An Honest Look at Oneself: The State of Sheffield 2015

Today saw Sheffield publish its annual ‘State of Sheffield’ report – reflecting on progress (or otherwise) and how Sheffield sits in comparison to other cities in the UK and around the world. It’s another fine example of reflective, evidence-based research that stimulates thinking and informs policy making. You can read the blog produced by the Director of the the Sheffield First partnership here: https://sheffieldfirst.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/the-state-of-sheffield-2015/

What did prompt me to write this blog was the statement “Climate change remains a major future challenge. Sheffield and its City Region has the “green capital” to be a leader in this area but needs to work to strengthen its response. The Green Commission will be important in this.”

Yes, climate change and the exhaustion of finite natural resources should be of concern to Sheffield. To ignore this would be entirely folly and would undermine the unsustainable economic quest the city and city region has set itself. Climate change magnifies and amplifies the negative impacts our poorest communities are already experiencing. Three years ago the Director of Public Health in Sheffield made it very clear: If you live down wind, down stream or down hill you’ll suffer worst. From poor air quality, poor water quality, poorer soils and flooding.

But most importantly is the emphasis placed on the Green Commission in providing a coherent response to this challenge. Perhaps the single biggest set of external factors (climate change, global energy markets, deforestation, acidification, habitat loss) directly and indirectly affecting the city are being chewed over by a select group of experts. The initiator of this process, Cllr Jack Scott, has stood down from his position, leaving a new and inexperienced Cabinet Member in Cllr Jayne Dunn to come in and pick up the reins. Attendance, by the looks of it, has been patchy and the conclusions well, inconclusive, so far.

I am pleased that the annual report in to Sheffield’s health has, again, identified environmental issues as important. I am not optimistic there is sufficient architecture and commitment in place to address it though.

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One thought on “An Honest Look at Oneself: The State of Sheffield 2015

  1. A useful insight, Andy. Something that struck me is that the big threats you identified – climate change, global energy markets, deforestation, acidification, habitat loss – are immediately in danger of an incoherent approach because several perceived to be processes that happen outside the urban boundary. Climate change of course acts everywhere but impacts on places differently – for Sheffield it is probably extreme weather events that pose the biggest practical threat. The only rational response at city [region] level to global energy market instability is a massive programme of energy efficiency, which is most definitely an urban issue. But deforestation, acidification and habitat loss are dealt with as ‘non-urban’ issues, hinterland issues if you like: the agencies that deal with them are regarded as being in the business of managing ‘nature’; and nature in turn is seen as existing outside cities.

    We know, of course, that quite the opposite is true, and I’m increasingly seeing urban form as quite a thin, unstable layer overlaid onto a functioning landscape and ecosystem which is still very much there, in, under and around the buildings and streets. Getting that built layer to be part of the ecosystem, rather than a kind of crust that obstructs it, is surely the basis of a sound rationale. This is also a philosophy that could permeate the way the city’s inhabitants understand their city, their habitat. Sheffield’s green credentials and academic breadth should place it well in learning to think this way, but I sense that our responses to the big sustainability challenges remain carved up amongst various disciplines and lack an underpinning philosophy.

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