Development debates often tend to juxtapose environmental concerns with the need for economic growth and job creation. The decision by Parliament today to support the expansion of Heathrow Airport with a third runway, is a good case in point. An expansion, no doubt, will create more jobs in construction and transport industry, and is likely to result in all sorts of knock-on retail and service-related economic benefits (also a very good job and research opportunities for our building surveying, quantity surveying and engineering students). There is also of course a long list of environmental and social impacts that are rather unattractive, such as a significant increase in air pollution (from airplanes and increases in associated road traffic) and noise pollution and vibration for those living near the airport, as many prominent politicians and (environmental and resident) lobby groups have highlighted.
Who wins? Who loses? We may be able to quickly identify obvious winners – such as construction firms; air travel companies and supply chain; business and private air travellers – and losers, for example those experiencing the noise and vibration; tax payers who prefer green investment; further deterioration of land, water and air-encompassing ecosystems. What is rarely talked about in such balance sheets, however, are the indirect but heavy prices paid by society overall. Continue reading Runway economics or plane stupid?→
The Olympic Games in Rio are in full flight and the gold medal rush continues. Much talk in recent days, though, has focused on how the diving pool has turned from a sparkly azure blue colour at the beginning of the Games to something with a peculiarly green and murky tinge. Various explanations have been put forward to explain what has happened, though it is still not entirely clear why.[i] Divers have been assured that the water is safe, and the competition continued, but the event has stirred some deep-rooted fears regarding water quality.
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→
The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change. Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.
I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ onthe future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project. It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals. But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail. We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.
How far do you walk each week? If there is one thing that most health professionals agree upon it is that our state of health is greatly enhanced if we each have a brisk walk each day. It seems logical to surmise that if this simple direction was followed, NHS costs might be significantly reduced.
Perhaps surprisingly, built environment professionals can have a significant effect on peoples’ physical activity and this is well recognised in the USA where there is a trend towards “active design” agreed between health authorities and architects. This might mean, for instance, locating stair cases near the main entrance instead of hiding them at the rear of the lifts. This principle can be applied beyond buildings to the external environment. The trend towards pedestrianisation over the last few decades has undoubtedly helped, although increasing walking is a positive spin-off rather than a planned benefit. However, in the Country as a whole the National Travel Survey 2012 states that walking trips fell by 27% since 1997. Conversely, the number of households with two or more cars has risen to 31% from only 17% in 1986 – this in the midst of a recession.
Hey! This is one question to which I think I know the answer. That’s unless they’ve been doing a lot of expensive repaving work since I was there a couple of weekends ago to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park. The reason I’m so confident that nothing will have changed is that the government is too busy saving up so that it can build HS2. This (of course) is the high speed rail link that seems designed to get us all to the capital as quickly as possible. Despite controversy over the economic case, the environmental consequences and the (lack of) social benefits (not to mention a sudden £10bn price-hike a couple of weeks ago), the government seems determined to drive this one through. It’s only track ‘n’ rolling stock but they like it.
A few things occur to me. For a start, why are we all so desperate to get to the Big Smoke? Sure, it’s a great place and I like going there; but Birmingham’s pretty good too and I’ve also heard nice things about Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield (feel free to amend this list to suit your own preferences). I spent a few years living in Germany and one of the things that struck me over there was the way in which the major cities all had their own identities and sense of importance. Perhaps this was a consequence of the (then) capital being the relatively small town of Bonn (which might give a clue as to how long ago I was there) but it always seemed very healthy to me. One of the ‘pro’ arguments I’ve heard for HS2 is that it will allow people flying to Birmingham to get to London quicker. Is ‘Birmingham International Airport’ destined to become ‘London North’? Surely, it would be better if the people actually wanted to stay in Birmingham. But don’t start me up on that one.