How food shapes our cities and Charter Cities

Carolyn Steel: How food shapes our cities: fascinating insight in to how food logistics from pre-industrialised cities continues to leave its stamp and, despite global supply chains, are stamped on the city’s identity. Our challenge is how we re-connect cities to food systems such that cities can be sustainable and integrated with food systems.

At the same time, another inspiring Ted Talk, from Paul Romer: Why the world needs charter cities – cities that espouse the most sustainable aspirations.



How to protect fast-growing cities from failing

Some insightful points made about the rapid urbanisation of our planet in this great Ted Talk by Robert Muggah.

In his talk “How to protect fast-growing cities from failing” he explains how its the speed at which cities grow that is important. Those with a longer period of gestation which mature more slowly are less likely to experience the traumas of rapid growth. He cites cities in the south hemisphere as being vulnerable in the coming decades.

Realtime, High Res, Open Data of a Changing Planet

This was another of those truly inspirational Ted talks that makes you realise that not everyone is out there to screw the world over. Fantastic stuff from Will Marshall and his colleagues to develop a floatilla of satellites to enable high-res digital photography of the earth in, virtually, real-time. Then to open that up to citizens of the world for their own exploitation and exploration. Watch the 8 min talk here:

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites show us the Earth as it changes in near-real-time | Talk Video |

The Mancunian Way or the Highway…

Great blog Brad. Have re blogged it for those who follow Sustainable Cities. I hesitate to say it because I hope it won’t be true, but by reducing the available expenditure for local authorities Osborne will virtually bully cities into accepting the mayoral model as the only way of courting favour. Note how Osborne has moved centre stage on this now that the election is over.


Call me a cynic, but I fully expected the slow ramping up of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ rhetoric to wither and die once the latest election cycle had come and gone.  Such is the general feeling toward those holding the purse and policy strings in Whitehall. There have been a number of interesting debates developing, especially given the rise in apparent nationalism in both Scotland (the tight referendum and the rise of the SNP) and England (calls for an English Parliament and a hefty bunch of votes for UKIP). As regions like Greater Manchester and Yorkshire and the Humber have economies and populations that equal or better Scotland and Wales, it was only a matter of time before English devolution was taken seriously.  As Nick Clegg once said, “the cat is out of the bag” on UK devolution.

Therefore it perhaps was slightly surprising to see the Chancellor up here again talking…

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The Urban Village: Sustainable Community Design for Urban Regeneration

Urban Villager

The way we are living in the West, particularly in the United States, promotes maximum amount of fossil fuel consumption, ecological ruin, social disconnectedness, and ultimately, a lifeless, culture-less existence divorced from the planet and devoid of any true connection to the spirit of life. This research project explores how changes in social and physical infrastructure can help stimulate an expansion of human consciousness, well being and, subsequently, true sustainability. We take a look at the benefits of natural building and compare contemporary urban life with traditional village settlement patterns of the pre-civilization era.

This project draws primarily from my research conducted in Thailand, during an internship on community building, natural building and self-empowerment as well as in India during my internship at the Auroville Bamboo Centre, where I designed an integrated land management plan to construct an eco-village and a sustainable surface water management proposal to restore a dried-out…

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[Are] Higher student fees [really] influencing university emissions cuts? published a thought provoking piece “Higher student fees influencing university emissions cuts” in which the assertion that increased tuition fees and competition among UK universities have created a generation of evermore demanding students which is complicating the sector’s attempts to reduce emissions. That’s the view of Andrew Bryers, energy manager at Aston University – which was recently rated as one of the most sustainable higher education establishments in the UK.

This is an interesting piece and certainly illustrates the challenge of meeting the expectation of students now. But have fees really changed things? And if they have raised expectations, isn’t that actually a good thing? Why wouldn’t you want to meet the highest standards of comfort, quality and strive for world class facilities? Of course, how you meet those expectations is the key to all this. If your solution is to simply heat buildings to higher temperatures for longer then, of course, you’ll see your energy and CO2 consumption rise. However, a strategic approach to fabric investment, controls, monitoring and efficient systems can achieve the same outcome and actually consume less.

In Russell Group universities, like Nottingham, whilst student numbers have grown and fees have increased, the real causes of emissions growth are in the energy intensive research activities that typically occupy science, engineering and medicine. STEM is right for the UK’s industrial policy of course and we have recognised the compelling need to invest in those subject areas but operationally it comes at a cost. But in the global scheme of things, the research being undertaken is creating solutions to climate change, resource depletion, health, biodiversity. If ever there is a sector with a Net Positive impact it’s the Higher Education Sector.

We are reviewing our carbon management plan and taking into account growth in scale, in intensity and number. We are targeting areas where carbon emissions are high in a systematic manner. You can see from our annual reports for energy and carbon those areas are in our schools of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine.

Universities are enjoying (I think) the new found freedoms of greater autonomy and the shackles have been consistently loosened under the past 2 Governments. However, it’s a competitive world out there now and finding efficiencies whilst meeting ‘customer’ expectations is challenging – as Andrew Bryers rightly acknowledges. The challenge here is to think longer term so that universities do the right thing, not the easy thing. That means a combination of investment in infrastructure (new build, refurbishment, utilities and energy generation, transport, waste, etc) and behavioural change programmes. In tandem the gap between expectation and delivery can be closed.

Birmingham’s Urban Future to be debated at AoU Congress in June

Looks like an interesting few days that could shape Birmingham’s future aspirations. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Sandy.

Green Urbanist

I am looking forward to attending the Academy of Urbanism’s 10th Congress in Birmingham on the 4/5/6 June. As an academician of the Academy, I know how important it is for cities to learn from each other.

In the case of Birmingham, the Congress provides an opportunity for both a reflection on progress made since the 1980’s and a look forward to what the city is planning for its future.

Undoubtedly since the highly regarded March 1988 Highbury Initiative (interestingly, there are no 1st hand documents available on-line about Highbury – only numerous books/papers/articles published based on interviews with key participants – for example Nick Corbett’s book “Transforming Cities“), Birmingham made huge strides in the 3 to 4 years immediately after that. The largest pedestrianisation project of any UK city was delivered in rapid time to meet the opening of the International Convention Centre in June 1991. However…

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