Recent political changes have made one thing clear, when it comes to discussions regarding the Environment and Climate change, the talk is weak and the walk in tiny steps, confused or on a retracting path. The Brexit vote waved goodbye to EC membership – for some plausible concerns but largely a fog of nebulous ‘facts’, figures and fairy-tales. But the lack of informed debate, transparency and ‘good news’ continues. The last few weeks have been a political spectacle and a series of short-lived headlines, reporting (or not) one incisive event after another. In terms of decision-making, some interesting and worrying characteristics keep occurring. While change is unavoidable it is not necessarily always for the better as a mixture of new and older changes, in my view, signal.
Let’s start with something seemingly quite banal, such as the revamp of the BBC website just over a year ago. The dedicated Environment section, which was useful and informative, disappeared Continue reading The missing E and C→
There is a growing literature on resilient environments; indeed, the term resilience has been hotly debated, discussed, and in some instances, roundly dismissed. It lies outside of the reach of this blog to unpick the various threads of these arguments in any detail. However, I will limit the focus to one area of resilience, which is embodied in the ‘100 Resilient Cities’ initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, with the expressed ambition of ‘helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century’.[i] Such an approach is perhaps representative of broader concerns regarding the need to incorporate resilience thinking into planning, engineering and design-based initiatives that ensure the urban fabric can withstand, and positively respond to, a whole range of anthropogenic and ‘natural’ threats – earthquakes, fires, flood, and so on.[ii] These recent ambitions chime with broader historical arguments regarding the paradoxical nature of cities. Continue reading Shake the foundations: resilience and planning for infrastructure→
There is currently a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the recently released Pokémon Go. It has been a great hit in many parts of the world: players walk around seeking out hidden monsters overlaid on the world around them, whilst tracking down real-life locations ‘tagged’ as stops in the game. It is estimated that the game has been downloaded 15 million times since its release at the beginning of July.[i] Gaming technology, as many would attest, has rich potential for a variety of disciplines and professions, and this recent example has been heralded by some as being something that encourages people, especially youngsters, to engage with the built and natural environment in new and exciting ways.[ii] But the recent experience of Pokémon Go also raises some provocative questions about how individuals relate to their real-world environments. Continue reading Pokémon Go – Possibilities and problems for augmented reality and the environment→
An hour-long documentary, directed by the film-maker Julien Temple, is shining light on Keith Richards’ formative years growing up in post-war Britain. According to recent media accounts, the Rolling Stones stalwart, a native of Dartford, Kent, will star in the film Keith Richards – The Origin of the Species, directed by Julien Temple, which will be at the centre of the BBC’s My Generation season exploring the importance of popular music in the mid-to-late-twentieth century. The film draws on Richards’ recollections of how he evaded being killed by a bomb in the Second World War, when it is reported that his cot was showered with bricks and mortar. The documentary also explores Richards’ attitude to the various physical and societal changes of the 1950s and 1960s: “There was a feeling in the late Fifties and Sixties that there was a change coming […] I certainly felt […] it’s time to push the limits”. Continue reading I sit and watch as tears goes by …→
In this audio blog, Alister Scott critically explores the implications for the West Midlands and Green Belt in an assessment of the recent Birmingham Local Plan approval by the Inspector which gave the green light for building 6000 homes in the Green Belt.
Recently graduating from Birmingham City University I have been exposed to the Architecture/Construction working environment right away. It’s been already four months since starting work and wow time has flown by so quickly before my eyes. I am happier than ever with the progress that I have been making for the past few months. This has been a great learning curve for me transitioning from a student to a professional in the construction industry. I couldn’t have asked for a better company to start with right after graduating. The transition from being a student to a training professional in the Architecture/Construction industry has been a real eye opener. Continue reading Studying Architectural Technology at BCU has been the best decision I have made→
The recent earthquake disaster in Nepal has had a massive impact in terms of death and destruction. Between 5000 and 10000 deaths are feared, and entire settlements may have been wiped out. This toll is high because of the severity of the quake, and its location in an area of largely remote traditional and isolated settlements, many of which are largely of traditional construction.
Not only is this a human disaster, but it is a cultural one, of much wider impact. Traditional settlements and buildings were physical evidence of traditional ways of life – already under pressure from other aspects of modern life including the pressure from international tourism. Continue reading Disasters and Rebuildings→
It seems as if the FT’s property correspondent has discovered planning history. On no less than two recent occasions, Kate Allen (2014, 2015) has discussed the contemporary significance of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for the London region, produced at the invitation of the Ministry for Town Planning in 1943-44 (Forshaw and Abercrombie, 1943; Abercrombie, 1945). Both were full-page features on the front page of the weekend ‘House and Home’ supplement; and the first carried a large full-colour reproduction of the widely-recognised “egg diagram” of social and functional areas in London.
It is very interesting to see such historic documents still being discussed in relation to today’s planning issues, and Kate Allen provides a fascinating argument for why the ‘scale’ and ‘ambition’ of Ambercrombie’s ideas are ripe for re-assessment. On one level, this suggests that planning history can have enduring relevance (or, perhaps, “impact” in today’s academic jargon!). But there are also persistent practical problems with attempting to translate the ideas of Abercrombie and the plans, no matter how well-known, into ‘workable’ solutions. With 70 years of hindsight the plans are flawed, probably inevitably; but quoting Boris Johnson’s “differences with Abercrombie” (Allen, 2014) is not really sufficient. Continue reading The Financial Times discovers planning history→
The 2014 Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF) results, published today, revealed that 90% of Birmingham City University’s submission was judged to have delivered ‘outstanding’ or ‘very considerable’ impact on society. This is evidence that the research landscape is rapidly changing and I believe that post-1992 Universities like BCU are ideally positioned to reap significant rewards from this new landscape in the years to come.
Essentially, the case for research funding in a time of economic austerity is based on the theory that research promotes competitiveness and growth. As research funders increasingly focus on demonstrating the value of research to society, there has been a rise in the number of directed research calls available to UK researchers. It is still possible to catch sight of blue skies as part of this research landscape, but they are increasingly being coloured by the rising sun of the impact agenda. Continue reading Delivering change through interdisciplinary research→
Academics who were submitted to the Architecture, Built Environment and Planning panel have moved from the bottom quartile to the middle rank of planning schools in the UK, according to results published today as part of the Government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is used to distribute funding to the best Universities. The group increased the number of publications graded as internationally significant or leading (3 or 4 out of 4 stars) rose from from 25% in the last assessment to 65% today.
One of the highlights of the School’s submission was a 3 star impact case study about the creation of new markets to enable companies to pay for restoring damaged peat bogs in return for the carbon that is saved. The Government launched a pilot UK Peatland Code last year based on this work in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and water companies now regularly restore peat bogs to reduce water treatment costs. Also featured in the submission was a board game called “Rufopoly”, designed to raise awareness and support decisions in rural areas under pressure from housing development around cities. The training game has just received additional funding from the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council, and has now been played by policy-makers, businesses, voluntary bodies and schools across the UK, Sweden and the USA. Professors Mark Reed and Alister Scott who led the development of these case studies, also played a major role in the follow-up to the Government’s National Ecosystem Assessment, providing policy-makers and practitioners with tools to better take account of nature in their decisions, including the cultural values that communities share for the natural environment. Prof David Edwards from BSBE was also part of a highly scoring submission from the Business School, which included a 3-4 star impact case study based on his work on improving the health and safety of vibrating plant machinery.
Professor Peter Larkham, the School’s Associate Head (Research), welcomed this clear and externally-accredited evidence of the high quality and impact of their research in planning and the environment:
“This is a tremendous endorsement of our achievements in producing high-quality research which not only influences national and local government policy, and helps other agencies and property developers, but it demonstrates that our undergraduate and Masters courses are up-to-date, underpinned by the best research”.