City / University Dialogue for Urban Living in 21st Century

This afternoon at the ISCN conference in Hong Kong there is a focus on the way in which universities and cities can form effective, collaborative alliances to contribute towards meeting the challenge of urban living in the 21st Century. It’s a response to the World Economic Forum Global Risks 2015 report which flags up climate change, urbanisation and growing population and aspirations within them.

Without doubt urbanisation is the perfect platform to encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration within universities. Those UK universities who have identified this as an opportunity to promote this through an emphasis on urbanisation are creating think tanks, centres of excellence and institutes to address them.


Hong Kong – a city blessed with top universities and some significant urban challenges. 

K.S.Wong, the Secretary for Environment, Hong Kong, spoke at the conference as a graduate of Hong Kong University and has led the policy development of green building standards building on his training as an architect.

Despite the obvious urbanisation of Hong Kong, the island remains green, but liveability and its eco footprint is central to its planning. Policies around green spaces, sprawl, natural assets, connectivity and isolation are in place to preserve these attributes. By maintaining high levels of density it is clearly possible to protect natural assets but also achieve impressive performance in energy intensity.

To that end, HK is:

  • developing a green neighbourhood on the site of the former city airport and using a district cooling system;
  • It’s also committing all public buildings to meet green building standards;
  • Developing a waste to energy plant from sewage sludge to power the islands needs;
  • Developing an exemplar zero carbon building.

The climate in Hong Kong presents a significant challenge with high temperatures and humidity driving demand for cooling and dehumidification systems to maintain comfort in buildings. Sharing the knowledge and learning from Hong Kong with the developing world is central to its mission.

Again, air quality remains a high priority and by law low sulphur fuels will be required to address this problem. Shipping remains an important contributor to poor air quality in Hong Kong.

Air, waste and energy are central to its strategy, with a strategy of tackling the causes at source and, encouragingly, the focus isn’t just on the hardware but also on the software – working to promote behaviour change through social marketing.

There is a clear expectation from KS Wong that the University of Hong Kong has the opportunity to out perform the HK average in terms of waste, energy and air quality. The Air Quality Health Index is the first in Asia to adopt this approach to share health data to those vulnerable to air pollutant. Similar schemes exist in the UK.

Following the keynote from KS Wong it was great to hear from Mayor Park Won Soon from Seouol via video. As a renowned proponent of sustainability and has committed to its principles in the development of Seoul. He explicitly made the point that cities and universities must work together to achieve their collective goals both in terms of infrastructure and the development of its communities. Seoul has worked with many universities in South Korea to further these aims.

Fostering synergies between universities and cities is key to addressing climate change, urbanisation, water stress and working together to identify solutions for cities. Seoul recognises energy is a key issue and is taking a strategic approach to reduce dependency on nuclear through moves to reduce demand for electricity through efficiency drive and localised renewable investment. This has also created a surge in the growth for more sustainable energy services such as LED lighting creating wealth and employment. In Seoul, universities and hospitals are amongst the most energy intensive buildings in South Korea. The Government has invested in the universities themselves with a $40m to demonstrate leadership and to drive down consumption.

Throughout his address there was continued emphasis on the opportunity to stimulate and engage young people with innovative approaches to tackling urban challenges with an emphasis on civic responsibility. Again, financial incentives from the government have catalysed this engagement.

Civic engagement has been supported through a series of Town Hall meetings – inviting opinion and input to macro issues like energy. An association for 35 universities have combined to promote and develop green campuses. An energy cooperative has been formed to provide finance and reinvestment in renewable energy generation projects across Seoul.

Following those two plenary speeches a panel of experts presented and discussed the role of universities and cities in the 21st century.

Healthy high density cities is becoming an increasingly important factor for fast growing cities and a new research centre has been formed at HKU to address this very specific challenge between engineering and architecture and health professionals.

Aalto University is consolidating after the merger of 5 universities giving the opportunity to create an integrated campus/science park to work closer with business and industry. The design of the new campus is designed to positively encourage collaboration to support the strategic aim of integrated academic activities.


Aalto is working with Tangjin University in furthering its relationship with Asia.

The University aims at energy self-sufficiency by 2030 through energy generation on site and changing consumer behaviour. They are developing the most powerful geothermal system in the world with a 7km geothermal well to produce 10% of the city’s energy needs.

Sandy Burgoyne, Director Future Cities Collaborative, from The University of Sydney, spoke about how the research underway to inspire city leaders to develop sustainable cities. Policy, practice and people are at the heart of the programme and engage Mayors in developing their own understanding of sustainability. The model builds on the Mayors Institute in the USA and encourages Mayors to bring challenges forward and to work collaboratively with universities to solve these challenges. The programme is working at city scale – eg Paramatta and looking to identify solutions that are right for that city.

The universities involved in these kind of programmes can bring thought leadership, collaboration across government, industry, commerce and academia to show what is possible. The model works well for ‘real time’ responses to challenges at scale. 

The Chief Excecutive of MTR Corporation in Hong Kong, Lincoln Leong, gave an overview of the way in which the MTR system in HK has transformed the island. In an impressive and enthusiastic presentation he showed how Metro systems play an important role in urbanisation across the world.

In HK there are 221km of track, 5.4m passengers and provides almost half of all public transport journeys.

As a result of success in HK over the past 40 years they are now expanding into Australia, mainland China and Sweden. By providing this infrastructure can transform cities, connecting communities and creating opportunities to enhance communities – retail, business and industry.

The 3km extension of the network to the west of HK at the end of 2014 connected Hong Kong University into the whole island enabling greater access from east to west. Significant investment in lifts and escalators to service stations gave additional benefits to all communities to assist movement around the hilly terrain of the island.

Further expansion of the MTR is planned in HK to provide greater connectivity.

Edward Ng, Chinese University of Hong Kong, espoused the virtues of the intellectual contribution of the university to policy development in Hong Kong. As an example, the assessment of urban heat islands has helped shape thinking on energy and urban planning.

The opportunity to deliver sustainable energy solutions and reduce demand through improved behaviours. By installing values of sustainability into university education and encouraging sustainable values such that ‘convenience’ is recognised as costly.

Each speaker throughout their short sessions and in the discussion session supported the concept of universities and cities working much more effectively together at all scales – at the city scale, at the district/campus scale, at the organisational scale and with individuals and their communities.

So why doesn’t it happen more often? I suspect it is largely because the one to one relationships between leaders of both cities and universities haven’t invested enough in building an effective relationship on which to build this approach.

It’s good then that universities and cities are beginning to rebuild those relationships. Let’s not pretend it’s altruistic and philanthropic. Much of it in the UK, at least, is borne out of a restructured public sector that no longer has the intellectual capacity to develop and design policy in an era of ever increasing complexity and risk. Evidence, data and informed policy will maintain sustainable urban living.


Thinking Differently about How we Inhabit The Earth – session from Heather Henriksen, Harvard


Universities are central to the challenges of how we sustain human life on our planet. Climate change is one challenge in which universities can be engaged in the lab, in the classroom and on the campus as a living laboratory. Integrating these three areas is key.

Harvard is taking this approach but recognises the challenge of devolved decision making across 13 schools. It’s collective vision for the University puts education and empowerment of students at the top of its agenda.

The Harvard Sustainability Plan focuses on 5 areas:

  • Emissions and energy
  • Campus operations
  • Nature and Ecosystems
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Culture and Learning

Schools are given some latitude in terms of playing to their strengths and building on the opportunities they have specific to their school.

Recognising the continued growth of the Harvard Campus the university has developed its own Green Building Standards to replace its ‘guidance’ to require higher standards in new build. They were revised and approved at the end of 2014. The benefits of reducing risk has been acknowledged as a consequence of their adoption. 7 success factors focus on early engagement with users, designers and before anything is committed; modelling of energy and life cycle costing; aggressive baseline and reward cutting edge innovation; industry alignment, etc.

the University’s approach has enabled some other benefits such as testing university research on buildings on the campus. Building on the LEED design model and developing these as underpinning the standards at the University.

These include a healthy materials disclosure to drive healthier buildings. The Living Building Challenge is a new standard that looks to enhance the health impact on building occupants. Harvard are also moving towards net zero energy buildings. Already, Harvard is ‘ahead of code’ and policy locally, nationally and sector.

Harvard is targeting energy intensive buildings, particularly labs and data centres. They collaborated with other universities to develop off-site data centre solutions for several universities which gave inward investment to a deprived area in MA which attracted $25m State funding.

Smart Cities – What role for local authorities?

It’s self evident isn’t it? How can a city set an agenda to become smarter without its local authority on board? At the very least there are issues of governance, public space, licensing, enforcement, regulations that a council would need to oversee.

In the space of a few days we have seen the UK Government both identify real weaknesses in the capacity of local authorities (by DCLG) whilst another Government department applauds sixteen local and regional authorities that are setting the standard in open data and transparency by the Cabinet Office’s, Francis Maude (Local authorities setting standards as Open Data Champions).

Is this just a case of un-joined up messaging from two departments who claim to be working hand-in-glove or, in fact, reality? Of course there are some local authorities who have embraced this approach. Bristol, Glasgow and London have all been funded heavily by both the Future Cities Catapult and private sector investment whilst other sizeable cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham have taken a lead in this area too – because they see it’s the right direction to be travelling. You’d expect, of course Cambridgeshire to be in the mix simply because of its world class university presence but who would have thought Sunderland and Devon would be included? Well deserved recognition in the face of adversity in the case of the former I would suggest.

But what do cities (and other urban and rural authorities) need to have in their armoury? “Without the right skills to innovate, the public sector will be unable to take full advantage of the cost efficiencies available from better – and smarter – ways of delivering modern services,” the report, Smart Places Today, finds.

As local authorities are further cut by budget cuts will they have sufficient gravitas to attract the forward thinking expertise needed to regenerate their cities – not with bricks and mortar but clicks of an app. The research, which aimed to assess the benefits and potential for ‘smart’ places, not just ‘smart cities’, found that the capacity to implement smart technologies is only in place in 15.2% of local public service bodies, though 45.7% have plans to address the gap.

Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?

In a blog published today by The Carbon Trust, Tim Pryce, Head of the Public Sector at the CT asked “Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?”.

“Over the past five years it has often been repeated that the current government is aiming to be the UK’s greenest government ever. Over the same period we have seen a focus on austerity result in cuts to public sector budgets and jobs, which has directly impacted on the amount of resource and support available for improving environmental performance. So where has this left the public sector in its own drive for sustainability? And are they playing their part in helping to meet the UK’s ambitions on reducing carbon emissions, tackling climate change, and addressing the challenges of resource scarcity?”

Without doubt Tim has taken a very positive, but guarded, perspective. Having attended the conference in London to which Tim refers, it was well attended and yes, the public sector has made strides forward in reducing its carbon footprint. I would suggest that those in the room had probably contributed more than average and that Tim was speaking, by his own admission, to the committed and the converted.

In the coalition’s period of Government we have seen a number of commitments to deliver the objective of the ‘greenest government ever’. Off the top of my head I would refer to the introduction of the feed-in-tariff, the renewable heat incentive, the creation of the Heat Network Development Unit and the sustained commitment to low emission vehicles through OLEV. However, we have also seen the culling of the CERT and CESP mechanisms for funding energy efficiency in domestic properties throwing the insulation industry in to meltdown and the outright failure of the laudable, but unimplementable, Green Deal. Only a handful of organisations of local authorities have had the will, clout or funding to really make it a success.

My suspicion is the public sector carbon emission reductions have been as a direct result of austerity on a needs-must basis which has led to the sell-off of un-needed properties or simply being more frugal in heating spaces. Whilst the outcome looks good (reduced CO2 and energy consumed) it was achieved by doing all the easy, very short payback projects leaving the harder yards to the next government’s term. To achieve more going forward will require a longer term approach, more capital investment in infrastructure, energy efficiency and process improvement. I don’t see the government handing out lots of cash for that in the near term. Already the EU carbon targets are being seen as undeliverable by some. The UK’s credibility in contributing to them is at stake.

 

How Smart Cities can combat climate change

In a blog published today Catherine Cameron sets out “How Smart Cities can combat climate change“.

Cameron opens with some well repeated facts: “Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and generate over 70% of global CO2 emissions. Cities are centres of commerce and culture but over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, exposing them to sea level rise and storm surges. Climate impacts such as storms, flooding and drought have financial impacts, with major disruption to business operations and city finances.”

As cities become home to a greater proprotion of the planet’s human population it’s only expected that cities face some of the biggest challenges, but also have some of the best resources, in facing climate change. “Cities are rising to this challenge. Urban density provides an opportunity for a better quality of life and a lower carbon footprint through more efficient infrastructure and planning. Low carbon mass public transport, cycle hire and walking, with higher density urban living, smart grids, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and garden cities can all add up“.

Those of you who read my tweets and blogs will know I am an advocate of open data to support smart cities. By ‘smart’ I mean: resilient, adaptable, integrated, intelligent, low impact, high value. Only this week there has been recognition of the opportunity to use smart data to achieve integration not just at neighbourhood or district level but at city and between cities scale. 

In a piece published only this week ICLEI USA Executive Director Michael Schmitz said “We want cities to be able to see all the things that contribute to their overall carbon footprint … If they have accurate data, and the ability to measure it, smarter policy decisions will be made.”

But before we can expect cities to be inherently ‘smart’ there are many faced with huge challenges of facing fundamental needs. With more than half the world’s population now in cities, scientists are warning that inadequate surface water supplies will leave many at increasing risk of drought and cities are facing failure of their most important, but often neglected, infrastructure.

The argument put forward by Cameron is one of leadership and governance being devolved to the city scale through elected and accountable mayors. This, of course, is well played out policy discussion in the UK – albeit there is a long way to go before there are elected mayors in all UK cities. Indeed, the concept of the ‘mayor’ is directive in itself. What cities need are effective decision making by accountable individuals and collectives who can take a longer term view of their city’s needs.

In a blog I wrote last October I said The last century has seen unprecedented change. The next 100 years could me make or break for the human species” and it will be in our cities that this unprecedented change will be felt most. Cities, as Cameron acknowledges are responding – and they need to. Not only are they home to the failing infrastructure, they are home to an ever more demanding and constrained population. A population that houses the very rich and the poorest of the poor. As city populations become more diverse, younger, older and living longer, the pressure created by climate change will only exacerbate the widening gap between those who can adapt and those who will, simply, fail. Successful cities need to be climate resilientWe are seeing what some have referred to as ‘global weirding’ – with abnormally high (or low), dry (or wet) seasons across the globe. Significant rainfall, falling in extreme bursts that our landuse patterns and drainage systems simply cannot cope with, has caused massive damage in the Indian Sub-Continent, China, Australia, the USA and Europe in the last couple of years. Close to home, here in the UK, we have seen a warmer summer for the first time since 2006. But that has come at a cost” wrote John Metcalfe in the excellent Atlantic Cities blog.

In conclusion, Cameron suggests setting targets has been successful and the C40 are mobilising knowledge transfer, ambition and progress. Targets set out an objective for inherently competitive humans to achieve. In doing so we should remember that collaboration between cities is every bit more important than competition if we are to succeed. 

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.

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities

Manchester has been promoting the concept of a ‘smart city’ for some time and has embraced the concept without the level of pump priming enjoyed by Glasgow, London and Bristol. So it’s great to see the launch of programme with carbon reduction at its very heart. Combining its cross-institutional approach into a defined geographical area, the Triangulum project, a smart city vision for three European cities was launched last week. Led by Fraunhofer IAO and funded by £4.5 million of European Commission funds, the project aims to create ‘smart quarters’ in Manchester, Eindhoven in Holland, and Stavanger in Norway. This scheme offers a new approach, bringing together a number of green initiatives in one area of the city to test the potential of new technologies.

Triangulum aims to transform Oxford Road in Manchester (also known as the ‘Manchester Corridor’, the city’s student district) as an exemplar for smart technology. There will be a particular focus on reducing carbon emissions, including technologies to improve energy use in buildings and encouraging the use of sustainable transport. An autonomous energy grid for heat and electricity will be introduced alongside a centralised control platform, which will allow Manchester to manage its energy in a localised, energy efficient manner. The system will also allow the city to identify new revenue sources and savings for the system, improving energy and resource efficiency.

 

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities.