Renaissance of City Leadership

The UK Green Building Council hosted a conference to explore leadership in creating sustainable cities at The Studio, on the side of the river Aire in Leeds. Chaired by CEO, Julie Hirigoyen, and featuring a good number of respected commentators and contributors, it was a forum full of city leaders from Salford, Oxford, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Cities, with increasing urbanisation worldwide, are certainly central to sustainability. It was broadly acnkowledged that demand for and creation of innovation were particular to cities. To deliver it will take a new role for cities here in the UK and new leadership. In times of austerity it was recognised that city councils no longer have the same capacity or capability as they once did.

Fundamental to the debate was the challenging question – “How can policy makers and the private sector create more sustainable places to live and work?” and “Who are the new leaders?” because there was a clear recognition it’s not going to be just city councillors, nor officers. Indeed, the need for other players, including the private sector, universities and other public bodies was unanimously supported.

Supported by Arup, Genr8, British Land and Leeds City Council it felt like a return to a similar event 8 or 9 years ago when the Core Cities and Cabe ran a sustainable cities programme bringing together the 8 core cities outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield)  where similar questions with, perhaps, similar answers were positioned, challenged and agreed. Key learning points then, and now, are that we really need strong leadership taking a ‘whole place, whole system’ approach that takes an outcome led approach, doesn’t stifle creativity and innovation and trusts in collaboration in terms of partners and operating at a range of scales – increasingly at a city region and city region+ scale.

Key learning points:

a) redefine leadership and leaders – there’s a role for wider stakeholders.

b) Standards are important – operating across the UK, e.g. building regulations, EV charging points.

c) There’s still a need for some up-front enabling works for development

d) The social value in procurement should be more credibly used to demonstrate wider benefits

e) Devolution is a process not an outcome

Delivering housing, climate change targets, jobs and improving health and wellbeing is increasingly going to sit with cities. They have the governance, the scale and the demand. How they create the capacity and the capability to set the vision, the outcomes they are looking for the confidence is a challenge we hope the new industrial strategy will deliver.

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Stirling Efforts Among Universities 

I attended my first conference convened by The Association of University Directors of Estates this week hosted in the wonderful grounds of Stirling University. Sat in the carved valley of the Forth surrounded by white capped hills and mountains it made for a spectacular setting.

But it wasn’t all about appearances. There was some really good substance to the conference too. Ian Diamond attended to give a timely insight in to his recently published report to universities. There was honesty and inspiration in spades too – some fabulous ‘lessons learned’ sessions in open plenary with both The University of Birmingham and Glasgow School of Arts sharing their stories of recovery from fires which had devastating impacts on their operations spreading over days in the case of the former and months in the case of the latter.

There were sessions that inspired too. I attended a workshop session led by Atelier Ten who gave an overview of the work they have been doing to ‘Green the Ivy League’ with long term strategic planning in the estates of Yale and Harvard Business School where they have developed plans, standards, policies and solutions that will get them to their carbon reduction targets. They are doing this through ensuring new build projects meet the highest standards possible, by identifying how they can invest in larger scale energy infrastructure and, crucially, how they will improve the existing building stock. We know that universities all over the world are well motivated to invest in inspirational, complex, low carbon buildings. It’s equally recognised how challenging it can be to keep older existing stock performing well. The nature of capital rich and revenue poor businesses. The challenge hasn’t gone away but the case study presented at Yale was an excellent example of a deep refurb that creates better, healthier, more productive working environments for staff and students alike. Who wouldn’t want that?

There was some lively debate about the future of sustainability metrics and reporting performance within the sector. AUDE has shown some real leadership on this and is working with Arup to develop ideas in partnership with the EAUC and People and Planet over the coming months. The session was a scene setter for forthcoming regional workshops AUDE are running to which Directors of Estates and sustainability professionals are invited to attend to help shape this further.

On the final day after an fantastically hospitable and enjoyable evening in the setting of Stirling Castle, complete with pipers, haggis and a wee dram, it was left to Philip Ross of Unwork to share his insights into how technology is changing the very nature of society, communities and interaction. It’s profound impact on the type of spaces we require and desire in the future is clear. Generation Z just don’t work generations before them. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) really is just the start. The level of interactivity is only going to increase.

With insight from the current Union of Student President at Stirling and one its more famous alumni, Lord Reid of Cardowan, it was a fitting end it a thought provoking conference, reminding us to take the longer term view, to remain optimistic and resilient and to Kiss with Confidence.