Sustainable Cities & Green Business
I’m walking on sunshine today as Newcastle upon Tyne has be rated “most sustainable city in the UK” by Forum for the Future. Not just civic pride in the city I live in, but because, with my councillor hat on, I’m second in command of all things green at the City Council. This is the second year in a row we have topped the rankings; the first city to do it twice.
But my pride is tempered with slight bemusement as we still think we’re just getting started. While we are doing a huge amount of exciting stuff, Newcastle doesn’t look ‘green’ per se – we still have gridlock during rush hour, a motorway slashes through the city centre and renewable energy is conspicuous by its absence. Much of this will change as we plan to get a few hundred solar PV panels going up on suitable council houses in the next year or so, and we’re desperately trying to unlock the cycling-pit-of-doom which is our city centre.
So, going from the specific to the general, what does sustainable urbanism offer green business and vice versa? As with mobile telecommunications, the population density of a city gives a brilliant test bed for emerging technologies and business services. Electric and hydrogen vehicle infrastructure will appear in city centres long before suburbia and rural. District heating systems depend on large ‘anchor tenants’ to make the system economically viable. Specialist green retail is also more likely to survive in a big city. The main downside is the density of buildings makes renewable energy difficult.Retrofitting urban buildings is going to be very big business very soon.
And what can businesses offer cities as part of their Corporate Civic Responsibility (to coin a phrase)? Locating in the city centre will help preserve the vitality of the urban core – and improve the quality of life of employees. Conversely, telecommuting will help resurrect local services in residential areas. While this might sound like a contradictory message, the two can be synergistic – smaller central office with hot-desking and employees working from home. Proper green travel planning will cut private car journeys by encouraging public transport, cycling and walking schemes. Even wildlife areas can be built into the city centre – there are bee hives on the roof of Fenwick’s department store on Newcastle’s Northumberland Street (don’t get me started on bee facts).
By chance I’m off to Stockholm tomorrow to the European Green Capitals conference – the host city having won the European accolade. Blogging and tweeting will depend on my access to t’internet, but I hope to share what I learn.