The concept of a 15-minute city, where everything you need for daily life is within a quarter of an hour walk of your front door, was already giving city planners something to think about before COVID-19 . But as neighbourhoods, and the people living in them, grappled with multiple lockdowns throughout 2020, the idea really gained traction.
Nowhere more so than in Paris, where the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, made it the centrepiece of her successful 2020 re-election campaign. Hidalgo’s aim was to create self-sufficient communities throughout the city, where everything is a short walk or bike ride away.
In Sweden, they are tightening the time frame even further. A one-minute city pilot called Street Moves aims to “reclaim the streets” from cars by creating numerous pop-up public amenities, with the overall intention of giving the public a say in what’s on their doorstep.
It is hoped the government-backed initiative will be picked up by municipalities across the whole country, but can such a hyper-local proposition really work on a national scale?
For Street Moves project manager, Daniel Byström, who works for ArkDes – the architecture and design think-tank leading the project – the pilot is trying to inspire new ways of approaching urban development rather than attempting to offer instant wholesale change.
“The ambition is to get a spread [of streets across Sweden], with different municipalities being able to make their own intervention,” says Byström. “However, I think many of the municipalities in Sweden are not ready to do it themselves, so for me the central part of the project is not the physical outcome by itself, but more to showcase an approach for how we can work with urban planning, urban development and street development.”
Under the plans, a kit of modular wooden street furniture has been designed, which can be slotted into an area the size of a car parking space. These kits have been designed to be flexible depending on the needs of the area – an important point in terms of scaling up the initiative, since it’s not claiming to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather it aims to add genuine value to an area.
Five streets have been piloted since the project’s launch last September, including three in Stockholm and one in both Helsingborg and Gothenburg, with more on the way.
So far, they have created new bench space, picnic tables, planters and e-scooter parking but Byström says this is just the beginning. “In the next step, we will look for more sophisticated solutions [based] around smart cities, such as infrastructure for charging electric cars and scooters.”
He says the one-minute city initiative – which has been funded by Vinnova, the Swedish government’s innovation agency – is also about giving the public more ownership over their streets, with residents being involved early on in the design process.
This resident involvement is getting positive results so far, with ArkDes claiming that 70% people surveyed about the Stockholm projects were positive. They also saw a 400% increase in the movement of people on the streets around each unit.
When coupled with the aftermath of COVID-19, this offers an exciting proposition to “reactivate” Sweden’s streets and make cities more resilient and adaptable to change, Byström adds.
“One of the things that you can see, for example, with growing digitalisation and people working from everywhere, is open-air shared office space, so it could be anything and that is the beauty of this initiative.”
The flexibility of the scheme could prove crucial when considering if this could be scaled up on a national level. Cities across Sweden will be looking for ways to bounce back in new and innovative ways after the pandemic and this could play an important role in that process. One-minute cities could also prove to be a crucial pillar in the success of Sweden’s goal for 2030 that “every street in Sweden is healthy, sustainable and vibrant.”
Our thanks to RICS for permission to republish this article which first appeared in Modus in July 2021.
Further reading: more from The Knowledge Exchange blog on urban areas
The UK is one of the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world. It ranks near the top of the league table on most measures of regional economic inequality. Fixing this is a priority for a government elected in 2019 on a pledge to address inequalities in former industrial regions, and in coastal and isolated rural areas.
So far, over £8bn has been put aside by the government for additional investment in so-called ‘left behind’ areas. The policy also appears to enjoy public support. The recent success of the Conservative candidate in the Hartlepool by-election, and the election of mayors in Teesside and West Yorkshire show that voters will back politicians with strong levelling up messages.
Local authorities and businesses are eager to bid for the first pots of levelling up funding that are coming onstream. But is there room for charities to get involved, and is there still time for them to shape the levelling up agenda?
This was the focus of a webinar organised by NPC, the think tank and consultancy for the charity sector.
Defining levelling up
There are different views about what the phase ‘levelling up’ actually means. But Tom Collinge, policy manager at NPC explained that this has become clearer now that various initiatives under the government’s levelling up agenda have got under way:
The Levelling Up Fund is a £4.8bn fund to invest in infrastructure that will regenerate town centres, upgrade local transport and invest in cultural and heritage assets.
The Community Ownership Fund will provide £150 million to help community groups buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost.
Levelling up funds: making the case for charities
Looking at this funding from a voluntary sector perspective, Tom acknowledged that charities may find it hard to see how they can fit into the kind of work that is eligible for funding. A lot of the focus is on capital spending – transport infrastructure, repairing buildings and creating new parks. An NPC analysis of the levelling up funds found that as much as 87% could go on capital investment. This could be challenging for charities whose work involves delivering services in areas such as youth provision, addiction or homelessness.
Even so, Tom suggested that charities shouldn’t write off their chances of accessing these funds. He explained that a lot of the language used in the funding documents is ambiguous – there are repeated references to ‘community’ and ‘community assets’ without making clear what they mean. This ambiguity could work in charities’ favour. At the same time, many charities work under the banners of skills, employment, heritage and culture. It’s up to charities, therefore, to identify elements in the funding that match what they can offer.
Deadlines are tight: bids for the first funds must be submitted by June 18. So, the time has come, said Tom, for charities to be vocal and make an economic case for levelling up funding. Collaboration with local authorities and metro mayors is likely to be crucial, and Tom suggested that charities with already good relations with local stakeholders are more likely to succeed in their bids.
Levelling up : the local perspective
Kim Shutler, Chair of Bradford District Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Assembly agreed that collaboration with local councils is key for charities looking to bid for levelling up funds. But although Bradford’s VCS has a strong relationship with local government, Kim explained that making the voluntary sector’s voice heard can be challenging.
While Kim has experience of partnering with statutory services in delivering mental health support to adults, bids for levelling up funds are handled differently. She was critical of the lack of clarity in how charities can influence the levelling up agenda in meaningful and sustainable ways, and suggested that the top-down nature of the process is detrimental to grass-roots charities.
Where charities can succeed, she suggested, is to demonstrate to local authorities and other partners that the voluntary sector has a compelling story to tell. Learning the language of the people with the money, making a good business case and articulating what charities can bring to the table means the voluntary sector can find a way into the levelling up process.
Shaping the levelling up agenda
As corporate director of children’s services at Barnardo’s, Lynn Perry is well placed to talk about levelling up. Much of what the charity does involves working at the heart of communities, in partnership with local agencies, young people and families.
Charities like Barnardo’s have a unique understanding of the challenges facing the country’s poorest communities. Lynn believes that this perspective strengthens the voluntary sector’s offer, not just in terms of service delivery, but in designing policies and thinking about community assets.
Looking at the bias towards capital projects in the levelling up funds, Lynn argued that a broader definition of infrastructure is needed. Support for families, care for the elderly and improving the lives of disabled people is every bit as important as 5G and better transport. And with the right social infrastructure, young people who get early and continued support can grow up to be the nurses, engineers and climate scientists we’ll need in the years to come.
Lynn observed that this is a unique moment to recognise the value charities can bring to the levelling up agenda. During the pandemic, the voluntary sector has played a vital role in supporting communities in ways that some public services could not. She believes that the future of the levelling up agenda should be shaped by working with communities and the charities that support them. And, along with Kim Shulter, she stressed the need to make better use of the insights and social data collected by charities to demonstrate the real value of the voluntary sector.
Tom Collinge supported this, and suggested that while it might be too late for charities to influence the existing levelling up funds, they should be looking towards the Shared Prosperity Fund. The delay in its introduction may be beneficial, giving the voluntary sector time to think about making the case for revenue funding.
Raising the voice of the voluntary sector
The UK has a long road to follow before it can say the work of levelling up is done. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has observed,
“The differences between regions are rooted in history going back decades, even centuries. Having fundamental effects on them will require reallocating capital spending for sure, and a whole lot more — investment in skills, in health, in early years, and a coherent and long-term industrial strategy.”
Working with local stakeholders, charities can bring their insights, skills and experience to this process, both in terms of accessing funds and influencing future programmes. It’s now time for the voluntary sector to speak up on levelling up.
Further reading: more from The Knowledge Exchange on community development and regeneration
Town centres have taken a battering in the past year, with many shops and services forced to close during lockdowns and growing numbers of stores going out of business.
But even before Covid-19, UK high streets were already under pressure. Economic recessions, rising business rates, higher rents, the growth of online shopping and development out-of-town retail parks have left Britain’s town centres struggling to survive.
Last month, Planning magazine brought together a panel of experts to discuss the future of town centres. Among the issues considered were trends affecting town centres, how demand for town centre property is changing post-pandemic and how developers are responding to changes in market demand and planning laws.
The bigger picture: online shopping and working from home
Jennet Siebrits, head of CBRE UK’s research team, gave a helpful overview of two key trends affecting town centres.
In the past decade, e-commerce has seen a dramatic increase in activity. Since 2011, the value of online shopping has mushroomed from £23 billion to £58 billion –a 158% increase. But in 2020, even that figure was eclipsed, with the value of e-commerce rising to £84 billion – a 44% increase in just one year. The evidence from the first national lockdown suggests that this step change is here to stay.
The impact of this, along with the Covid-19 restrictions, has been grim for town centre stores. Over 11,000 shops closed in 2020, and while not all of those closures were due to online shopping, it’s clear that e-commerce has been a real driver of this.
Jennet suggested that, as the restrictions ease, it’s likely that supermarkets, along with in-store health and beauty and DIY stores will continue to attract customers. But other sectors will have to come up with innovative ways to lure consumers off their iPads.
Jennet also highlighted the increased move towards home working. Once people return to their workplaces, it’s likely that many will ask to continue working from home, at least for part of the working week.
The rise in home working may also affect demand for residential property, with more people moving further away from city centres. This could have a knock-on effect for ancillary services like coffee kiosks and sandwich bars, with local town centres capitalising on the losses experienced by city centres.
The legal perspective: changes to planning laws
David Mathias, a specialist planning solicitor at Shoosmiths law firm described some recent planning law changes that have particular relevance to town centres.
Since the demise of Woolworths in 2008, more and more UK department stores have been closing down, leaving big gaps on the high street. In future, it’s likely that many property developers will want to convert from retail to residential.
Until recently, permitted development rights for conversion to residential only applied in a limited set of commercial uses. But the UK government has announced new permitted development rights in England enabling greater flexibility on conversions without the need for planning permission. These will go ahead in August, subject to certain conditions.
In addition, further legislation on expansion of permitted development rights introduced last summer allows the construction of an additional storey on freestanding blocks and buildings on a terrace to create additional housing, and the demolition of buildings built before 1990 and construction of new dwellings in their place.
The government has argued that these changes will help to revive town centres, although others believe easing planning rules for developers will have the opposite effect.
The developer’s perspective: re-imagining Manchester
Martyn Evans from the U+I Group offered his view of how developers are responding to changes in market demand and planning. He did so using U+I’s development at Mayfield in Manchester.
Located next to Piccadilly railway station, in the centre of the city, this 24 acre-site is being redeveloped from derelict railway land. A consortium of Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and London & Continental Railways (LCR), along with U+I, has been working to regenerate the area, with the first buildings due for completion next year.
Right from the start, the consortium focused on the importance of creating a place where people want to live, work, rest and relax. One important feature of the development is a seven-acre park. Although it was planned into the scheme years ago, this green space has become all the more significant in the past year.
The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of green space as a vital part of city living, both for physical health and mental wellbeing. Such spaces not only attract workers, residents and visitors, they also increase the value of developments. And because decisions about commercial property are increasingly being taken by HR teams rather than finance departments, the wellbeing benefits of workers’ surroundings are being taken more seriously. In short, understanding quality of place gives developers more of a competitive edge.
The local authority perspective: managing change
To conclude, Michael Kiely from the Planning Officers Society looked at what local planning authorities can do to help sustain town centres.
Michael described some of the planning tools local authorities can use, including strategic planning, masterplanning and local plans. But with recent changes in planning laws, including the use classes order, Michael argued that policies such as Town Centre First may be ineffective.
However, local authorities can still make a difference, through partnerships with other stakeholders, such as land owners and Business Improvement Districts (BIDS), and the use of intervention and compulsory purchase powers.
In closing, Michael suggested the need for a licensing or permitting regime to manage and curate activities so that they do not cause harm and town centres can thrive.
Future perspectives: rethinking town centres
A £150m project to revamp London’s Oxford Street signals that high streets are already re-imagining themselves as leisure-focused and “experiential shopping” centres. And the Mayfield site in Manchester has the potential to transform a part of the city centre that has been underused for decades.
These are just two examples of the planning community working together to help sustain town centres. Britain’s high streets face substantial challenges, but this interesting discussion suggested there are good reasons to optimistic about the future.
A recording of The Future of Our Town Centres discussion is available to watch on-demand at the Planning magazine website.
Further reading: more on town centres from The Knowledge Exchange blog
As we pass the first anniversary of the initial lockdown and look towards opening things up again, will we see a change in footfall trends in favour of the high street as people yearn to get out again, or will it continue to experience a downward trend?
Judging by pre-pandemic trends, it would seem that high street businesses will need to do more than just open back up to entice people back to the high street. Indeed, there were signs of diversification on the high street before the pandemic in response to declining footfall. And the pandemic has led to many more innovating to survive the current challenges, such as creating pop-up ecommerce centres. Perhaps such moves could help save the high street, albeit not as we know it.
A downward trajectory
The recent news of permanent closures of big-named high street stores such as Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins after the collapse of Arcadia Group, and the closures of more John Lewis outlets, suggest a bleak outlook for the high street. And the pandemic has spurred the worst decline on record.
Recent figures from PwC reveal that an average of 48 stores, restaurants and other leisure and hospitality venues closed every day in 2020 – a total of more than 17,500 outlets.
This may be the worst decline on record but it is also a continuation of the downward trajectory that the traditional high street was already on. And it has been argued that this is actually a reflection of things that happened pre-pandemic, with its full impact ‘yet to be felt’.
In its quarterly footfall monitor, the British Retail Consortium highlighted in May 2019 that high street footfall had fallen by 1% year-on-year and that vacancy rates on local high-streets had risen to 10.2%, equivalent to one in ten shops having succumbed to the high street crisis. This was the highest vacancy rate in four years and it continued to increase in the next quarter.
Support through a crisis
It has become clear that trends before the pandemic have just been accelerated by it. The continued growth in online shopping and the impact of government policy costs such as business rates are just a couple of the causes of the decline in high streets over the years that see little sign of abating. But the urgency of the current situation has seen a huge increase in government support across the board which has helped many businesses stay afloat as they try and wait out the storm.
In December 2020, the UK government announced it would invest up to £830 million from the Future High Streets Fund in local high streets across England to help them recover from the pandemic and drive long-term growth.
In September 2020, funding was secured for England’s historic high streets through the £95 million government-funded High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) programme, which is delivered by Historic England. The aim of this is to help transform and restore disused and dilapidated buildings into new homes, shops, work places and community spaces, restoring local historic character and improving public realm.
And just this month, the government has announced a series of new measures to support a safe and successful reopening of high streets and seaside resorts, including a £56 million Welcome Back Fund to help councils boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stall pop-ups. This builds on the £50 million Reopening High Streets Safely Fund announced in May 2020. Similar support schemes have been introduced by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Of course, this hasn’t been enough to save the high street stores that have announced closures. But it brings to the fore once more that high streets are about more than just shops as each funding programme highlights the aim of transforming high streets into vibrant mixed-use places where consumers can enjoy social experiences.
Adapting to survive – dark stores bringing light to the high street
As the PwC study suggests, it is really about keeping up with consumer behaviours that is the challenge for retail, perhaps even more so in times of crisis. And there have been many examples of high street retailers adapting to survive.
With the huge increase in online shopping during the pandemic, many manufacturing and distribution centres were operating at maximum capacity which led to some retailers unlocking the potential of their local high street stores to provide local distribution hubs, known as ‘dark stores’.
Lush is one company that changed the way they used their retail space so they could continue to use it while their stores were closed. It created Lush Local, a pop-up e-commerce centre which used the shop as a local distribution centre so they could fulfil local orders and not let their current stock go to waste.
Some businesses have also partnered with others to make use of local unused space such as Crosstown Doughnuts which have been trialling the use of dark stores in Cambridge and Walthamstow, partnering with independent operators so it can provide on-demand deliveries and collections to customers.
As ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers try to adapt to support their online capability, providing efficient local deliveries, at the same time as utilising their physical retail space, the ‘dark store’ trend may be here to stay. Pre-pandemic, it was reported that using dark stores and offering click and collect can reduce delivery costs and increase profit margins. Analysis showed that if deliveries from dark stores increase by 50%, profit margins could grow by 7% as a result of lower delivery costs and higher delivery throughput compared to conventional stores (while also not affecting store operations).
And it has been suggested that this model can be further adapted to provide ‘hybrid stores’ as shops re-open. These hybrid stores enable local stores to combine space for their fulfilment centre with their physical shop so consumers can still benefit from the tangible experience offered in store that can’t be replicated online.
Only time will tell if recent innovations will have the desired effect. What is clear is that the rate of change cannot continue at the pace it was before the pandemic if high streets are to have a fighting chance. Dark and hybrid stores could be part of the answer. But much more is needed.
The most successful high streets, it is argued, will offer a mix of retail, entertainment, culture and wellbeing as they focus on the experiential side of things, because, in the words of retail guru Mary Portas, “vibrant, innovative, socially dynamic high streets will help this country not just heal, but thrive.”
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For generations, urban public parks have been places for communities to meet, to connect with nature and to enjoy recreational activities. Parks have multiple benefits for biodiversity, human health and the environment. They can help with flood prevention and during the summer can help control temperatures and humidity.
One of the oldest public parks in the UK is Glasgow Green, a short walk from the centre of Scotland’s biggest city. In 1450, the Bishop of Glasgow gifted the common lands of Glasgow Green to the people, and for centuries it was the city’s only green public space. The park has witnessed some important moments in the city’s history, including demonstrations, sporting and cultural events.
During the early years of the industrial revolution, the park became an oasis for residents from unhealthy housing and working conditions. Similarly, in our own times, Glasgow Green has been an important refuge during the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, Glasgow Green remains open 24 hours a day, with its 136 acres of lawns, flowerbeds, fountains and architectural monuments maintained by workers from Glasgow City Council’s Parks Department. This photo essay reflects on some of the sights and stories associated with Glasgow’s oldest public park.
Flora, fauna and the Glasgow Green geese
Glasgow Green is home to a variety of plants, flowers and trees, as well as a wide range of wildlife species, including birds, butterflies and red foxes. One of the more unexpected sights in the park is a flock of geese.
For more than 50 years, geese were deployed to guard the stocks of Ballantines whisky maturing in Dunbartonshire warehouses. Geese are famously territorial, and act as a vocal alarm against intruders. With the advent of CCTV in the 1990s, the “Ballantines Bodyguards” were retired to Glasgow Green, and placed in the care of the Glasgow Humane Society. Coincidentally, their new home looks onto a grain distillery, perhaps serving as a reminder of their past life.
A gathering place for sport and culture
In all weathers, Glasgow Green attracts walkers, cyclists and joggers, as well as offering open spaces for team sports. Rowers from both Glasgow and Strathclyde University boat clubs train on the River Clyde beside Glasgow Green. The park also has strong historical sporting connections. Golf was played here as early as the 16th century, and Glasgow’s two famous football teams – Celtic and Rangers – were both established on Glasgow Green. In 2014, the Glasgow Green Hockey Centre was opened in time to host matches for the Commonwealth Games.
Glasgow Green has also played host to some of the biggest names in music, from Radiohead and Iggy Pop to Coldplay and Lewis Capaldi. In 1990, the park hosted a summer concert celebrating Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture, headlined by local heroes Deacon Blue. In the summer months, Glasgow Green also hosts the World Pipe Band Championships and Proms in the Park.
Glasgow’s Arc de Triomphe
The McLennan Arch started life in 1796 as part of Robert and James Adams’ Assembly Rooms in the city centre. When these buildings were demolished, the arch was reconstructed at the northern edge of Glasgow Green. Since then it has been moved three more times, reaching its final resting place in 1991, a gateway to Glasgow Green’s western perimeter.
History matters: demonstrations, rallies and the birthplace of the industrial revolution
Glasgow Green has always been a focal point for popular demonstrations. In the 19th century, trade unionists and Chartists gathered in the park to campaign for workers’ civil rights. During the 1930s, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, thousands gathered in Glasgow Green to support the Spanish Republic against General Franco and his fascist allies. More recently, the park has seen rallies against war in Iraq and in support of Scottish independence.
Close to the centre of the park, a statue of James Watt commemorates one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution. It’s believed that Watt came up with the idea for fixing the inefficiencies of the steam engine while taking a stroll on Glasgow Green. The moment of inspiration was the vital spark that would revolutionise Britain’s mining, iron, transport and manufacturing industries.
In the summer of 2020, a Black Lives Matter demonstration took place on Glasgow Green, and a notice was placed on the James Watt statue highlighting his role in the trafficking of enslaved people. History is being reassessed in Glasgow, a city that richly benefitted from the proceeds of the Virginia tobacco plantations and the slave trade.
A river runs through it
The River Clyde flows alongside Glasgow Green. In recent years, environmental protection regulations have cleaned up the river, and there are plans to make the Clyde a focal point of economic regeneration. However, the legacy of Glasgow’s industrial past continues to affect the river. A 2019 report by the Clyde Gateway regeneration agency revealed that toxic waste from a former chemicals factory was leaking into the river, posing risks to human health and the environment. Clyde Gateway and Glasgow City Council have been taking remedial action until a permanent solution can be found.
From carpets to cocktails
One of the most impressive architectural features of Glasgow Green is the Templeton Building. It was opened in 1892, and designed by William Leiper who modelled the building on the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The façade of the building reflects the exotic designs of the carpets that were made there for almost 100 years. The building has also been touched by tragedy. During construction, a gust of wind brought one of the walls down on a shed, where a large number of young women were weaving carpets. 29 of them died in the east end’s worst peacetime disaster.
Today, the Templeton building contains apartments, offices and a microbrewery. During the summer months of 2020, the bar extended its beer garden to create an open-air restaurant for visitors to meet together when the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.
A clean sheet
Almost from the start of its history in the 15th century, Glasgow Green was used for household washing and drying. The drying green, opposite the Templeton Building, was in regular use until 1977. The women of Glasgow washed their clothes in the nearby wash-houses (or “steamies”) and then chatted together while their weekly wash dried in the open air. Today, while the iron poles have been retained, they are rarely used for drying clothes.
On International Women’s Day in 2019, the drying green enjoyed a comeback when 30 bed sheets were hung to celebrate the work of women past and present. Local businesses sponsored each of the sheets, women gathered to celebrate their mothers and grandmothers, and the proceeds from the day went to charity.
The never-ending story
Glasgow Green is unique, but like so many other public parks around the UK, it is an important community resource, a gathering place and a link between the past and the present.
A study by the Social Market Foundation reported on research that estimated the wellbeing value of UK parks and green spaces at £32.4bn. A further 2020 report by NESTA highlighted the threat to parks as a result of budget cutbacks imposed on local authorities, noting that some councils have reduced spending on parks by as much as 87%.
But during the pandemic, the value of parks has suddenly become clearer, as individuals, families and communities have rediscovered the benefits of spending time in green open spaces. As visitor numbers have soared, councils have acknowledged the importance of parks. In March 2021, Liverpool City Council became the first UK local authority to legally protect the future of its parks and green spaces. As the council’s acting mayor observed:
“…the benefits aren’t just health related. Access to green spaces improves our neighbourhoods, tackles climate change, supports education and economic growth and they frequently become the stage on which we host many of our hugely popular cultural celebrations.”
That’s certainly true of Glasgow Green. More than 500 years after its establishment, the park continues to generate joy and jobs, stories and memories. Glasgow Green truly is a park for all seasons.
Further reading: more on parks from The Knowledge Exchange blog:
What kinds of cities do we want to live in? It’s a question that has taken on increased urgency in the past year. But even before the global pandemic, there was growing concern about how to address the challenges facing the world’s cities, especially the threat of climate change.
Tackling traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, improving sustainable mobility and ensuring easy access to green space and essential services are all significant factors that can advance the quality of life in our urban areas. The lockdowns and other restrictions imposed by governments to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have thrown these issues into sharper focus.
An alternative vision
There is now a growing consensus that a new road map is needed for the development of liveable cities. This means changing lifestyles so that sociability, sustainability and wellbeing are prioritised – in short, the common good should drive decisions about urban planning.
One of the ideas for promoting this approach is the 15 minute neighbourhood, in which home, education, work, healthcare and other essential services are all within a 15 minute reach by walking or cycling. This is the vision of Professor Carlos Moreno, scientific director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
In a recent webinar, organised by Solace and Catapult Connected Places, Professor Moreno outlined his concept, where the six functions for city life – living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying – are all within easy reach, making neighbourhoods not just convenient places to stay, but satisfying places to live.
The concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood contradicts urban planning ideas that have predominated for more than a century, where residential areas have been separated from business, retail, industry and entertainment. Professor Moreno stressed that the new approach requires careful planning and implementation, political will and financial support from local and national authorities, and – essentially – the engagement of citizens.
A rapid, radical transformation
The first wave of lockdowns in 2020 showed that it is possible for radical change in our cities to happen far quicker than we might have ever imagined. In a matter of days, millions of people changed their lifestyles, with many working from home and travelling only locally for essential provisions. Soaring numbers of visitors to parks demonstrated the importance of local green spaces for physical and mental health. And in some UK cities, reduced levels of traffic led to improvements in air quality.
Of course, keeping large sections of the population confined to home has had many negative effects, and lockdowns are not part of the 15-minute neighbourhoods concept. Instead, the opportunity has arisen for an equitable and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 restrictions by rethinking the way cities work.
Paris: the 15-minute city
As special envoy for smart cities to the mayor of Paris, Carlos Moreno has been influential in the city’s decision to turn miles of roads in the French capital into cycle lanes. Reducing traffic is a key component of the concept, and can help cities achieve their targets for lowering the emissions that every year cause millions of premature deaths and countless more health impacts. In addition, Professor Moreno envisions greater use of remote working to reduce commuting times, as well as opening schools for community activities at weekends. With less time spent travelling to work, shops and healthcare services, people can enjoy a slower pace of life, devoting more time to families, friends and leisure, which in turn can bring multiple health and wellbeing benefits.
Paris’s advanced participatory budgeting scheme is a critical element for ensuring the 15-minute city concept thrives. 10% of the city’s spending is determined by participatory budgeting processes at neighbourhood level, meaning residents have the opportunity to participate in the design and selection of projects to be implemented in their own local area.
A growing interest in living locally
Paris is not alone in attempting to realise the 15 minute neighbourhood vision. Barcelona, Detroit, London, Melbourne, Milan and Portland are all exploring this approach, and it has also been endorsed by the C40 network of cities that are committed to addressing climate change.
In Melbourne, the city’s plan for growth over the next 35 years is guided by the principle of living locally. Its 20-minute neighbourhood plan was launched in 2018, and is being delivered in two stages to test the practicalities of delivering the concept across the city.
Closer to home, the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government has a strong focus on localism, and in a recent webinar, Scotland’s Chief Architect highlighted a 20-minute neighbourhood project in Edinburgh. The city council’s local place plan includes many elements that will be familiar to the proponents of 15 minute neighbourhoods, including new opportunities for cycle routes, food growing and green spaces.
A lifeline or a threat?
Encouraging residents to work, shop and enjoy their leisure time locally will be music to the ears of smaller town centres. Even before the pandemic many local businesses were struggling to adjust to the changing habits of their customers. A resurgence of neighbourhood life could be the lifeline they need.
At the same time, a move towards more localised living could pose a threat to high streets in bigger cities. A recent paper in Covid Economics found evidence that higher levels of home-working has led to the relocation of economic activity from a few densely populated city centres to the suburbs. A further study by Centre for Cities found that in the UK’s 11 largest city centres, spending did not recover last summer when restrictions were eased after the first national lockdown.
Policymakers and planners will be watching these developments with great interest, as they have significant implications for economic activity in towns and cities. If the mass adoption of remote working hardens into a permanent feature, the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that once depended on a steady stream of office workers could go out of business. Once-bustling city centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and London could turn into ghost towns. But if workers return to their offices in large numbers, the momentum for 15-minute neighbourhoods could be lost.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives, but it has also presented the opportunity to rebalance our thinking about how and where we want to live, learn, work and play. The 15-minute neighbourhood is part of that process. As Carlos Moreno has observed:
“The pandemic has caused us to think about how to move differently, to consume differently, to live differently. We are discovering that by working differently we have more spare time, to have more time to be with our families or friends. We are discovering and appreciating our neighbourhoods much more. This will make us all more engaged inhabitants.”
More from The Knowledge Exchange blog on liveable cities:
In less than ten months’ time, the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, as the city plays host to the UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26). Leaders from across the world will come together to discuss enhanced ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. This is a process known as the ‘ratchet mechanism’, which envisions signatories of the Paris Agreement, stepping up their commitments to reduce carbon emissions every five years. This year’s conference in Glasgow is the first time that this mechanism will be in play, and expectations surrounding a significant acceleration of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are high.
With an eye on climate change and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries are already discussing how they can take advantage of the need for economic recovery as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to carbon neutrality. A key element of this transition will be the decarbonisation of the housing stock, and the Climate Change Committee has highlighted the significant role that the implementation of renewable forms of heating will play in reducing the amount of carbon emitted by our homes.
Queens Quay, Clydebank
An example of a project which will take advantage of a variety of modern renewable technologies to create the “greenest town in Scotland” is the Queens Quay development in Clydebank, a site which is only five miles from the Scottish Event Campus where COP26 will take place.
Queens Quay is a £250 million regeneration of the former John Brown shipyard in Clydebank. Designed to take advantage of its waterfront location, the development will feature a variety of mixed-use spaces and a pioneering district heating system. This system will utilise Scotland’s first major and the UK’s largest water-sourced heat pump. The heat pump will extract heat from the River Clyde, and after a process of compression, the heat will be pumped into the development using a buried modular district heating system. It is estimated that this innovative combination of heat pump and district heating technology will cut more than 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
But just how do these technologies work? In this blog, we will take a look at how heat pumps and district heating systems operate, and their application in the Queens Quay development in Clydebank.
In simple terms, a heat pump is a form of renewable heating system that is able to move thermal energy from one location to another. There are a number of different types of heat pump which can extract thermal energy from different locations. At the Queens Quay development, a water-sourced heat pump will be used to extract thermal energy from the River Clyde.
Water-sourced heat pumps use a network of submerged pipes which contain a working fluid that absorbs the heat within the body of water. This working fluid then undergoes a process of conversion that increases the temperature of the heat generated. Once at an appropriate temperature, it can then be used to provide heating and hot water.
Naturally, as not all developments are located near a body of water, the use of water-sourced heat pump is relatively uncommon. However, water-sourced heat pumps are able to operate more efficiently than ground and air-sourced heat pumps, as heat transfers more efficiently due to the stability of the temperature of water.
Once heat is produced, it’s vital that it is transferred to buildings in an efficient and reliable manner that prevents heat-loss. A system of district heating is often the most reliable way to utilise energy produced by any form of heat pump, and analysis conducted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (now the Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy) found that this combination offers “large CO2 emissions reduction potential”.
A district heating system uses a network of insulated pipes to deliver heat from a centralised energy centre direct to connected buildings. Instead of a boiler, each building will have a heating interface unit which will enable individuals to control the temperature of the heat and hot water they receive without impacting other connected properties.
On top of helping to lower overall fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, district heating systems are also easily expandable and new properties can be added to the network as required. This ensures that district-heating systems are future-proofed and are able to respond to the heat requirements of developments as they evolve over time.
Queens Quay implementation
The implementation of a water-sourced air pump and district heating system in the Queens Quay development provides Clydebank with the opportunity to become the “greenest” town in Scotland, and sets an example of how new developments can be created in a way that supports Scotland’s ambition to become net-zero by 2045.
By linking each property in the development to the network, and establishing a council owned energy company as operator, residents of Queens Quay will benefit from reductions in both the cost of energy and their overall carbon footprint. The success of a renewable heating project at this scale could be a significant development in Scotland’s transition to net-zero, as it may prove that renewable heating systems are an effective means to tackle climate change and fuel poverty.
Additionally, as a key benefit of a district heating system is its modularity, there is scope for existing buildings within Clydebank to be connected to the renewable heating network. West Dunbartonshire Council have set out their desire for the nearby NHS Golden Jubilee National Hospital to be added to the network and are also considering if all future developments should be required to join the district heating system.
The dual threats posed by climate change and Covid-19 have provided the world with a rare opportunity to undergo a truly revolutionary process of recovery. With expectations high that this year’s COP26 will result in countries accelerating the transition to carbon-neutrality, the development of a pioneering renewable heating system just five miles from the conference may offer us a glimpse of the way homes will be heated in the future.
Decarbonising the housing stock is vital in the battle for carbon neutrality, but concerns have previously been raised about the impact this may have on people in fuel poverty. Ensuring that the transition to renewable forms of energy does not exacerbate existing inequalities will be key to ensuring that everyone benefits from the journey to net-zero.
As a result, the success of the roll-out of the water-sourced heat pump and district heating system in Queens Quay, and the expected reduction in overall energy costs for residents, may prove to be a major stepping stone in Scotland’s journey to becoming carbon neutral.
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2020 has been a year like no other. A microscopic virus – 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – has dominated, disrupted and redefined the way we live and work.
Although the pandemic is primarily a public health emergency, its effects have been felt in all areas of public and social policy, from economic development and employment to transport and the environment. Throughout this year, our blog has reflected on the impacts of the coronavirus and the restrictions introduced to prevent its spread.
The COVID-19 knock-on
While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news headlines, it has also obscured the knock-on effects on the NHS. In October, we reported on the impacts of delays to preventative healthcare measures, such as screening and routine medical care in the form of pre-planned operations for long-term chronic and non-urgent conditions.
As the blog post noted, the impacts have been wide-ranging, including not only delays in care for case of physical ill health, but also for those seeking treatment for mental health conditions:
“Research suggests that incidence of mental illness during the coronavirus pandemic increased. However, the numbers of people accessing services and being referred for treatment have not increased proportionate to this.”
The ‘hidden epidemic’
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence had become known as a ‘hidden epidemic’ in the UK. In September, our blog highlighted the unintended consequences of quarantine for domestic abuse victims.
After the UK entered lockdown in March, calls and online enquiries to the UK’s National Domestic Abuse line increased by 25%. Three-quarters of victims told a BBC investigation that lockdown had made it harder for them to escape their abusers and in many cases had intensified the abuse they received.
Despite additional government funding, the local authorities and charities which support victims of domestic violence have been struggling with the financial fallout from the pandemic. Even so, important partnerships have been formed between local government, educational institutions and third sector bodies to provide safe spaces for women and their children fleeing violence. Among these was an initiative at the University of Cambridge:
“St Catherine’s College formed a partnership with Cambridge Women’s Aid to provide over 1000 nights of secure supported accommodation during the lockdown period.“
‘Same storm, different boats’
As the recent Marmot review has stressed, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed and deepened many of the deep-rooted inequalities in our society, including gender, ethnicity and income. It has also shone a light on more recent inequalities, such as the growth of precarious employment among sections of the population.
In July, we looked at the uneven economic impact of the pandemic, focusing on the heavy price being paid by young people, women, disabled people and Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.
Women often work in the frontline of care services and have had to juggle childcare during lockdown. BAME communities are over-represented in key-worker jobs, and so were particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.
And although there has been much talk about ‘building back better’, our blog post drew attention to the observations of Dr Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland during a Poverty Alliance webinar:
“She asks whether indeed we should want to build back, when the old normal didn’t work for a large proportion of people, particularly those with disabilities. Dr Witcher also questions ‘who’ is doing the building, and whether the people designing this new future will have the knowledge and lived experience of what really needs to change.”
The impacts of a pandemic
Many other aspects of the impact of COVID-19 have been covered in our blog:
How housing providers have embraced the fluidity of an emergency situation, including tackling homelessness, engaging effectively with tenants and addressing mental ill health.
We’ve also taken advantage of the ‘new normal’ experience of remote working to join a number of webinars, and to report back on the observations and ideas emerging from them. Most recently, our blogs have focused on a series of webinars organised by Partners in Planning, which included contributions on how the planning system can help address climate change.
The health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic are likely to be long-lasting – restrictions on travel, work and socialising will continue into the spring, and insolvencies and unemployment numbers are likely to rise. And the continuing uncertainty over the UK’s new trading relationship with the European Union will generate additional challenges.
But, as a frequently difficult, often challenging and sometimes distressing year draws to a close, there is cause for optimism about 2021. Vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus have been developed with lightning speed. Across the UK people are already being vaccinated, with greater numbers set to receive the jab in the coming months.
Here at The Knowledge Exchange, we’ll continue to highlight the key issues facing public and social policy and practice as we move towards the post-Covid era.
It’s with even greater meaning than ever before that we wish all our readers a happy Christmas, and a healthy, prosperous and happy new year.
Best wishes from everyone at The Knowledge Exchange: Morwen, Christine, Heather, Donna, Rebecca, Scott, Hannah and James.
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Last week, we reported on a series of webinars organised by Partners in Planning, a partnership of key organisations and sectors to support Scotland’s planners in delivering successful places.
This week, we’re looking at a further webinar in this series, which focused on the creation of low carbon places.
Planning for carbon conscious places
Steve Malone and Heather Claridge from Architecture & Design Scotland (A&DS) opened the webinar by describing how A&DS have been exploring how the challenge of climate change can act as a driver towards the creation of low carbon places.
A&DS has been supporting the Scottish Government in implementing its climate change plan at a local level. This recognises that the planning system plays a key role in tackling climate change, and helping Scotland achieve its carbon emission targets.
Over the course of a year, A&DS worked with four local authorities to develop and deliver plans that prioritised climate action. As a result, a number of key principles of a carbon conscious place were identified.
A place-led approach
A place of small distances
A place designed for and with local people
A place with whole and circular systems
A place that supports sharing (of assets and services)
These principles are closely connected with ideas identified in earlier work by A&DS which explored how placemaking can tackle the challenges of an ageing population.
A&DS further developed this work to imagine the changes that might need to happen to support more carbon and caring conscious places by 2050. Earlier this year, its report Designing for a Changing Climate shared the learning from the year-long exploration into a whole place approach to the net-zero carbon challenge.
The report provided examples of each of the principles in action, and considered what Scotland would look like in 2050 if these principles were adopted for urban neighbourhoods, city centres, towns and rural areas.
Among the ideas highlighted were:
rooftops repurposed as usable areas with green space and room for urban growing
accessible zero emission public transport connecting city centres
local food growing and agroforestry helping support food self-sufficiency and security
natural flood defence schemes
peatland and woodland restoration to help a rural area absorb carbon and balance emissions
A&DS is now working with local authorities to apply these principles in real places. For example, in Clackmannanshire, the principles are being used to guide development of a mixed use housing site in Alva.
Planning as a circular economy enabler
Later in the webinar, Angela Burke and Ailie Callan from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) considered how the design of places that are conducive to the circular economy can help to tackle climate change.
Since the industrial revolution, the world’s economies have used a linear “take-make-consume-dispose” pattern of growth, a model which assumes that resources are abundant, available and cheaply disposable.
In contrast, a circular economy changes that mindset by designing-out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. These principles not only apply to resources such as consumer goods and product packaging, but also to land, water, buildings, infrastructure and energy.
Angela and Ailie went on to describe how planning can be an enabler of the circular economy. In Scotland, the planning system is set to change, with the publication of a new National Planning Framework (NPF4), which sets out where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth.
NPF4 will address a number of high level outcomes, such as meeting the housing and wellbeing needs of the people of Scotland and meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating circular economy principles early in the planning process will help to deliver a number of these outcomes, and NPF4 policy will provide the framework to ensure that these principles are integrated into new developments.
Ailie provided some examples of how circular economy principles can be embedded into planning:
Brownfield sites can be redeveloped instead of developing new sites and generating higher carbon emissions.
Distribution nodes on key transport corridors can enable electric vehicles to carry out last stage of delivery, minimising emissions and reducing traffic.
Developing re-use hubs at these distribution nodes can drive down waste.
Mobility hubs can ensure that everyone is well connected, not just for public transport, but also cycle paths, routes for mobility vehicles and charging points for electric vehicles.
Planning for shops and services locally (perhaps sharing the same premises) will reduce the need to travel outside the local area.
Angela and Ailie concluded with an invitation to anyone interested in partnering with SEPA on developing the circular economy in Scotland.
20 minute neighbourhoods
In the final section of the webinar, the Scottish Government’s Chief Architect, Ian Gilzean looked at 20 minute neighbourhoods. This is not a new concept, but has gained added significance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
20 minute neighbourhoods are all about living more locally by ensuring people have most of their daily needs met within a 20 minute walk from home. This in turn improves quality of life and reduces carbon emissions.
20 minute neighbourhoods bring together a range of characteristics, including transport, housing, schools, recreation, shopping and local employment. Recent limitations on travel due to the coronavirus have given many of us a lived experience of 20 minute neighbourhoods. But they have also brought into sharp focus the barriers preventing people from accessing work, shops and services close to where they live.
Ian went on to describe the implementation of the 20 minute neighbourhoods concept in Melbourne, Australia. Since 2017 Plan Melbourne has embraced this concept, feeding into the ambition of Melbourne to become a more liveable, connected, sustainable city. While some parts of Melbourne, such as the inner suburb of Fitzroy, already enjoy the facilities that make up a 20 minute neighbourhood, some of the outlying suburbs do not, and Plan Melbourne has been aiming to tackle some of the problems that prevent these places from delivering on the concept.
20 minute neighbourhoods appear to be an idea whose time has come. The pandemic has triggered a rise in remote working, and especially working from home. At the same time, cities have seen significant rises in cycling numbers. The economic impact of COVID-19 is still playing out, but it’s already clear that the recovery of small businesses and local services will be a priority, along with the need to reimagine urban centres.
Ian explained that these factors have all fed into the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, which has a strong focus on localism. This in turn has generated commitments and policies on town centre and community regeneration, local working hubs and active travel infrastructure, all underpinned by the new National Planning Framework.
Ian concluded with an example of a project in the Wester Hailes district of Edinburgh, where the city council has been developing a local place plan. The plan is making the most of existing assets, such as local canal and rail connections, as well as identifying new opportunities, such as cycle routes, food growing and green spaces.
This webinar, along with others in the series, provided plenty of useful information about how Scotland is trying address climate change through the planning system, while also taking account of local communities’ needs.
Much more remains to be done if Scotland is to meet its net-zero ambitions, but it’s clear from the initiatives highlighted in these webinars that communities in partnership with local and national government and other stakeholders are working hard to create carbon conscious places.
In the face of the climate emergency, the target is both admirable and ambitious. Achieving it will require input from all sectors of the economy and society – from energy, transport, infrastructure to skills, training and innovation.
A recent series of webinars held by Partners in Planning looked at the ways in which town planning could help play its part by embedding nature-based solutions and green infrastructure planning into the planning process.
In this blog we look at three innovative projects that were highlighted. They illustrate some of the varied ways in which planning can contribute towards the Scottish Government’s net zero targets and address the wider climate emergency.
Building with Nature: green infrastructure benchmark
Encouraging developers to incorporate green infrastructure and nature-based solutions into new developments is a key challenge, particularly if there is a perception that it may be more time consuming and/or costly to do so.
Building with Nature is a set of wellbeing standards built around the ‘3 Ws’ – water, wildlife and wellbeing. The standards go beyond statutory requirements, bringing together evidence, guidance and good practice to provide something akin to a ‘how to’ guide for creating places that benefit both people and nature. The standards are free to access and use, and there is also a paid-for accreditation scheme, with three levels of achievement – design, good, and excellent.
As well as reducing carbon emissions, the standards aim to help support biodiversity, promote flood resilience and support wellbeing through the provision of green space that is both inclusive and accessible to everyone, regardless of age or disability.
The standards are entirely voluntary but many local authorities are now beginning to either refer developers to Building with Nature or incorporate them as requirements in their own plans.
One way that developers can incorporate nature-based solutions into their developments is through the use of green-blue roofs. Green-blue roofs can provide a range of benefits for both people and nature – including surface water management, urban cooling, as well as providing habitats for wildlife and opportunities for people to access nature in the urban environment.
At present, there is no mandatory policy for green roof infrastructure in Scotland, thus while developers may be aware of the benefits that they have, many do not incorporate them into their plans due concerns about their impact on scheme costs and viability.
The study highlights the varied range of green-blue roof options available to developers – all with different costs, levels of maintenance, building requirements etc. Some are suitable for public access whereas others are not. Blue-green roofs are a combination of both green roofs and blue roofs – where rainwater is retained rather than drained (as with a typical green roof) and released in a controlled manner.
Overall, green-blue roofs were found to be a viable option for the Meadowbank development, freeing up space that might otherwise be used for ground-based SUDS (sustainable drainage systems), and offering a range of potential wellbeing and community benefits. Blue-green roofs did cause a small uplift in roofing costs. However, as a proportion of the overall construction costs, these were minimal, coming in at around £350 per dwelling.
Retrofitting green infrastructure – Queensland Gardens, Cardonald, Glasgow
If our towns and cities are to become truly carbon neutral, then there will also be a need to retrofit green infrastructure into existing developments. One such example of retrofitting is Queensland Court and Gardens – a partnership between Southside Housing Association and Glasgow City Council to retrofit green infrastructure designs into two multi-storey tower blocks and the surrounding land in Cardonald, Glasgow.
The project is part of the wider Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention (GISI) programme, which as well as contributing to the ultimate goal of achieving a net zero carbon society, seeks to demonstrate how green infrastructure can be used to address some of the key issues faced in urban areas – from declining economic growth, social inequalities, pollution, flooding, noise, multiple deprivation, health problems and limited biodiversity.
One of the key issues facing the outdoor space at Queensland Gardens is excess surface water, which renders much of the space unusable. As such, the project has also received funding from 10,000 Raingardens for Scotland. It plans to turn the rainwater run-off from the tower blocks into a feature that is incorporated into the gardens. It also plans to expand the current parking facilities, create a shared community green space, and enhance the currently very limited play space for children and young people.
Both the Queensland Gardens and the Meadowbank site developments will be assessed against the Building with Nature standards.
Green infrastructure as part of the green recovery
The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of having local green spaces that are both easily accessible and inclusive of all ages and disabilities. It highlighted the importance of nature to the health of society and the world more broadly, along with the urgent need to address climate change.
It also demonstrated that it is possible to create and implement innovative solutions to global crises on a tight timescale, when both the need and will exist. There are strong calls now for a ‘green recovery’, and it is expected that the imminent Climate Change Plan Update will feature this concept heavily. Indeed Scotland has already made a number of commitments for a green recovery as part of their 2020/21 Programme for Government, and the findings of the recent Green Recovery Inquiry reinforce its importance.
As the above examples show, embedding green infrastructure and nature-based solutions into the planning system is one way to help achieve Scotland’s goal of becoming net zero by 2045. By doing so, we can create places and spaces that benefit not only ourselves, but also society and the planet.
Read some of our other blogs related to the environment: