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.

Smart Cities and Communities – Sustainable?

In the recent blogs I have composed about city ambitions for sustainability it seems the concept of a ‘smart city’ is falling between the cracks of silo-thinking when it has the opportunity to integrate, unify and deliver multi-ambitions and objectives. Too often the comment is ‘well, I am in charge of transport but the person in charge of ‘smart’ is over there in economic development’ … or, ‘we’ll do the smart bit when we’ve cracked this highways contract and decided what to do with the economic regeneration plan, I’ll have more time then’.

Big missed opportunities.

It was heartening, then, to attend the excellent Smart Cities and Communities conference last week in Manchester where several cities and agencies showed how they were actively integrating their ambitions for growth, quality, citizen engagement, transport, energy, asset management, governance and performance. Many were trialing things at a manageable (albeit still ambitious) scale – such as the work underway in the Manchester Oxford Rd corridor and across Peterborough.

One cannot help but be impressed by the commitment to the smart agenda in Singapore – a city half the size of Manchester but with twice the population. Culturally atuned to technology and acting smarter it’s invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to achieve its positioning in the global economy and to ensure that it is able to embrace opportunity.

I would like to see other cities, like Nottingham and Sheffield (where I work and live) embrace these opportunities so that they can achieve their ambitions for carbon reduction, liveability, traffic congestion, air quality improvements, etc. Birmingham and Bristol have embraced this in their ‘commissioned’ strategies. Sheffield‘s recent Green Commission report paid lip service to ‘smart’ but it showed a lack of understanding. In Nottingham, I hope, it will be seen as an opportunity to harness the collective agencies for transport, energy, planning, regeneration, business growth, citizen engagement, green and blue space management, healthcare, security, etc. But there is some catching up to do.

So the question posed by Cedric Price remains a good one. It’s not all about technology, of course, but without a vision, leadership, some projects, willing partners and a desire to make the sum of the parts add up a little better, you’ll not be smart. And that makes you ….

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.

To be Frank There are no Blue Policies for Blue Space

A more holistic approach which includes upland management, river valleys, urban areas, key infrastructure and ownership by a genuinely cross-agency approach is the only way forward.

Floods hit communities every day worldwide. Rarely do they, or have they, hit the UK with such impact as they have recently. Rarely too, do they have a direct impact on the bigger cities in the UK but this Christmas holiday has seen devastating floods hit the valleys on the Foss, Aire, Calder and through the North West of England. Cities such as York, Manchester and Leeds have all been directly affected with elevated levels of rainfall and rivers in Newcastle and Liverpool too.

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Manchester’s new beach – silt left by the high water levels.

Let’s not forget it wasn’t so long ago that both Newcastle and Sheffield were flooded (2007) and Bristol, on the Severn, is regularly affected. By my reckoning 4 or 5 of the ‘Core Cities’ are now seriously worried about the effect these periods of exceptionally heavy and sustained rainfall will have on their citizens’ health and the wider city economy.

In the short term, committed volunteers are helping out. They’ve responded to the crisis to find warm and dry shelter for the most vulnerable whilst the blue light services pump water away from those areas.

Already questions are being raised about who is responsible, what more could be done, why there hasn’t been enough flood protection schemes built to protect the most vulnerable areas. The Chief Executive of Leeds City Council has stated that the cities of the north have been under-invested in whilst significantly bigger sums have been spent in London.

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Who is responsible for the floods and what should we do about it?

These are the sort of odd questions that get asked on mainstream media. Firstly, we’re almost certainly seeing the effects of climate change and warming global temperatures intensifying the strength of those storms, like Desmond, which have carried huge volumes of rainfall following the jet streams from the Atlantic and dumping it over the UK.

Secondly, as George Monbiot writes, “Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable“. Monbiot qualifies his comments by saying “Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour. It’s about not building houses in stupid places on the floodplain, and about using clever new engineering techniques to defend those already there.”

Thirdly, it’s certainly about the limited policies and duties all levels of Government have to deal with this. Whilst there is an expectation that local authorities in both rural areas and cities have resilience plans these often are little more than having all the infrastructure to respond to a devastating flood rather than anything about prevention. In truth, local authorities have very few policy tools they can use to mitigate the risk of flood. Much is responsive to planning applications. But the solution to reducing the risk and impact of flooding isn’t simply about allowing or denying a developer to build in a floodplain.

Under the last Labour government local authorities were tasked with adopting a number of key performance indicators from the ‘National Indicator set’ that monitored their performance and encouraged collaboration between authorities and their services. The least well known and understood of these was NI 188 – which set local authorities the challenge of implementing an adaptation action plan and a process for monitoring and review to ensure progress with each measure. Very few local authorities adopted this and virtually none continue to prepare plans since their resources have been reduced and the requirement to report to NI188 has been washed away too.

The intention of NI188 was to think laterally about climate adaptation and to identify how the impact of the floods could be reduced even if the likelihood of them couldn’t be effected by the local authority on its own. Almost certainly this would require local authorities to work with DEFRA (the weakest of all Government departments in the new Conservative government), the Environment Agency (now experiencing heavy cuts and putting on a very brave face), it’s neighbouring local authorties (all embroiled in the creation of economically-focused city regions and combined authorities without a mandate or appetite for climate adaptation and resilience).

The sort of outcomes NI 188 was intended to encourage are documented in Monbiot’s piece such as the group of visionary farmers at Pontbren. If similar measures have been taken in the Peak District before 2007 it is likely the flood that hit Sheffield would have been less devastating. But the tools to affect upland farming policies at a local level simply aren’t there.

In short, the political landscape hasn’t helped at all. The funding has dried up and the Government must listen to the advice it’s already heard from the Committee on Climate Change and from respected spokespeople like Lord Deben.

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Climate change is already having an impact. As the UK prepares for another big storm there needs to be a change in the governance around resilience, climate adaptation and more funding. More importantly, a realisation that we will have more water falling in more intense storms and we simply cannot build our way out of this situation. We’ve sealed-in our urban areas and our drains and sewers cannot and will never cope with the volumes we’ve experienced. A more holistic approach which includes upland management, river valleys, urban areas, key infrastructure and ownership by a genuinely cross-agency approach is the only way forward.

 

People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the end of September the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed and published.  They will come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, the idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development and place greater emphasis on three key issues that were missing previously: the role of women; the importance of education; and the focus on cities.

All of this is hard to argue with of course but it is worth remembering we are now fast approaching another critical conference in Paris where the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol.

Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.
Not only that, it is clear the pace of negotiations is troubling. With just weeks remaining all Parties were almost unanimous in acknowledging that progress was insufficient. “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies” said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit.

The United Nations definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Previous dialogues on sustainability have more or less focused on climate change and environmental issues, but the new paradigm of sustainability includes all efforts towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. There is a significant departure from the previous framework to now include a “harmonising” of three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Politically Led

The document is considered a political statement not a technical solution. Criticism that there are too many goals and targets is understandable but the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than the MDGs. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGS weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change. The inclusive, detailed international negotiations have involved middle income and low income countries and as a result they are universal , holistic and ambitious –  the product of the 7m people who have given their views.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”.

This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Putting people first is undoubtedly a strategic signal that global population, health and sanitation will top the list of priorities, but for the first time there is an explicit commitment towards education, something welcomed by a wide group of expert practitioners including The Global Alliance of Tertiary Education Sustainability Networks who wrote an open letter to present to the Chair of COP21 in Paris this December.

Whilst the ‘western’ approach to education for sustainable development has largely been focused on environmentalism, Iain Patton, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges who are a key player in the Global Alliance, believes there ‘will [be] benefit from this wider and more inclusive perspective … it’s no longer just about a nice green lifestyle but about international hunger, injustice and poverty’.

The new Global Goals say to us in the north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe’, says Patton. ‘It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about’.

A New Prominence for Cities

It is arguably the eleventh goal, SDG 11, and its promotion of safer, more inclusive and resilient cities that makes them genuinely revolutionary. After all, two thirds of humanity will reside in urban settings by 2030 and by 2050, roughly 6.4 billion people – almost the equivalent of the planet’s current population – will live in a city. SDG 11 calls for greater investment in infrastructure, governance and safety in all urban spaces and human settlements, including slums, shanty-towns, ghettos and favelas of the world’s most fragile cities. The focus on informal settlements is crucial since the proportion of people living in slums is massive, and growing. There are already around 1 billion people living in slums today, as compared to 650 million in 1990. This population will grow to almost 2 billion over the next three decades.

Steve Turner, a city policy maker in Manchester believes overall the ‘goals are valuable in generating a ‘shared’ vision, providing some form of collective view of where we want to be going’. But he, like many, recognises that whilst the SDGs and the Climate Treaty are drafted, agreed and published by UN Members they will not be delivered by the UN or even national governments, but rather at the city/metro level where the Commission are not the delivery agents.

Critically, Turner recognises that without an effective mechanism for enforcement they can be ‘ineffectual’, ‘if we are serious about this then there needs to be an injection of rigour around their delivery.’

The UN recognises this and the targets will be reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by a specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will then go on to develop its own indicators.

Whilst the stats, numbers and measures might all sound rather clunky and dull, the SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda.

Women and Education – Fundamental to the SDGs

For example, much greater emphasis has been placed on the role of women and their access to education around the world. Whilst the rhetoric of the Sustainable Development Goals is laudable they are criticised for not garnering the financial commitment to achieve it. “In order for the SDGs to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls. The financing plan being advocated by the US and other northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Like re-taking your marriage vows, the Sustainable Development Goals re-state the importance of those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 and, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and in the light of a rapidly changing world, reaffirm those commitments. So, are the Sustainable Development Goals the world’s biggest promise…. or the world’s biggest lie? Will the SDGs really re-shape the plans and behaviours of nations, multilateral institutions, companies, development organisations and people, to make the world a fairer and more sustainable place?

Many believe the goals have helped to direct public policies and budgets towards the poorest and are recognised as important drivers of international policy which ensure that national governments maintain a commitment to these global challenges.

Eddie Murphy, a respected sustainability expert at Mott MacDonald believes that ‘the MDGs have had some impact on driving governments to put in place legislative interventions to implement positive impacts, and this has helped the green agenda’.

In addition to the evidence about indicators, the MDGs created a real ‘hook’ that kept global poverty on national and international agendas.  Annual multilateral reviews of achievement; the MDGs + 5 and MDGs + 10, UN General Assembly meetings; and numerous regional and national meetings meant that poverty reduction received much greater attention around the world than it had in the past. At the same time, there are perfectly plausible arguments that most of the numerical progress made wasn’t a direct consequence of the MDGs, and that critical promises were broken.

It’s [Not] All About the Economy [But]

Amongst the financial recessions that have hit globally perhaps the MDGs have maintained at least some profile for the environmental agenda. Teresa Hitchock, a Partner in DLA Piper UK LLP and Head Safety, Health and Environment believes the Millennium Development Goals fell short of achieving their objectives in the face of other world crises such as terrorism , ebola and the Syrian conflict.  She believes ‘sustainability is still seen as the second cousin to immediate pressures’ and hopes the SDGs will redress that.

Many believe that whilst governments and policy makers have been active they have been unable, or unwilling, to lock-in business benefits to achieving the goals set out. Whilst there is a strong human rights agenda emerging there is a growing belief the SDGs must concentrate on making sustainability good business sense. This is a view shared by Paul Caulfield, Director of the MBA in CSR at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at The University of Nottingham Business School. He sees ‘the main objective of SDGs as being to provide a common language and currency for business strategies’ so that what makes good business sense is doing the right thing. Are you listening Volkswagen?

Ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris it’s reassuring that SDG 13 states the need to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ including the commitment to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries ; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning; improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; a implement the commitment undertaken by developed country Parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible; and to promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

That sounds like a pretty sound framework – making it absolutely crystal clear that the delivery of Goal 13 is, in no doubt, dependent on some concerted effort and commitment at those talks.

The new SDGs bring together people, organisations and governments committing to reducing poverty and inequality, moving towards environmental sustainability and promoting social justice.  What’s not to like? The ambition is great, so let’s not do them down for that. If even half of the SDGs were achieved then by 2030 we should be living in a better world.

Smart City Collaboration [Cities and their Universities]

In previous blogs I have suggested the role that universities might play within their cities to forward the ‘smart’ agenda. Indeed, it was a feature of both the recent conferences organised by The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges and the International Sustainable Campus Network.

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.

Now overlay that with ‘smart’ urbanisation and recognise the inherent willingness to experiment, to try out new ideas, that are encouraged in universities but frowned upon in risk-averse (and resource depleted) local authorities who act as proxy for ‘the city’.

Cities are recognising the need to engage with their universities to forward the smart city agenda. In essence, to help make their cities work better through a greater understanding of human behaviour, infrastructure capability and capacity, societal norms and observation. If you’re going to make informed decisions and change things you might want to consider how data can underpin that process.

This week President Obama launched a $160m initiative for smart cities in the USA. One of the initiative’s programs is the MetroLab Network, aimed at improving American cities through university-city partnerships. More than 20 cities participating in major new multi-city collaborations that will help city leaders effectively collaborate with universities and industry. The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, in Atlanta, are four of the universities on board. The whole programme will provide a platform for:

  • Creating test beds for “Internet of Things” applications and developing new multi-sector collaborative models: Technological advancements and the diminishing cost of IT infrastructure have created the potential for an “Internet of Things,” a ubiquitous network of connected devices, smart sensors, and big data analytics. The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in this field, and cities represent strong potential test beds for development and deployment of Internet of Things applications. Successfully deploying these and other new approaches often depends on new regional collaborations among a diverse array of public and private actors, including industry, academia, and various public entities.
  • Collaborating with the civic tech movement and forging intercity collaborations: There is a growing community of individuals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits interested in harnessing IT to tackle local problems and work directly with city governments. These efforts can help cities leverage their data to develop new capabilities. Collaborations across communities are likewise indispensable for replicating what works in new places.
  • Leveraging existing Federal activity: From research on sensor networks and cybersecurity to investments in broadband infrastructure and intelligent transportation systems, the Federal government has an existing portfolio of activities that can provide a strong foundation for a Smart Cities effort.
  • Pursuing international collaboration: Fifty-four percent of the world’s population live in urban areas. Continued population growth and urbanization will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. The associated climate and resource challenges demand innovative approaches. Products and services associated with this market present a significant export opportunity for the U.S., since almost 90 percent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia.

It’s great to see Obama’s modest investment ($160m wont get you far but it will kick-start your smart city in to action) incentivising cities to work with their native and other universities. In the UK the Innovate UK/ Catapult approach has attempted to do a similar thing although it has got somewhat tied up redtape. As a result UK cities such as Glasgow (who benefitted most from the smart city / Future Cities call for funding on the back of its Commonwealth Games bid), Bristol, London, Birmingham and Manchester have developed ever closer links with their universities to develop governance, technology, data and behaviour insight to rethink energy, transport, waste, services. Other cities, such as Liverpool (read by previous blog here), have clear recommendations from the work of their commissions to engage with their universities to make this happen: The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities was one recommendation in the Mayor’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability. Leeds and Sheffield universities are beginning to work with their city councils with the former recognising the opportunity for collaborative, shared, posts to take the agenda forward. I hope, in due course, the city I work in, Nottingham, will do likewise to utilise the expertise that exists within both Nottingham universities.

The Obama Administration has, rather prescriptively, made some clear commitments in its announcements this week including:

Building a Research Infrastructure for Smart Cities

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is announcing over $35 million in Smart Cities-related grants and planning new investments in FY16. With a new foundation-wide effort devoted to Smart and Connected Communities, NSF will bring academic researchers and community stakeholders together to unlock transformational progress on important challenges — including health and wellness, energy efficiency, building automation, transportation, and public safety — through research to integrate new digital tools and engineering solutions into the physical world. NSF announcements in support of this agenda include:

  • $11.5 million in new awards to develop and scale next-generation Internet application prototypes that leverage gigabit speeds to achieve transformative impact in areas ranging from health care to public safety. These investments include new awards to US Ignite, Inc., and the Mozilla Foundation to create “Living Labs,” or communities of practice that facilitate the participation of citizens and community organizations, as well as idea and application sharing, across cities and regions. US Ignite is a public-private collaboration spanning over 40 cities and communities across the Nation. The Mozilla Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting openness, innovation, and participation on the Internet.
  • $10 million in new Cyber-Physical Systems Program research awards focused on Smart and Connected Communities. These awards support research in the integration of computing, networking, and physical systems, such as in self-driving cars and smart buildings. The research awards being announced today help to establish the foundation for Smart Cities and the “Internet of Things.” One such award, to Kansas State University, will fund research on novel approaches to integrate distributed power sources, such as rooftop solar panels and storage batteries, with the existing electric power grid.
  • $7.5 million in proposed FY16 spending for urban science that will support research that integrates advanced digital tools with the physical world to improve quality of life, health and wellbeing, and learning in communities.
  • $4 million to support academic-industry collaborations to translate innovative research and emerging technologies into smart service systems, such as smart energy services and on-demand transportation.
  • $3 million for the University of Chicago to support the creation of the Array of Things in Chicago, the first such network to serve as an infrastructure for researchers to rapidly deploy sensors, embedded systems, computing, and communications systems at scale in an urban environment. Comprised of 500 nodes deployed throughout the city of Chicago, each with power, Internet, and a base set of sensing and embedded information systems capabilities, the Array of Things will continuously measure the physical environment of urban areas at the city block scale and unlock promising new research trajectories.
  • $2.5 million for researchers to participate in the 2015 NIST Global City Teams Challenge, which supports “high-risk, high-reward” research on the effective integration of networked computing systems and physical systems to meet community challenges.
  • $2.5 million in new research awards to support improvements in the design and operation of interdependent critical infrastructure, such as electrical power and transportation systems, ensuring they are resilient to disruptions and failures from any cause.
  • $2 million in new Smart and Connected Health research awards with a focus on Smart and Connected Communities. The awards being announced today will support the development of next-generation health care solutions that leverage sensor technology, information and machine learning technology, decision support systems, modeling of behavioral and cognitive processes, and more.
  • A new Dear Colleague Letter encouraging Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research proposals, as well as supplemental proposals to existing grants, to grow a Smart and Connected Communities research community and pilot early-stage efforts.
  • Advancing outreach and collaboration on connected and automated vehicles. On November 4-5, 2015, the University Transportation Centers (UTC) research program will host a conference on the impact of connected and automated vehicles on transportation – to include, planning, policy, land use, design as well as smart cities areas of interest: operations, freight movements, and transit.New Multi-City Collaborations to Support Smart CitiesMore than 20 city-university collaborations are launching the MetroLab Network, with more than 60 Smart City projects in the next year. Supported by a newly announced grant of $1 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MetroLab Network will leverage university expertise to address challenges facing cities and regions across the country.  The Network will provide a platform upon which established and emerging city-university relationships can share successful projects, coordinate multi-city, multi-university research efforts, and compete for research and project funding.  The founding members have collectively committed to undertaking more than 60 projects over the next year, which will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure and services in our cities and communities and increase the productivity and competitiveness of our regional economies.  Communities and their university counterparts signing onto the network with a joint letter to the President include:
    • Atlanta, with Georgia State University and Georgia Tech
    • Boston, with Boston Area Research Initiative
    • Chicago, with the University of Chicago
    • Cuyahoga County, with Case Western University
    • Dallas, with Texas Research Alliance
    • Detroit, with Wayne State University
    • Houston, with Rice University
    • Madison, with University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • Memphis, with University of Memphis
    • Minneapolis & St. Paul, with University of Minnesota
    • Montgomery County, with University of Maryland and Universities at Shady Grove
    • New York City, with New York University
    • Philadelphia, with Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania
    • Pittsburgh, with Carnegie Mellon University
    • Portland, with Portland State University
    • Providence, with Brown University, College Unbound, and Rhode Island School of Design
    • San Diego, with University of California San Diego
    • San Jose, with San Jose State University
    • Seattle, with University of Washington
    • South Bend, with University of Notre Dame
    • Washington, DC, with Howard University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University

It’s wise, smart even, to facilitate and incentivise collaboration between city governments and universities. Both in the US and in the UK this has been happening but perhaps ad hoc and now the bigger carrots Obama is dangling is encouraging more to step up to the plate in the US. It helps prove the concept works and more cities in Europe, South America, North America, the Middle East, Far East, Russia, China, India et al should embrace this approach. It could be the single biggest contribution any university could gift the city that allowed it to grow and succeed.

City Devolution and Governance

Ben Harrison, Director of Partnerships at The Centre for Cities has written a great piece this week about the governance issues affecting city regions and the pace of devolution.

The announcement this week that the Government plans to hand a significant amount of EU funding directly to the [Manchester] city-region, but will resist doing so for other places across the country, is a further reminder of the clear blue water that can open up between cities in terms of the powers they wield, and the funding they control, when they get their governance right. Come 2017, Greater Manchester will have new powers over transport, housing, land, planning, police, fire, and children’s services, while other city-regions – even those in which real political and administrative progress has been made – have not yet decided either whether they are prepared to do a deal, or the basis on which they would do it. 

My earlier blog on the (ridiculously named) Northern Powerhouse highlights, as The Guardian says, “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.”

Read the article by Ben Harrison at There’s more to devolution deals than the prizes on offer today.

 

Manchester the clear focus of George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’

In a previous (re)blog that was drafted by Brad  – The Mancunian Way or the Highway – it was clear that Manchester was very much at the heart of what Government (and George Osbourne) considered to be the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Personally, I think it’s up there with ‘hardworking families’ as the most over-used and un-understood(!) phrase. But, as The Guardian says, “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.”

In a blog posted in late 2014 Peter Heterington, writing in The Guardina wrote: “English councils will soon have lost almost a quarter of their funding in five years. Those most in need, such as Sheffield, are being hit hardest. It has happened on the watch of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. Since 2010, £238m has been removed from Sheffield city council’s budget, with a further £60m likely to be slashed next year. “We are facing the worst financial crisis in our history,” but authorities in the leafy south are faring far better than big cities such as Sheffield.”

Nine months on there remains a sniff of devolution, provided you play by the unwritten rules not in DCLG but in The Treasury. Manchester, with first mover advantage, has not only given Osbourne confidence because of its united front and its history of the Greater Manchester Authorities working in partnership, it has cleverly influenced his thinking from the inside. Nothing wrong with that of course. It’s only to be applauded that local government, albeit big authorities, are influencing ‘upwards’. But behind Manchester appears to be dawdling, indecision, infighting and a series of internal debates that amount to the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ to be echoing around town halls in the north and the midlands.

Osborne referenced the city regions of Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds – a particularly disputed region which includes York and parts of North Yorkshire – which he said were “working towards further devolution deals”. The government is also “making good progress towards a deal with Cornwall” and had also received proposals from the West and East Midlands, he said.

The one rule that seems to be a sticking point is that devolution needs an elected mayor, despite the appetite for this being zero in the cities who seek it. The Treasury’s insistence on an elected mayor had been a stumbling block throughout the process. Will mayors one day rule the world? 

 

We need a new name for cities

In the past week I have travelled through the cities of Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and the lesser known Ningbo, in China. On my travels I flew over cities I didn’t know that we’re bigger than any I had seen in the UK or Europe. These cities extend for tens of miles east-west and north-south filling bays, rivers, deltas, hillsides, islands and deserts. They are home to tens of millions of people and they stretch high into the sky with buildings touching and penetrating the clouds that hang above them. They are places where engineering and science have allowed human populations to tolerate otherwise difficult, or even inhospitable, environments. They have been built where, ordinarily it would be considered uncomfortably or dangerously hot and humid. They have been built on flood plains where rivers swell in monsoon rains or on hillsides where those waters rush through from mountainous uplands. They are served by a network of roads, railways, canals and rivers that enable otherwise isolated parts of their country to be connected. Their airports are the size of large towns and have asset values that outstrip the cities of Western Europe. They sprawl, yes, but they also have very high population density, sacrificing personal living space for the desire to be urbanised and supported by the infrastructure those cities bring. To a European or North American they would, I guess, feel claustrophobic. 

They are, simply, mega. Mega cities that dwarf what we, in the UK at least, have come to refer to as cities. In comparison, whilst London might hold its own (just), the cities of the UK are smaller, less relevant to the global economy and its networks. Collectively, if you bundled all the top 10 cities in the UK together, it might get to approximately half the size of Shanghai. 

When cities have grown up, literally, building taller and taller towers in a show of architectural bravado, they are also growing underground. You can’t help but be impressed by Hong Kong’s subway system. Not only does it connect communities across Hong Kong’s islands it connects communities through the labyrinth of supporting infrastructure like tunnels, escalators and lifts – and they air condition it too so making it more comfortable than surface level transport. All of these things support denser urban form. So, there are 3 levels in Hong Kong – underground, surface and Sky. 

 
The view from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong at the Ozone Bar, the highest and in earth.

  The extensive subway network connects Hong Kong’s Islands and communities beneath the surface.

Hong Kong has been a significant city for some time. It now boasts some of the greatest wealth, best universities and global business trades there daily. But the cities forming across China are doing it at such a pace it’s hard to map it. Huge swathes of their countries are mined, quarried and felled to support the quest for growth. As described in a previous blog and talk from TedTalks here the buildings are going up faster than the governance and infra infrastructure can keep up with. One without the other is destabilising and can lead to systems failure, unrest and inequity. Even in more established cities the growth is financed by the labours of the many for the benefit of the few. 

If these are mega cities where does that leave cities of the UK? Individually they are no bigger, on a global scale, than a village is to a city like London. Collectively they might just be significant. For that to happen in the UK will mean all the Core Cities, plus London, Belfast, Southampton, Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt to collaborate. To support this will require transport links between cities, over water, through mountains and in the air. And to do it without ripping up the natural capital we need to support our cities. The British Government doesn’t get this at all. It still sees itself as aglobal player when in reality it isn’t. The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a response to inward looking economic agendas instead of sing the opportunity for the UK to compete as a whole in the mega city economy. Extracting the UK from Europe would only hasten that inward looking agenda.

Official – Time to Act on Air Quality in the UK

At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we now know, better than ever, what the causes of poor air quality are and what is needed to do it. Central to that is political will both at the national and local level. Unfortunately, therein lies the issue. Nationally there is reluctance to tell local authorities what to do and the trend has been to incentivise them to do the right thing through the provision of small pots of money to remedy dirty buses or encourage the uptake of electric vehicle charge points. Locally there has been real fear of appearing anti-car. It has meant local authorities have got themselves into a proper tangle with conflicting policies for regeneration and growth overriding policies to promote air quality.

Whilst the announcement is welcome, how convenient for it to come during Purdah such that no politician has been able to step up and take responsibility for the inaction of the current government or previous governments. Yes, this really has been a failing of both Labour and the Conservative / LibDem coalition. Instead a fairly weak comment from DEFRA A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. “It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.” ClientEarth lawyers recently told a hearing that enforcement by the court was the only “effective remedy” for the UK’s “ongoing breach” of European Union law.

Previous blogs I have suggested what the solution might be. These words were drafted when I worked for the City Council in Sheffield, a city that has a better understanding of its air quality issues than most, but has yet to make any real inroads, despite some great things happening with EVs.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modeled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have identified a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.

 

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