About a year ago one of the BCU Masters in Environmental Sustainability students planted the idea of a BCU EcoHub, inspired by what he saw in Utrecht while completing his placement on the Pioneer into Practice Programme in the Netherlands. During his visit at the University of Utrecht, he came across the concept of the Green Office central HUB, where “fresh minds and hands come together to support Utrecht University’s sustainable development”. He brought this idea home, we developed a Student Academic Partnership (SAP) project idea, received funding, and started to work on this project from February 2017.
I am writing from a small but international and interdisciplinary meeting at the Swedish School of Planning, part of the Blekinge Tekniska Hogskola, in Karlskrona. Sustainable urban form is, of course, a contemporary professional and political ideal: but what is it and how do we achieve it, especially in existing settlements? This event draws together eminent keynote speakers, PhD students and new researchers, and the School’s Advisory Board.
The first keynote was from Simin Davoudi (University of Newcastle, UK): on ‘cities and energy consumption: rational or habitual?’ An important point because without sustainable cities there will be no sustainable world; but cities are such a plural, variable, phenomenon. Urban form determines sustainability to a great extent, for example levels of transport-related greenhouse emissions, and building energy efficiency is also significant. So how do we change users’ behaviour; indeed what constitutes ‘behaviour’? Compare Atlanta and Barcelona, two cities of the same population but covering 4280 km2 and 162 km2 respectively, with per capita CO2 emissions 10x greater in the former in part because of the need to travel owing to the low-density urban form. A US model of ‘sprawl’ is still being followed, especially in Asia. China’s building rate is frightening in terms of sustainability: it builds the equivalent of Rome every 2 weeks. Simin explores how decisions are ACTUALLY made with respect to urban form and use. Remember that the rational economic model hardly matches the messy and irrational decision-making of real life. So for more sustainable cities, technical and structural change is important but insufficient. She argues that behaviour change, perhaps radical, is also needed, at the level of individuals and institutions.
Society is facing potentially disastrous climate change impacts. The UK is at the brink of a looming energy gap as old power stations close with little to replace them, and much of this is because we simply consume too much energy. This is a problem because we currently heavily rely on energy that is produced by fossil fuels; only 11.3% of UK energy comes from renewable resources (DECC 2013). The UK Government has long been trying to tackle this by calling on people to reduce their personal energy use through various behavioural change campaigns. A host of research and academic literature supports this, and various government departments have commissioned studies attempting to get to the bottom of why we behave the way we do with energy. The government hopes to use information derived from these studies to design policies that will bring about a measurable difference; to design interventions that will change individual energy behaviour. The belief is that pulling the right ‘lever’ will bring about the desired behaviour. But is this right?