban development in Asia and especially China is that energy is not the only game in town. H2O is rapidly becoming the new CO2 of future-city metrics, as Director of Wilder Associates and Associate of BRE, Landscape Architect Peter Wilder explains:

“Water quality is now a key indicator for all cities, not just Eco-Cities, mainly because the availability of drinking water is a limiting factor in a city’s ability to grow.”

As well as too little water, he adds, cities are increasingly having to deal with incidences and impacts of too much. Water Sensitive Urban Design offers a custom-fit climate-risk strategy, readily transferable from new to old metropolitan settings.

“The approach to adapting the environment within our new cities to accommodate extreme events will need to filter down to our existing cities through integration of rain gardens, disconnection of homes from stormwater sewers and conversion of open spaces into stormwater wetlands to promote the re-charging of abstraction aquifers and reduce the burden on already-overloaded piped networks.”

Whether investment is in blue-green infrastructure, smart buildings and grids, or the ‘Internet of Things’, connectivity is key. The figure involved could come in as many forms as the measures of improvement.

It could be the £24M awarded to Glasgow in The Future Cities Demonstrator competition, managed and funded by the UK government innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board. Or it might be 6,700, which is the total number of traffic lights in Quito, Ecuador, covered by the real-time adaptive control system, from Schneider Electric.

The true number crunch for cities though is time. What timeframe should be used when talking about the sustainability of smart development fit for the future? The longer, the better, would be the advice from Andrew Comer, Managing Director Environment and Infrastructure, Buro Happold.

“The timeframe to judge any development in terms of its true sustainability has to be over a long period,” he says. “Investment in buildings should be viewed over 40 to 50 years. Similarly, many major infrastructure programmes being undertaken today will be impacting on the UK economy and its carbon footprint for the next 50 to 80 years. But how much attention is given to making the right choices or decisions on this basis?”

Back in 1963, the influential urban planning report and book ‘Traffic in Towns’ was published by Professor Sir Colin Buchanan. Now, 50 years on, with ‘Transport in Cities’, SKM Colin Buchanan aims to revisit the issues and produce a fresh vision and blueprint for the next 50 years.

To put that challenge into perspective, consider stories of the day from 1963: Martin Luther King announced having a dream; putting a man on the moon still seemed like one; the first mobile phone was a decade away; and £1 would buy 60 loaves of bread.

Things change.

Predicting the future calls for the art of the improbable, if not impossible. Cities are in the business of planning, designing, engineering and building the future; not to mention, facilitating, transporting, generating, heating, cooling, draining, feeding, watering, greening and connecting; and all so that 50 per cent and more of the word’s population can get on with the living, sustainably, healthy and happy.

For cities, the future is going to be big and it is going to be clever. Scale matters. Smart wins. The future is now.

To view the Special Report in full online, published in The Times newspaper and Guest Edited by Jim McClelland, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

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Urban Greening: Nature is back in town

A version of this article first appeared in a Special Report on ‘Future Cities’, published in The Times, 26 March, 2013.

2012-11-28 08.49.04 copyAccording to received wisdom, it is not possible to put a price on Nature, however, to much debate, that is exactly what has been happening increasingly of late, as policymakers and markets strive to develop robust metrics to determine the value of living-planet assets and liabilities.

The UN has estimated world ecosystems deliver essential services worth in excess of $70tn a year. In the UK alone, the National Ecosystem Assessment generated figures claiming responsible stewardship of green spaces could be worth at least £30bn a year to the economy, in health and welfare benefits. With a view of green space worth up to £300 per person, provision of good access to same for every household in England could knock £2.1bn off the country’s annual healthcare bill.

Against this backdrop of efforts to draw up an eco balance-sheet for the world, perception of climate risk has been rising dramatically, with fears for associated species loss and habitat degradation; plus, spiralling population growth viewed manifest in increasing urbanisation, both in terms of development sprawl and density. To have any prospect of being thought part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, the future city can only come in one colour: Green.

The biennial World Green Roof Congress took place recently in Copenhagen and for the Danish capital, described as one of the five most sustainable cities in the world (along with San Francisco, Vancouver, Oslo and Curitiba), the future is most definitely green, as Lord Mayor, Frank Jensen explains: “For quality of living and working environment, for social equity and economic prosperity, the smart cities of tomorrow will be green cities, in every sense. Across the globe, from Portland to Paris, and Christchurch to Copenhagen, Mayoral offices understand urban biodiversity and green infrastructure are essential elements of any city vision.”

Copenhagen itself suffered badly in 2011 from torrential storms and extreme flooding impacts. As a result, civic authorities are acutely aware of the need to invest in climate change adaptation as as development priority, with urban greening a cornerstone of resilience planning.

For cities in general, risk is the dominant policy driver at present, as the author of ‘Ecosystem Services Come to Town: Greening Cities by Working with Nature’, ecologist Gary Grant, explains:

“The most powerful argument for urban greening currently is dealing with climate change, which is leading to heatwaves and flash flooding. There is money available for this because of the economic damage being caused. When all other benefits are considered, the argument becomes even stronger.”

With enhanced amenity space and aesthetics, biodiversity and wildlife gains, plus positive contributions to health and wellbeing perhaps listed only in the ‘additional benefits’ column, it is easy to see why urban planners might be persuaded by arguments for greening. Core benefits include reduction in urban heat-island (albedo) effect, stormwater attenuation and runoff management, plus cuts in costs of drainage. In addition, greening brings potential for noise and sound insulation, building-energy conservation and fuel savings, as well as improvements in air quality.

As evidenced by much-photographed smog in Beijing, air quality is proving more of a concern and factor in Asia than elsewhere, with urgent implications for ongoing and future development of green cities, as Director of Wilder Associates and Associate of BRE, Peter Wilder observes:

“There is an immediacy to respond to the impact of flood and climate change resilience, mostly driven by the investment sector, that requires action on the part of developers. However in China, where development is often facilitated by central government, there is a growing concern over long-term effects of urbanisation on public health. In recent years, China has experienced a hike in the number of mental illnesses and respiratory diseases related to rapid growth of cities and breakdown of the traditional family unit. Healthcare and aged care is now a major focus for China and green space is being seen as a key performance indicator for sustainable cities.”

Around the globe, for future cities evolving out of major existing urban centres – such as Beijing, Singapore, Delhi, New York or London – a vital selling point for ongoing investment in greening is its flexibility and suitability for retrofit scenarios, as Gary Grant explains:

“City farming and urban food production are getting all the headlines, but the real excitement and growth is in retrofitting existing buildings with features like green roofs and living walls, and in the greening of the ground-level curtilage of buildings with pocket parks and rain gardens. As more and more existing building stock is examined, we are coming to realise much more can be achieved than was first thought.”

As a basket of benefits, the concept of Green Infrastructure (GI) for future cities highlights importance of the natural environment in decisions about land-use planning and brings together a mix of ecosystem services to support both the life of a future city and lifestyle of its residents. GI interconnectivity links environmental concerns such as soil and water quality, with social issues such as recreation and amenity, plus economic factors including healthy growth and tourism.

Taken in the round, the green agenda is a marketable differentiator for world cities, as illustrated by its ringing endorsement from Mayor Vincent Gray, in Washington DC, at the launch of the long-awaited Sustainable DC Act of 2012. With packages for such as the planting of some 6,400 trees to form part of 40% canopy-cover targets, the stated and much-publicised ambition of the Capital is to become “the greenest, healthiest, and most liveable city in the US”.

One phrase employed in connection with plans for Washington DC has been ‘Winning the future’ and for urban environments, it is plain to see there will be no victory without achievement of green goals, assisted by ecosystem services. There may not be consensus yet on the merits and methods of calculating the value of ecosystems, but the cost of investing nothing in green infrastructure is in no doubt. The only future city is a green city. Nature is back in town.

To view the Special Report in full online, published in The Times newspaper and Guest Edited by Jim McClelland, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

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