Thursday, 24 November 2016

Julie Godefroy - Reporting from the Biennale

This year’s Venice architecture Biennale offered some inspiration to imagine resilient cities, focusing on projects which “report from the front” and tackle the key issues of inequalities, pollution, limited resources and waste.

As a sustainability consultant in London, I became interested in the 2016 Architecture Biennale when they announced it would be curated by Alejandro Aravena, the Chilean architect behind the “half-a-good-house”. The idea opens home ownership to people on low income, starting with simple shells which are finished and tailored over the years as budgets allow1
"What does the lady on the ladder see?"
The Biennale poster is archaeologist Maria Reiche on a ladder, scanning rocky ground. In the 1940s she walked the Peruvian desert to study the Nazca lines, carrying an aluminium ladder. From the viewpoint at the top, the lines turned from random assemblies to reveal themselves. For Aravena “the idea is to listen to those who have been able to acquire a new perspective so that those of us on the ground can share the lessons they have learnt.” 
The Biennale poster © Bruce Chatwin / Trevillion Images
The Biennale displays over 150 practices and national pavilions, from architectural concepts through to small individual buildings and country-scale initiatives, via “temporary” settlements such as refugee camps and religious festivals attracting millions of pilgrims to a single spot for a few weeks. 
So these are my very biased and reductive highlights. 

The historic Arsenale, one of the Biennale sites

Reporting from the front 

Aravena has stated that the Biennale selection was driven by talent and creativity rather than an ethical approach, and that architects have no particular duty to “do good”, though they may do so to test their skills in challenging environments2. I certainly found it infused with social and environmental responsibility as well as cautious practical optimism. 
The exhibition did not revolve around a handful of starchitects but instead a variety of firms from around the world. Some projects straddled over arts and architecture. Others were practical responses to natural or political crises where architecture acted as catalyst for change, such as “replacing guns with tools” in Sri Lanka by training soldiers to rebuild schools, making use of their organisational skills while facilitating their conversion to civilian life3.  
The projects often heavily involved local communities and in large majority were very much anchored in reality and action rather than theoretical exercises (British pavilion probably excepted, as despite ostensibly addressing housing it felt somewhat detached from current issues in the UK market). 
Many projects were less concerned about the buildings than about the spaces in between and their use for public life and environmental services – parks, squares, playgrounds, markets ... This often involved small incremental interventions over long periods and collaboration between disciplines and public and private actors rather than traditional fractioned approaches. For example a project in Medellin, Columbia, started when the mayor and utilities company noticed that high violence typically occurred in the areas least illuminated at night, which also happened to be the locations of the city’s water tanks. An improvement programme was carried out by successive administrations, regardless of political factions, turning the tanks and their surroundings into lively parks and public spaces4
In Chandigarh, engineer Nek Chand worked for decades in his spare time to create a 35-acre rock garden on an abandoned plot, using discarded materials from Le Corbusier’s city 
Incremental housing by Bel Architects, with basic multi-storey structures gradually tailored by residents, allowing built efficiency as well as cultural flexibility

Doing more with less 

I was also impressed by the creative and efficient use of resources, starting with the stunning Arsenale introduction room made out of last year’s exhibition materials – that’s 100 tons, or 10,000m² of plasterboard and 14km of metals studs… Cue to Ecobuild 2017!

The Arsenale introduction rooms

This theme ran through numerous exhibits, from structural design challenging assumptions to bring significant savings, including the work of Werner Sobek on vacuum, negative pressure and “air beams”, through to up-cycled and re-used materials. 
Ochsendorf, Block and Dejong, claiming 70% savings in structural materials 
Rural Studio’s Theatre of the Useful: Benches made of insulation panels, to be used in social housing post-Biennale; partitions made of bed springs 

Benches from quarry “waste”, by Teresa Moller (The crane in the background is a piece of British engineering heritage in need of conservation – see Venice in Peril campaign5

This was inspirational given that in the UK, construction generates half of the country’s total waste6. It is also very much a land planning issue for future cities: in 2010 it was estimated that unless we drastically changed our use of resources, England would run out of landfill space by 20187… To end positively, the Biennale also provided a great example on this topic: the restoration of a landfill site near Barcelona into a park and farming landscape8.  
Vall d’en Joan landfill restoration © Battle i Roig
Julie Godefroy is a chartered engineer, WELL Accredited Professional (AP) and BREEAM AP.

She is a member of the National Trust Historic Environment Group and its Design Advice Forum, and a member of the advisory group for UCL IEDE's new MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Stefanie Stead - Never mind the bollards…

It was in horror that we watched last year’s events unfold in Paris. Places of apparent safety - a restaurant, a music venue - became unsafe; a city violated. We may think that the impact of a troublesome political climate is a relatively new thing, that it is really only now that we feel unsafe, insecure, paranoid even, whilst going about our daily business. Yet is this really the case? Medieval Britons would think twice before venturing far without being armed to the teeth. Georgian homeowners would literally nail themselves within their property. It is the threats - and perceived threats - that have changed.

And we are not just referring to the impact of contemporary terrorism on our built environment - it is also about safety. Creating places that feel safe at all times of the day is crucial to the success of a neighbourhood, resulting in reduced crime and increased business. It can attract investment, people and culture. Indeed a little anarchy can be a good thing for an area, cultivating alternative thinking, artistic endeavours and literary inspiration. A counter-culture can be good for business - just look at New York’s Meat Packing district or Brixton. Unfortunately safe places = terrorist targets. Boston, for example, is consistently voted as being one of the safest cities in the US, although this illusion was shattered during the Boston Marathon, giving rise to the question as to whether a balance can be struck between ‘safety’ and ‘security’. It would seem this shift in the balance is only temporary. Cities are amazingly resilient - largely due to its people who rebelliously will not hide, but also the buildings, infrastructure and public spaces that continue to endure.

Many of our cities developed because of their defensive position. Whether a small city like York or a metropolis like London, the very existence of these conurbations is due to their foundations as fortifications. The quaintness of Yorkshire market towns like Richmond or Knaresborough belie the once strategic importance of their associated castles, but these fortifications influenced how our cities developed and in turn shaped our society, becoming places of safety in turbulent times. How things have changed. From the blitz, the threat of nuclear war and alternative tactics from terrorist organisations have made these urban areas look less like refuges and more like targets. How has modern day urban planning responded to these new challenges and is there a way that we can learn from past defensive design to bring sanctuary back to the city?

There is a great deal of research on how the creation of spaces that give residents and users a feeling of sanctuary, reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. However it would seem that this theory is taken to the extreme; that rather than creating urban design that engages people, some local authorities and developers are keen to ‘design out’ certain activities, and ipso facto, certain people. Whether it is the anti-loitering "Mosquito" device, anti-skateboarding studs or benches that prevent any other use other than the act of sitting, urban spaces are becoming less about inclusive design and more about defending our cities from the homeless, ‘anti-social’ youths and feral pigeons. What are the consequences of such design? How can we design urban spaces that are all embracing to the wider society in which we live, yet remain safe and welcoming?

Is the Internet of Things possibly the future of the industry, and the development of the concept of intelligent buildings is leading to significant shifts in the way buildings are designed, operated and used. From the designers, constructors and users, everyone stands to benefit from the optimisation of space, energy efficiency and connectivity, whether a workplace or home, changing demographics come with increasing user expectations of modern and flexible space design, improved comfort, productivity, and pervasive connectivity. Sounds great, but the downside is that the greater the reliance on digital technology, the greater the chance of the building - or elements of - being hacked. Can terrorists turn out the lights out of a city, can a burglar hack into your security alarm, can your kettle turn against you? Is this the future or will there be a revolution against the digital age?

Maybe the armed forces can help solve some of the challenges. The armed forces have incredible skills in design and engineering; skills used to overcome some extraordinary circumstances in places of extreme danger. These skills, developed in response to defending security, can be used to overcome peacetime problems. Whether in the aftermath of earthquakes or, as the Boxing Day floods demonstrated, the army’s skills in design were indispensable in keeping communities together and society functioning. However, can these skills be used for more than emergency situations, when all other options have failed? Are there innovative solutions that the industry can use as a matter of course?

I realise that I have introduced more questions than answers, but that, I think, is because there is no single answer in creating safe and welcoming spaces. Indeed it is questioning what has been done and how we can work together in the future that is the basis of the Construction Industry Council’s sixth annual Yorkshire & Humber conference.

The aim of this day is to explore the ways in which our built environment has developed and continues to develop strategies that respond to safety and security risks, and questions how we, as construction professionals, can work together to create safe yet welcoming spaces. What this conference is not about is bomb blast bollards, barriers and anti-parking paving, but rather an interrogation of new threats, what we can learn from past threats and what we can do to defend the future.

For further information on the conference please click here.

Stefanie Stead chairs CIC's Yorkshire and Humber regional committee and is an Architect at Pearce Bottomley Architects in Leeds.

This blog was first published on the CIC blog in September 2016, and was reproduced here with their permission.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Jason Fitzsimmons: Resilient people - designing buildings for a healthy nation

Resilience to climate change in the built environment covers many areas.  Buildings can be designed to protect us from the elements and with security of water supply.  There is no need for them to overheat with the modelling tools and data available today.  Good thermal design is well understood, (if not always practiced), water can be saved with low flow rate design and  optimum drainage strategies can be implemented to reduce flooding. 

What about the people for whom these buildings are being designed?  Designing to enable resilience in people can also be part of the design process; this is about designing buildings beyond comfort from a physics perspective and looking at it also from a biological and health perspective.  A healthier individual is one who is more resilient and adaptable to climatic changes.

What should be considered that affects the health of an individual? Social isolation and exclusion, designing community cohesion, air quality, chemicals, electromagnetic radiation (EMR), noise, fuel poverty, shared green space, and permaculture design are a few areas considered below. 

Torrington Blue Coats School  designed in accordance with Building Biology (BBA) principles

Social isolation is an important issue today.  It is well known in health circles that together with a healthy and active lifestyle people who are part of a local community live healthier and longer lives.   
During the 2003 European Heatwave more than 40,000 people died with almost 15,000 deaths in France alone.  Lessons can be learnt from this.  In Paris the majority of victims of overheating were those who were elderly, living alone in the roof spaces of high rise ageing and poorly insulated apartments.  
The office for national statistics in the UK found that in 2011 there were over 7 million people living alone and almost 60% of people aged over 85 were living alone. Social isolation of vulnerable people is a key issue.  In Paris the key factors that contributed to the deaths of so many were exasperated by the fact that heat wave occurred during the months of August during the holidays, where less were people checking on the elderly.  Together with social isolation the build up of heat stress in a poorly insulated fabric went unchecked.  In a society that is increasingly isolating itself, designs need to do more to counter this.
Work by JRF has also found similar issues.

An example of a shared permaculture garden space

It’s important that with the design emphasis on building physics and climate change that other important design considerations do not get forgotten such as construction material selection.  Many modern building materials and insulants which save energy often contain inherent chemical, physiological and biological risks, made with chemicals that can ‘off-gas’ into the internal environment for many years.  Buildings are being made increasingly air tight and rely on occupants opening trickle ventilators.  This coupled with the fact that more and more time is being spent indoors that leads to exposure times that even low concentrations of harmful agents could affect health in the long term and cause chronic diseases.  It is even more important therefore  that any construction materials used are as natural and healthy to the individual as possible. 

Wood fibre insulation (Mike Wye)

Another area for concern is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from low frequency electric and magnetic fields from electrical circuits to high frequency radiation from mobile phones and broadband.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) and various worldwide health studies have identified that certain exposure levels to EMR can lead to migraines, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and can even be carcinogenic.  Nevertheless, we continue to fill our buildings with levels of EMR that exceed levels recommended by the WHO and without consideration to their possible side effects.   With the ever increasing  inclusion of Wi-Fi in so many of our consumer goods, such as Wi-Fi in light bulbs, smart meters, Wi-Fi in fridges telling you when to buy cheese etc., we are becoming further tied into the need for continuous high frequency radiation without stopping to think about the health effects.   

Bedroom designed along BBA principles – natural construction materials and no EMR in bedrooms
A particularly vulnerable area in the home is the bedroom.  Studies on the levels of EMR in the bedroom carried out by Gale & Snowden Architects have found cables running beneath beds, telephones and radios on bedside tables within 1 meter of an occupants head all emitting EMR way beyond any safe acceptable exposure limits.  Ideally the bedroom should be a sanctuary, free of EMRs, chemicals and with optimal comfort levels to enable us to sleep soundly allowing our bodies and minds to regenerate.
It is summed up clearly by the BBA
“At the heart of Building Biology lies the notion that nature is the golden principle to which we should be designing our buildings, so that for instance, electromagnetic radiation levels and air and water quality should match nature as closely as possible.”
What can be done to address social isolation and make buildings healthier?   One of our recent projects was a care home; at the heart of this design we designed a community building/café surrounded by a courtyard and permaculture planted garden.  The care home was curved inward with every flat looking into the garden and community space.   Fuel poverty was addressed through a highly insulated envelope following Passivhaus principles. Good air quality was designed in, chemicals and EMR were designed out through the careful selection of natural materials and by following the principles as laid out by the BBA which was set up to address health in building designs.  The designs were also thermally modelled into 2080 weather scenarios to design in resilience and adaptability.   The permaculture garden not only created a space to cool down but also a space to socialise. This case study featured in the recent CIBSE TM55 Design for Future Climate: Case Studies 2014.   

The same design principles are used when designing social housing for Local Authorities as well as commercial buildings such as offices and leisure buildings.

50 apartment care home project with shared permaculture garden and community centre designed to Passivhaus and Building Biology Standards

The existing building stock is another area for concern.  As designers of super insulated and healthy buildings we were saddened to read in this BBC news article that more than 1 million families in the UK cannot afford to heat their poorly insulated homes, and are living in squalid, damp, cold and mouldy conditions. Given that in 2000 Parliament aimed to end fuel poverty by 2016, it is clear that there is still a long way to go.  

An example of unsatisfactory standards of living - photo from

A healthy home that is comfortable in both summer and winter should be a fundamental right of any family. This is more than simply providing shelter from the elements; the standard of housing has to be adequate for the health and well-being of the individual. It is well known by medical professions that damp and mouldy conditions affect the immune system, often resulting in respiratory infections, allergies, and asthma; these are not thriving conditions for growing families, and the mental stress associated with these conditions should not be underestimated.

Barberry Close Passivhaus social housing scheme designed in accordance with Building Biology principles
Designing buildings to be resilient is not just about building physics and overheating; it can and should also provide comfortable, healthy conditions in which people can thrive and in which they will then be resilient to future climatic changes.  By putting the resilience of the individual at the forefront of the design process the resilience of the building will fall into place.     

Jason Fitzsimmons is an Associate at Gale & Snowden Architects and has a background in building physics, renewable energy engineering, healthy building design and is a climate change adaptation consultant.  Jason has carried out extensive research work and has been published several times in areas such as natural ventilation, overheating and climate change adaptation   Jason also runs a building troubleshooting and testing department within the practice using a wide range of test equipment.  

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Briony Turner – When it’s not good for the built environment sector to feature in the top three…

Hot off the press, the Committee on Climate Change has just published an independent Evidence Report, titled “UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017” setting out the latest evidence on the risks and opportunities to the UK from climate change and providing a localised breakdown for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The top 6 priorities identified for urgent action over the next five years are:

The built environment is closely linked with the top three of these six immediate priority areas. The risks presented are not just physical but also cover impact on public health and well-being.

The background is that every five years the Government must publish a UK-wide Climate Change Risk Assessment setting out the risks from current and predicted impacts of climate change on the UK.  This latest synthesis report identifies 56 urgency categories of risks and opportunities for the UK that climate change presents. 

Let’s start with the weather…

The good news is that those beavering away at the Met Office on the projections appear to be spot on with their predictions. The expectation of milder winters and hotter summers for the UK have increased in line with global observations, sea levels have risen by 15-20cm since 1900 and the recent episodes of severe and sustained rainfall are consistent with our climate change projections.  The not so great news is that if the projections are correct, then our cities, particularly the built environment which is not currently required by law or standard to take account of and adapt to climate change, are woefully under-prepared.

Key climate change risks requiring urgent action identified by the CCRA

The top three priorities for action, flooding, overheating and water supply are risks we are already experiencing manifestations of now.  At the CCRA launch event Lord Krebs specifically identified concerns about the number of buildings and key infrastructure still being built in high flood risk areas and also the risks presented to health and well-being from overheating of buildings.  These risks are brought together with current and future socioeconomic trends in the technical chapter 5 focused on “People and the built environmentwhich should be compulsory reading for every built environment professional.

The chapter covers the opportunities from warmer weather, urban air quality, overheating in buildings, water supply, flood and coastal risk, moisture risks from flooding, risks posed by high winds, structural stability, historic and listed structures and gardens, infectious diseases and pests, population health and health protection. The message is clear, we cannot continue to build and plan our cities without regard for their impact on the components that underpin basic human needs, particularly adequate shelter, food and water.

Another key risk identified is that to natural capital.  This includes soils which literally underpin cities. It is easy to forget about the valuable infrastructure lying beneath the ground.   For the built environment community, contaminated land, how it has been treated and how it responds to a changing climate is vital knowledge.  The ARCC network hosted an event with CIRIA last summer and discovered that whilst flood risk was a consideration in contaminated land assessment, there are still some knowledge gaps in terms of the complex relationship between climate change, soil moisture, groundwater and contaminant mobilisation.

We have plenty of knowledge about what interventions need to be carried out to our homes and cities to make them more resilient from the EPSRC funded ARCC network of flooding, overheating and smart adapting cities, the former Zero Carbon Hub’s overheating work programme, the Flooding& Coastal Erosion Risk Management network, the Innovate UK Design for Future Climate competition, the BRE Resilience Centre research programme, the London Climate Change Partnership and JRF’s Climate Just facility to name but a few of the many resources freely available.

Should we be planning for a 4ºC world?

In the Q&A after the launch, it was suggested that planning and built environment decisions should be considering a high emissions scenario with global temperatures rising by 4ºC (great map for world from Met Office here), meanwhile still working internationally with partners under the Paris Agreement (which resulted from COP21 back in December) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent global average temperature rise from breaching a 2ºC  rise on pre-industrial levels. When it is not just capital investment, but human lives at stake, there’s something to be said for taking a lead from our emergency services colleagues: plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Our built environment is fundamental in determining the risk magnitude not just of the top three risks identified in the CCRA, but of those for many other sectors, particularly health and social care.  We, as a collective of professionals and citizens, have the ability to affect which way the magnitude dial swings between now and the next risk assessment exercise.  Whilst we could continue Business as Usual and intensify many of these risks, the extensive membership of cross-sector groups like this CIBSE Resilient Cities group indicates a professional appetite for tackling the challenges presented head on and building to take advantage of the opportunities too.

Being leaders rather than laggards could have commercial advantage

The UK is in prime position to lead on deploying the adaptive pathways and adaptive management techniques needed for improving the resilience of cities. We have the understanding of how our changing climate might impact not just on sectors, but also the inter-dependencies between them.  There's some excellent work that could underpin this by UCL who are working on the HEW project for inter-dependencies between housing, energy and well-being and by the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium regarding infrastructure inter-dependencies. 
Adaptive pathways and adaptive management approaches allow for an agreed approach to coordinate activity, achieving adaptation through sequencing and structured approaches. They work at policy levels but also at organisation levels, as a way to work with existing working cycles, for instance existing refurbishment and maintenance plans.  There will be also an increasing driver from investors to at least understand, if not adapt to reduce risks from climate change. The world's largest ratings agencies, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s now assess climate and energy transition risk factors which will have  credit implications for corporate and infrastructure debt instruments.  

The CIBSE Resilient Cities Group brings together cross-sector researchers and practitioners with a shared interest in making our cities more resilient to a changing climate.  It provides an opportunity for knowledge exchange and horizon scanning, but also brings together those willing to apply these ideas in practice. Now, more than ever,  we need this type of collective pooling of knowledge to start informing mainstream policy and practice.  Help us to do so, join us!

Briony Turner is a PhD student at King’s College London and is Knowledge Exchange Manager for the ARCC network.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Chloe Hampton - LSBU explore green infrastructure for a healthier workplace

London South Bank University (LSBU) has recently started a campaign to make the campus healthier and more sustainable. We were therefore very happy to host the green infrastructure as a building service design challenge. The design challenge was devised with focus on a real office space with real opportunities for improvement. The Clarence Centre for Enterprise and Innovation at LSBU was a suitable fit having recently been retrofitted, and has a typical office space layout, which can allow for replication - an important feature for engaging implementation. 

The Clarence Centre is a beautiful listed building renovated with a complimentary modern extension. It is a pleasure to work there, great location, looks amazing and wonderful people. Although, since I have been involved in the green infrastructure design challenge I have started to notice just how poor the indoor environmental quality is. It is very stuffy, the temperatures vary wildly from space to space with the offices being generally hot. Opening windows is our sole source of ventilation of which half open on to the busy London road. We do not measure or record anything in the building, something I think all spaces should do -  because if you don't know you can't fix it! 

The Clarence Centre has very little in the way of greenery and plants; green infrastructure however, is developing from a ‘nice to have’ aesthetic to an integral part of building service design and maintenance of spaces. The potential positive impact plants can have on indoor environmental quality and staff morale are numerous e.g. boosting productivity,  therefore helping to provide the business case for internal green infrastructure. It is exciting to have 'green sky' design solutions on site at LSBU that we may be able to implement and test, improving the working environment, supporting small businesses and informing research.
Typical office space within Clarence Centre
Universities offer a unique resource of both expertise for innovation and facilities to support it. They should be considered a playground of activity, for testing and trailing new ways of doing things and challenge the status quo. At LSBU, we have a number of interesting projects on site varying from testing 'sustainable' products to implementing innovative ways to heat and cool buildings to our Centre for Efficient and Renewable Energy in buildings. We work within an influence loop where enterprise informs research and research informs teaching. This ensures that we are working on the current issues in industry and that our students are learning relevant and current topics - such as green infrastructure as a building service. We have an excellent building services course at LSBU – staff and students of which were involved in the challenge. 

The Challenge received three submissions of a very high standard – especially given the tight time constraints. Each submission coincidentally focused on different areas of the building. The winner was Biospace, and as an occupant of the space, it was my favourite design. I could really see their ideas being implemented in the office and could imagine myself working very happily in their proposed space. The design consisted of an interesting amalgamation of greenery including hinged ‘green blinds’, edible plants, energy producing plants and technology that informs occupants of the plants needs. What I liked most was that it didn't change the workspace it simply edited and added unobtrusive clever greenery that served a purpose. 
The winning entry being scrutinised

Challenging the industry and academia to collaborate to develop ideas for the integration and retrofit of green infrastructure in the office spaces at LSBU allows for the development of a healthier, more sustainable and climatically resilient workplace, both on site and for the wider working community. 

Thank you to ARCC and CIBSE for the opportunity and especially thanks for the first plant in the office, which I am desperately trying not to kill! 

For more information about the competition and downloads of the submissions received including the winning BioSpace entry then click here.

Chloe Hampton, Research and Enterprise Support Officer 
The Green Infrastructure challenge complements and supports The LSBU Corporate Strategy, which focuses on real world impact, and The Enterprise Institutes based at the Clarence Centre are integral to this aim. I work within The Sustainable Communities Institute (SCi) one of four Enterprise Institutes at LSBU. It is an interdisciplinary and inter-professional centre of excellence working toward creating places for individuals and groups to live and work sustainably, both now and in the future. The focus of the Institute is to enhance performance, sustainability and wellbeing and reduce cost and resource usage through impactful interventions, research and policy guidance. 
LSBU has been awarded the ‘Commitment’ level award of the London Healthy Workplace Charter and is striving towards the ‘Excellent’ award.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Jae Mather - Vancouver; a city of the present not just the future!

Resilience, adaptability & self-sufficiency; appear to be the buzzwords of the day. These concepts are rising to the surface of people’s minds, both individually and ever more so within companies, organisations and governments. It would seem that we may be upon the cusp of some transformation in consciousness and maybe even governance.

We've never been in a better position to access information and therefore to transition to a place where we start to fundamentally understand that 'what we do to others, we ultimately do to ourselves'. Things like the changing climate, global macro trends, commodity price volatility and the global agreements that came out of COP 21 in Paris are all pointing in the same direction. Things are changing and they are changing at an accelerating pace that unavoidably turns our eyes towards the absolute need for new ways of running the economy, society and the environment.

To many people cities represent the pinnacle of the evolution of our respective civilisations. They are big, loud, opportunity generating, ever growing and often deeply exciting places. They are where most people are (53% of the world populations now lives in cities) and where a large percentage of the rest want to be ( They are where the majority of the jobs are at, where most of the best education is and where art and culture consolidates.

Cycling in Vancouver
Recently my family and I moved back to my home city of Vancouver after 18 years in Europe. One of the reasons why was because of the leadership that is being shown in Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan which was created in response to these circumstances and they appear to be one of the best examples of transforming the consciousness through sustainable leadership.

The city consistently rates, as one of the best places in the world to live and what is interesting is that the leadership and staff of the city recognize that for Vancouver to stay in such a position, there is a need to continually innovate and adapt. The choice has been made to keep sustainability sitting at the very heart of that plan.  Sustainable strategy is the cities strategy and not just a bit of green on the side. Resilience and adaptability are returning to the top of the list as highly desirable and in some cases essential elements of urban management and design.
Vancouver district heating system

Key targets of the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan:

Goal 1. Green Economy
  • Double the number of green jobs over 2010 levels
  • Double the number of companies that are actively engaged in greening their operations over 2011 levels
Goal 2. Climate Leadership
  • Reduce community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33% from 2007 levels
Goal 3. Green Buildings
  • Require all buildings constructed from 2020 onwards to be carbon neutral in operations
  • Reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels
Goal 4. Green Transportation
  • Make the majority (over 50%) of trips by foot, bicycle and public transport
  • Reduce average distance driven per resident by 20% from 2007 levels
Goal 5. Zero Waste
  • Reduce solid waste going to the landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels
Goal 6. Access to Nature
  • All Vancouver residents live within a 5 min walk of a park, greenway or other green space
  • Plant 150,000 new trees
Goal 7. Lighter Footprint
  • Reduce Vancouver’s ecological footprint by 33% over 2006 levels
Goal 8. Clean Water
  • Meet or beat the strongest of British Columbian, Canadian and appropriate international drinking water quality standards and guidelines
  • Reduce per capita water consumption by 33% from 2006 levels
Goal 9. Clean Air
  • Always meet or beat the most stringent air quality guidelines from Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and the world health organisation
Goal 10. Local Food
  • Increase citywide and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50% over 2010 levels

What also interests me is how cities will adapt and prosper from some of the main technological disruptions that are one the way.

Driverless Cars 
How will the value of property in urban centres change as people are able to travel at very high speeds while working, sleeping & playing from much further away at much lower cost?

3D printing 
How will the high street change when people are able to make their own high quality things at home and the financial model switches from owning products to licensing designs?

Virtual Reality 
When people do not need to commute to work in anywhere near the volumes that they do today because of home based VR systems allowing them to be anywhere, how will this change the needs of public transport?

Jae Mather BA, PGradDip, CEnv., FRSA, FIEMA is the Director of Sustainability at the Carbon Free Group and North American Ambassador for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) @jaemather

City images courtesy of Vancouver City Council

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