Brexit is the ultimate test of government’s environmental commitment

The outcome of the EU referendum has divided opinion, but within the sustainability sector there appears to be real concern that the absence of legislation from Brussels could have long-term impacts on the local and global environment.

Of course, the uncertainty that exists now only adds risk to investment decisions, provides excuses to not implement and will, naturally, mean that investors will put their cash where they have greater certainty of cash value and policy. This limbo position won’t help the market for investment in renewables. Our own government has flip-flopped enough with energy policy for decades – now, with uncertainty surrounding trade deals and energy this will likely add cost to supplies and infrastructure investment.

Read more here.

Three big challenges for smart cities and how to solve them

Ayona Datta has written a human-centric case for smart cities for The Conversation. Read it – it’s a great summary, with solutions, on how three big challenges can be overcome.

The notion of the “smart city” has been gaining attention around the world. Also called the “wired”, “networked” or “ubiquitous” city, the “smart city” is the latest in a long line of catch-phrases, referring to the development of technology-based urban systems for driving efficient city management and economic growth. Read more here.image

Universities as Drivers of Econmic Prosperity – The Israeli Experience

I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time and to experience the very different culture, climate, geography and politics in the country. I was there speaking on behalf of The University of Nottingham at the invitation of the Green Campus network active in Israel to speak at their conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Nagev.

BeerSheba, a mystical sounding desert city that has developed massively in the past decade or so. My knowledge of this city was limited prior to the visit but what became clear to me very quickly was the strategic importance placed on it by Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion.

“Only through a united effort by the State … by a people ready fora great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by creative heroism, by scientists liberated by the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country … we can succeed in carrying out the great and fateful taskof developing the South and the Negev.”

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion University

As the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel it is often referred to as the “Capital of the Negev” and is the centre of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel with a population of over 200,000 people. It’s around a 90 minute drive from Tel Aviv which, by Israeli standards; is some distance in a small country of less than 8 million living in around 40% of the land space.

Whilst development of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem has come about because of their geography (port cities) and their religious and historical importance, Beersheba has needed more deliberate investment. The Blueprint Nagev project includes the Beersheba River Walk, a 900-acre (3.6 km2) riverfront district with green spaces, hiking trails, a 3,000-seat sports hall, a 15-acre boating lake filled with recycled waste water, promenades, restaurants, cafés, galleries, boat rentals, a 12,000-seat amphitheater, playgrounds, and a bridge along the route of the city’s Mekorot water pipes. The plans include building new homes overlooking the park and neighborhood. Four new shopping malls are planned. The first, Kanyon Beersheba, will be a 115,000-square meter ecologically planned mall with pools for collecting rainwater and lighting generated by solar panels on the roof. It will be situated next to an 8,000-meter park with bicycle paths. Another mall will be a farmer’s market, the first ever in Israel. It will be an enclosed, circular complex with 400 spaces for vendors, and it will be surrounded by parks and greenery.

In recent years, some $10.5 million has been invested in renovating Beersheba’s Old City, preserving historical buildings and upgrading infrastructure. The Turkish Quarter is also being redeveloped with newly cobbled streets, widened sidewalks, and the restoration of Turkish homes into areas for dining and shopping.

Today, the city is undergoing a major construction boom, which includes both development of urban design elements, such as water fountains and bridges, and environmental development such as playgrounds and parks.

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Ben-Gurion University Library – its first building

A considerable part of the city’s regeneration plan rests on the university named after Ben-Gurion himself. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev aspires to be among the best inter-disciplinary research universities in the world, a leader in scientific innovation, inter-disciplinary research and applied sciences – all of which impact daily life. It is committed to social and environmental responsibility and is working to develop the Negev, Israel and the world. As one of Israel’s leading research universities it has around 20,000 students and 4,000 faculty members in the Faculties of Engineering Sciences; Health Sciences; Natural Sciences; the Pinchas Sapir Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management; the Joyce and Irving Goldman School of Medicine; the Kreitman School of Advanced Graduate Studies; and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies. More than 100,000 alumni play important roles in all areas of research and development, industry, health care, the economy, society, culture and education in Israel.

What struck me was the pace of development and the important regeneration benefits the university brought to otherwise deprived areas of the city. Whilst there was high-end development in the bio-tech disciplines, there was also massive infrastructure projects such as the relocation of the rail station to serve both the University and the forthcoming technology park on the other side of the rail line.

But the university isn’t all about buildings – it’s put people in its local community at heart – and is a University with a conscience, where high standards of research are integrated with community involvement. The Community Action Department bring BGU into the heart of disadvantaged neighborhoods while outreach programs make higher education accessible to all the residents of the region. I heard, for myself, about a great project where students of the university can live rent free in one of 70 university-owned properties across the city if they commit to give 8 hours a week of their time to community projects. These included dance classes, homework work support and community cooking. Alongside that, BGU is committed (like Technion University) to allowing its students to train guide dogs across campus and it’s not unusual to see them in lecture theatres, cafes or across the campus. Alongside this, more fundamentally, there are now over 500 Bedouin students – over half women – at BGU thanks to outreach and retention programs spearheaded by the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development.

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Satellite Image of Haifa

Leaving the desert and heading west along an increasingly green corridor towards the coast, via Tel Aviv, towards Haifa I came to the Technion University which sits amongst the northern reaches of the Carmel mountain. It’s an extensive campus with some impressive civil engineering and architecture to make a coherent and accessible campus across the terracing of the mountain. It’s certainly impressive and in any other city might be considered a real attraction but, then, it sits not far from the hugely impressive Baha’i Gardens overlooking the sea with immaculate, tended gardens with an army of devoted volunteers. On the slopes of Mount Carmel it’s certainly an impressive view towards the coast. Coach loads of tourists, from all over the world by the looks of it, gather to take in the art form of gardening to a new height.

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Haifa – The Port.

The Technion University vies for the status of Israel’s oldest/ first university with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Whilst these things matter to universities they are less important to guests and there is certainly much more to enjoy than age alone. The Technion University certainly knows how to greet its guests with a specially created visitor centre telling the history of the University, its notable academics (including Nobel Prize winners), and the University’s role in creating and building Israel.

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Guide Dog Homage

The Hebrew University, home to extensive correspondence from, and to, Albert Einstein, who was a frequent visitor, contributes to its city in a different way. Unlike Haifa and Beersheba, Jerusalem would still be its own city if its universities left. It’s not, in any way, a university town. But not because it’s universities are insignificant. Quite the opposite in fact – but what happens beyond the security fences and turnstiles feels a million miles from the hubbub and rush of the city. The HU has created a wonderful green lung in the city providing space for biodiversity, urban cooling, run-off suppression and spaces that people can enjoy. Its sheer mass of numbers, around 24,000 staff and students, create demand for services and pressure on infrastructure. It was great, then, to see investment in a light rail (tram) extension that will connect the city centre, its two main teaching campuses for science/engineering and humanities, and the Government Quarter.

Having visited all three universities in the space of just under 4 days, it would be easy to make assumptions, but I saw three universities who saw social, economic and environmental contributions to their local, regional and national communities as important and central to their mission. Whilst there are many questions still to be answered in Israel, there are some shining examples of good practice too.

 

Want to see more efficient spending of public money? Move to the city.

The Urban Observer

It probably no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of city living. I love being able to hop on my bike, the bus, or walk down the street to one of my favorite neighborhood pubs or cafés. There’s a real sense of freedom that comes when not having a car-centric lifestyle. Each and every time I hop on my bike (rain or shine) I fall in love with my city again.

But let’s talk about a different aspect of the suburban vs. urban decision. Let’s talk about money. According to the Canadian organization, Sustainable Prosperity, in a recent report, a city’s public cost for each suburban home is more than double that of each urban home. (See graphic below). That’s public money… our taxes going disproportionately to suburban living, because a sprawling public plan costs more: for policing, transportation, park planning, emergency services and the likes. Sustainable Prosperity has…

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Universities can lead the way to local growth

In a previous blog I wrote about the contribution The University of Nottingham made to the local, regional and national economy.

Today, HEFCE has blogged “Universities can lead the way to local growth”

They say, “to deliver new Local Growth Deals successfully will require local institutions, including universities, to contribute in a more active way.”

The University of Nottingham reported that it contributes £1.1bn a year to the UK economy and supports around 18,000 jobs across the country according to a new report.

‘The Economic Impact of The University of Nottingham’ – outlines the wider economic, social and cultural impact the University has on the city of Nottingham, the region and the nation.

According to the report, the University is one of the East Midlands’ most significant institutions, with 92 per cent of its workforce living in the region, and one in every 24 jobs in Nottingham being reliant in some part on the University. The total economic impact generated across the East Midlands each year by the University is £781m, and along with its £500m research portfolio, the University is at the heart of the Midlands Engine for Growth.

This contribution, both economically, and socially has to be set in context to the environmental sustainability of the organisation too. The concept of ‘net-positive’, where you consider the whole contribution of an organisation, helps best understand the core business of the organisation (in this case, teaching and research) and it’s contribution against the backdrop of other activities. So, whilst our carbon and energy reports show continued progress towards carbon emission reduction (for example) we know and acknowledge we still have a negative environmental impact but that we aim to minimise it. You can read about our energy and carbon performance here.

Nottingham Invests in Ultra Low Emissions

£6.1m awarded to Nottingham by the Government to accelerate low emission vehicles announced.

Nottingham has secured funding to become one of the UK’s exemplar Go Ultra Low Cities, enabling the city to implement a wide range of new initiatives to make electric vehicles and sustainable transport more accessible. The £6.1m for the period April 2016 – March 2021 from the Government’s Go Ultra Low City Scheme will help the city boost its sustainability agenda still further, making a real difference to the environment and quality of life for local residents and businesses. Watch Portfolio Holder for Jobs, Growth and Transport Councillor Nick McDonald‘s response to the announcement and find out more about the project by visiting www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/golownottm

Nottingham is already one of the UK’s exemplar cities for integrated sustainable transport and energy generation. We are committed to working with our local partners, industry and Government to implement measures to drive uptake in Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) to address local air quality and environmental health issues, attract inward investment and create job opportunities in the growing low carbon transport technology sector.

Nottinghamshire and Derby will use £6 million of funding to install 230 charge points and will offer ULEV owners discount parking, as well as access to over 13 miles of bus lanes along key routes across the cities. The investment will also pay for a new business support programme, letting local companies ‘try before they buy’.

The city’s ambitions to be a ‘Low Emission City’ are already shown by:

  • Europe’s largest electric bus fleet with 45 full electric buses in operation on our Linkbus network and 13 more electric buses on order.
  • Expansion of the electric NET tram system to three lines spanning 34km.
  • Inclusion of ULEVs as part of the Council’s current fleet makeup.
  • Electric vehicles operating in our growing car club.
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure already in place at key Park and Ride services, workplaces and destinations.
  • Two local private hire companies operating 6 full electric and 150 hybrid vehicles
  • Only Go Ultra Low shortlisted city to be awarded Lighthouse City status by EU. Funding secured for REMO Urban project for smart low carbon transport, energy and ICT projects.
  • Local commitment to the electrification of the Midland Mainline.
  • Local Authority owned, Robin Hood Energy and Enviroenergy generating and supplying local sustainable power for residents, businesses and transport.

Whilst delighted that Nottingham has been successful it leaves a number of cities without access to the same sort of funding to make real impact on the UK’s failing air quality objectives. Cities with a known air quality problem, like Leeds, Manchester and my home city of Sheffield will not get the benefit this kind of intervention can achieve. It is these cities where scale, density and ambition can make a faster and deeper difference. Meanwhile, they continue to fail to achieve their local air quality objectives and more and more people are subjected to poor air quality and the health impacts it causes. Bristol, London and Milton Keynes (which appears to be technology-led rather than air quality led) will also benefit from this funding.