Air pollution has once again become one of the biggest concerns for cities with hard-hitting evidence emerging on the high numbers of premature deaths and the range of health and environmental impacts. While air pollution from industrial processes has been significantly curbed, transport emissions have over the past 40 or so years become the main contributor. Part of the problem has been the sharp rise in diesel cars, traffic congestion (ever increasing numbers of vehicles on the road and stop and start driving) and dirty ‘old-tech’ private and public transport vehicles along with newer less than adequate performing engines (or poor driver skills). Evidence has also emerged on the significant contributions of particulate matter (PM) – and especially particles less than 2.5 micrometres (called PM2.5) that can penetrate deep into the lungs – coming off tyres and breaks even if the engines are relatively clean or emission free (e.g. with the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles)   . Continue reading What role can planning play in improving urban air quality?→
The news of endangered species, extinctions and near extinctions seems hardly to bat many eyelids or feature in news channels. Unless it is a species which seems to strike a chord or has some sort of direct meaning. And here, the cheetah features.
For me, living in England, and not a great fan of caged animals / zoos, thinking about cheetahs was triggered about a year ago when I received an email from Rosie Wilkes who works at the West Midland Safari Park and in her spare time helps raise awareness and support for Cheetah Outreach. Not teaching biology or environmental conservation as such I thought what on earth does this have to do with my modules, amongst it ‘Complexity, Conflict and Resolution’ for the MSc Environmental Sustainability which focuses on environmental governance and conflict resolution. As it turned out, much more than I had anticipated. Continue reading Conflict and Cheetahs→
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”.
Immigration is likely to be a key issue at the next General Election and, unsurprisingly, the number of news stories over the last few months linked to the subject has been even higher than normal – the lifting of restrictions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants; calls from across the political spectrum to stop migrants moving to the UK simply to claim benefits; and divisions between the two coalition parties on immigration policy. This is not the place, nor am I sufficiently expert on immigration policy, to conduct a forensic examination of the immigration policy scene; though I agree some reform is needed. I would, however, like to briefly discuss one group affected by immigration policy – namely international Higher Education (HE) students.
Well over half of the full-time postgraduate research students in the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment (TEE) at Birmingham City University (BCU) are international students, coming from countries ranging from Germany to Nigeria and Mexico to Palestine and I am very proud of this diversity! I have joked that it is my ambition to have one research student from each of 195 United Nations member states! BCU states proudly on its website that it has “international alliances” and “an expanding student community from more than 80 countries.” (BCU 2013)
However, despite the Government’s protestations to the contrary, the impression that is being given to many prospective international students (and their governments) is that the UK is no longer ‘open’ to international students. In a recent article on the Guardian’s website, a London-based student described his University’s obsessive monitoring of his attendance and similar initiatives as “racist and degrading”. He also stated “If I knew that was the situation, I wouldn’t have come in the first place, and would tell others back home to think twice” (Tapia 2013).
Planning has the potential to become a rallying-cry around which people come together to bring diverse and exciting ideas about what their future could be like, and then helps people realise these collective dreams. But I worry that we have lost the knack of constructively and positively engaging the public in the complex issues of planning. Perhaps we can look to the past to re-learn a lost art of inspiring enthusiasm and hope through planning.
Routledge is publishing a new series of books, reprinting classic texts in town planning with newly-commissioned critical introductions. My contribution – published on 17 July – focuses on two books about Birmingham: principally the Bournville Village Trust’s When we build again (1941), with Paul Cadbury’s Birmingham – fifty years on (1952). But why do we revisit these aged texts? What can we learn from planning history?
It’s commonplace to suggest that we should learn lessons from the past. On the other hand, perhaps we just make the same mistakes over and over again! Look at the current furore over the new syllabus for history in secondary schools. In terms of planning history specifically, the eminent planning historian Tony Sutcliffe said long ago that “does it not reflect [society’s] rejection of a once-proud elite of technocrats, who take refuge in the past from an uncertain present and a gloomy future?” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 65). Sutcliffe’s place for planning history and historians was as “unsettling persons”, evaluating and questioning the past, soberly assessing its “contribution to the long-term development of planning methodology” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 67). Planning history should replace myth in situating ideas within a broad and long-term historical perspective. Continue reading Can planning’s past tell us about planning’s future?→
Until relatively recently, the main equipment in the average lecture theatre and seminar room was a lectern and/or a blackboard (Race 2007, p.109). Now, however, we are experiencing an exposition of new technologies to aid learning and teaching. Firstly videos and overhead projectors were introduced followed by the now omnipresent PowerPoint presentations and use of YouTube clips. Many Universities are even employing specialist staff to design bespoke learning technologies specifically for their own institution, and BCU is no exception here.
Despite my relative youth I struggle with new technology and tend to ‘catch up’ with rather than ‘champion’ new technologies. This has been the case with several technologies which I now use regularly privately, but was slow to initially embrace, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and at work, such as SharePoint. This undoubtedly comes from my suspicion of ‘change’ and my fairly conservative (small ‘c’) educational background. Continue reading Learning Technologies in Higher Education – Friend or Foe?→