City of the future?

Alex Steffen has delivered a TED talk in Edinburgh looking at the shareable future of cities. It is essentially a summary of views from the excellent but defunct Worldchanging website – If we can’t generate enough clean energy to replace fossil fuels then we must stop and think of alternative solutions. For Steffen, one such solution is walkable urbanism. He advocates planning, building and refabricating cities so that they are high-density and, by virtue, more sustainable.

The problem I have with Steffen’s utopian vision for the city of the future, is that it is top-down and prescriptive. It provides answers to some important questions but fails to countenance the possibility that people may not want to live in high-density areas.

The Olympics

Last month there was a protest against staging the Olympic Equestrian events in Greenwich Park by NOGOE.

Like many others, I was quick to judge the protest as a classic case of Nimbyism. Through rose-tinted glasses, I saw the Olympics as a wholly positive thing for London. In the midst of recession, the regeneration of some of the most deprived areas of our city – so I thought – could only reap benefits. The ‘greenest games ever’ would bring communities together and inspire Londoners to get active.

Having seen the consequences of staging the Equestrian events in Greenwich Park up close and personal, I have softened my stance considerably. Much of the grass behind the Queen’s House is ruined and some areas of the Park are still fenced off to the public. This, despite initial assurances that disruption and damage to the Park would be minimal.

We were also told that the London Olympics would be the first ‘Sustainable Games’. According to the Olympic website:

sustainability’ is far more than being ‘green’. It’s ingrained into our thinking – from the way we plan, build and work, buy, to the way we play, socialise and travel; ultimately everything that we do.

So why then, instead of the original 20% renewable energy target, have Locog downgraded their pledge to just 9%? And why has Locog refused to commit to making the Games plastic-bag free?

I am glad to see that the Greener Upon Thames campaign group has launched an e-petition urging Locog to ban the use of plastic bags in all Olympic venues.

Here are some other suggestions that I think could make a positive impact next summer.

Continue reading “The Olympics”

The end of growth?

Richard Heinberg’s new book, The End of Growth, is generating a lot of publicity. It claims that, despite what many politicians and policymakers are saying, growth will not return to the major economies. The enormous sums that governments around the world have spent trying to stimulate growth during the recession have brought no meaningful gains. For Heinberg, the very idea of ‘perpetual growth’, shared by both Keynesian New Deal economics and trickle-down Reagonomics, is over.

Heinberg claims it is unlikely that developed economies will adapt to this new reality voluntarily or anytime soon. In fact, governments, corporations and large-scale institutions will most likely try to obstruct changes to the status quo. As a consequence, Heinberg focuses on what individuals and local communities can do to help with the transition towards a zero growth economy.

I find myself firmly on the ‘growth is good’ side of the debate. This article, by Daniel Ben-Ami, sums up my position. Up to a point.