Category Archives: environment and carbon reduction

Cycling and walking infrastructure that works: what are the next steps?

2222Our sister publication Local Transport Today recently published a viewpoint from Gary Cummins, a transport planner at JMP Consultants Ltd, and previously an activist for the London Cycling Campaign in east London.

We thought it was worth sharing, and if you think so too, join us at Cycling and walking infrastructure that works on November 13 in London, where we will hear what the deciosion-makers, from Highways Agency to DfT and TfL, have to tell us…

Compared to those of our North European neighbours, conditions for cyclists in the UK are far from perfect, or arguably even good. Nevertheless, cycling is rising up the political agenda and usage is increasing. There is a press advertising campaign currently running for the Fat Face clothing company. It depicts four good-looking twenty-somethings dressed in the casual chic style of that clothing brand, all riding traditional-style sit-up-and-beg bicycles in an idealised English country lane. When the ad men start using bikes as a reference marker to indicate the aspirations of their target audience, you know it’s the thing to be doing. Continue reading

Paid in gold to lose weight in Dubai? Sure, because you can’t walk anywhere

I was listening to the radio the other day to a Dubai expat explaining how the state is paying residents in gold to lose weight. She chirpily said that we ‘drive everywhere, even to the neighbour, as there are no pavements and it’s really hard to walk….’

Why is road-centric planning creeping back up the UK agenda? Read our analysis on RUDI

I have lived in Dubai, and it is hard to walk in all but a few districts, even in the winter when heat is not an issue. The crazily looping fast freeways that slice up Dubai make a car a must-have. And although newer neighbourhoods are finally being planned with narrow shady streets and ‘walkable’ precincts, Dubai needs to realise that its growing obesity problem is planned right into its urban development policy: more malls, hotels and roads. But at least they can say that they are worth their (lost) wight in gold…

Back to the garden? Thinking Big about housing…

This November, Nick Clegg is encouraging us to ‘think big’ about housing – and it also advocating the rise of garden cities as solutions to future housing needs. Garden cities and suburbs were the development poster children of the 1900s, ending with Milton Keynes in 1967. There is a fair amount of support for this resurrection of policy, but also worry that until these new garden cities and suburbs can offer jobs and character, they’ll only be dormitories of big cities. Even the promised kick-start from a new government tax initiative, allowing local authorities to borrow against future business rate revenues to help them get building, doesn’t clinch it. The dark memory of eco towns is also casting a shadow over the notion of anything ‘garden’.

Join the UK’s most revolutionary practitioners to really Think Big about housing delivery…

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Many housing practitioners and experts are already thinking big, and have come up with a huge – and much more radical – range of very smart ideas, plans, concepts and tools to revolutionise housing delivery, across cities, suburbs and rural spaces. Community and custom-build figures heavily, as does the idea of starting small, thinking about incremental development at all scales, from plot to street to block. These ideas are

‘Planning in England is being so thoroughly gutted that it is, in effect, being shut down altogether’

So says George Monbiot, as the row and banderblast over the new draft planning framework and its ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ (a presumption without a definition) continues to rumble. ‘If councils aren’t given proper guidance about sustainable development how can they encourage the type of schemes that should be built – and refuse to allow those that shouldn’t?’ asks Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth. A very, very good question.
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Europe torments drivers in pursuit of ‘walkers’ paradises’, says New York Times

Oh dear. I’m not sure if this means that Europe is doing well or badly…I guess it depends which side of the exhaust fumes you are… European cities are ‘creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation’.

Well although the NYT obviously doesn’t agree, we must be doing something right….although there are a few voices that may be worth listening to: those who say that slower journey times matter less than increased civility when encouraging a mass move to public transport…..Any thoughts?
Read the article

Comments wanted on new guide to sustainable communities

The latest publication from The UK’s National Standards Body, BSI, is a consultation document designed to attract public comment on their forthcoming Guide To The Sustainable Development of Communities, BSI aims to pioneer the progress of sustainable development with the release of a new standard for public comment. The group is calling for public input and review of this innovative and topical standard BS 8904 – Guide to the sustainable development of communities – from all interested parties including local councils, charities, social enterprises, cooperatives as well as any individual belonging to a community…

Monitoring and evaluation: when we will begin to collect evidence and learn from experience?

A gratifying blog appeared on The Guardian’s site this week, posted by Flemmich Webb. He was impressed with a new scheme to measure energy use on a street in Brighton. Quoting the old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure is, he says, particularly pertinent when it comes to household energy use, which soared by 13.4% in 2010. True enough, but what about the rest of the urban monitoring and evaluation that we don’t yet do? Evidence bases are beginning to emerge: Continue reading

SOS parks and green spaces: take the GreenSpace survey

Times are tough, and anyone who can stand up for green or public spaces gets our vote. So, as we enter the new financial year, GreenSpace is preparing to publish interim findings from its survey on the impact last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review had on the parks sector.

Initial data has already been presented to Parliament, says GreenSpace, as it seeks to argue the case for investment in parks and green spaces. The survey can be completed by green space workers here – thank you to those who have already done so. Continue reading

The necessary evolution of cities: green urbanism

Green urbanism works, at least it does in Holland

As Japan contemplates the damage wrought by nature, we were relieved to come across this article on Canadian e-zine fast forward weekly on the necessary evolution of cities, rooted in the thoughts of Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, USA. Authors Geoff Ghitter & Noel Keough state that modern urban life — at least, the technology that makes it all possible — has made a stranger of nature.

Occasionally nature intrudes into our lives, they say, through weather or natural calamity. And, while some like venturing into the wild to play or relax, after the weekend is over, it’s back to the urban silo. In the magical world of the city, needs are invisibly met. Flick a switch and “presto” night is day. Twist a faucet and clean, drinkable water gushes, seemingly without limit. Flush a toilet and stinky sewage disappears out of sight and mind. At the store, shelves teem with fresh and preserved foods that appear, manna-like, each new day.

And the sheer ease with which all this happens makes it easy to forget that outside the silo lays a vast network of utilities and infrastructures that continuously work to extract raw materials from nature, transform them into useful products to deliver goods to us, creating garbage in the process.
The problem is that our flick-and-flush existence conceals many of the destructive effects our consumption patterns create and the fragile state of the ecological systems that underpin them. And being physically removed from nature fosters psychological detachment. So much so that when confronted with alarming claims that could conflict with our daily safe, healthy and abundant personal existence, we often ignore them, or worse, deny them.

This city-nature rift perhaps explains why we continue to build as we do. A city of far-flung suburbs and drive-to malls is unsustainable and everybody knows it: planners, politicians, people and even developers (although they don’t typically admit it publicly). But things are changing out there and to adapt we’re going to have to change as well.

That’s why building cities as we have in the past is not an option for deep thinkers like Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia. He believes the future of our species is intimately tied with our ability to coexist with the natural world.

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Reclaim the fields: a fight for the landless generation

Ian Fitzpatrick’s comments on the Ecologist blog caught our attention this week. He writes: Following in the footsteps of attempts to open up car-dominated city streets to the public again, activists behind ‘Reclaim the Fields’ want to gain public access to agricultural land.

Earlier this month around eighty urban food growers, farmers, activists and thinkers from around the country came to Grow Heathrow, an abandoned nurseries site in the village of Sipson – marking the first UK gathering of Reclaim the Fields.

Activists in Sipson are turning a previously derelict site into a successful market garden producing local fruit and vegetables and a site for the local community to share skills and knowledge. It is this tale of returning unproductive land to the public that Reclaim the Fields hopes to repeat across the UK and Europe, with a camp get-together planned in Romania later this year.

At present farmland in the UK is almost entirely in the hands of a tiny percentage of the population. Industrial farming techniques have taken hundreds of thousands of people away from farming. Even those who want access to land are restricted by inflated land prices. The issue is only been made worse by the pressure on local authorities to sell off their farmland, which provided more than one-third of the farm tenancies that came onto the market in 2006.

Despite the phenomenal success of food-orientated community groups and charities in the UK over the past decade this issue of access to land has never really been addressed. In the view of many this is a permanent impediment for people hoping to develop land-based livelihoods.

The Diggers movement

The actual roots of this loss of access to land goes back further than the advent of industrial farming. It can be traced back to the enclosure of common land in England in the 13th century, which accelerated during the 15th and 16th centuries as sheep farming became more profitable than arable farming. The gathering pace of these enclosures in the 17th century, combined with widespread food shortages resulting from crop failure, provided fertile soil for political turmoil. It was during this time of crisis that the Diggers emerged as a movement to cultivate food on common land. Their chief spokesperson, Gerrard Winstanley, said at the time that ‘Propriety and single interest divides the people of a land…and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed’. As an experiment in land reform it was short-lived; but thanks largely to Winstanley’s prolific writings, the ideas lived on.

Echoing the Diggers movement, ‘The Land Is Ours’ emerged in 1994 as a campaign for a more equal and inclusive distribution of land – with particular focus on the issue of unused land and housing. Their campaign began by occupying a disused airfield close to the site of the Diggers’ first experiment on St George’s Hill in Surrey. A number of sites were occupied over the years (the recent Kew Bridge Eco Village in London was inspired by it) and ‘Chapter 7’ was developed to focus attention on planning and low-impact housing.

With the founders becoming absorbed by other campaigns, ‘The Land Is Ours’ receded from the spotlight in the late 1990s. While the issue of access to land for housing was broadly adopted by urban squatters and planning campaigners, the issue of access to land for agriculture had been left with no clear movement or campaign.

It was out of this vacuum that Reclaim the Fields emerged, growing out of a series of meetings in 2007 and 2008. The first was a youth assembly at the anti-G8 demonstrations at Rostock, Germany in June 2007. A group of younger members from various small farm groups decided to organise a gathering the following summer with the ‘youth branch’ of the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and Young Friends of the Earth Europe, to coincide with the European Social Forum in Malmö, Sweden. In November 2008, a smaller group within the ‘youth branch’ of Via Campesina decided to split off and form a fully separate group called ‘Reclaim the Fields’, a deliberate nod towards the anti-road and anti-capitalist protest movement ‘Reclaim the Streets’ of the 1990s and early 2000s. While many members of Reclaim the Fields agreed with the aims of Via Campesina, the split resulted mainly from differences of political organisation and culture. Via Campesina – a huge international movement with an estimated 150 million members ranging from peasants and landless people to indigenous communities and migrants – was considered too hierarchical, bureaucratic and lobby-oriented. Members of Reclaim the Fields wanted to create a more autonomous and non-hierarchical space centered on young people’s experiences of contemporary peasant issues.

Future plans

Over the past two years the movement has grown steadily with national groups forming, and gatherings and political mobilisations taking place across Europe. Although links had been forged early on between mainland Europe and the UK, it was after a group of UK-based urban food growers participated at the European Assembly in Graz in October 2009 that a UK national Reclaim the Fields group was formed.

With increasing concern about Britain’s – and indeed the planet’s – capacity to feed itself sustainably, compounded by an aging farming population, rising rates of unemployment, and the continued rise in the price of land, Reclaim the Fields acts as a network for sharing ideas, experiences and skills, and for collaboratively researching and campaigning around issues of access to land and food sovereignty.

Although still in its infancy the movement reflects the growing gap between a rising number of landless citizens who yearn to create sustainable land-based livelihoods and the mounting difficulties of gaining access to land. In that sense their struggle is no different to those of countless peasants, indigenous peoples and migrants around the world.

The next Reclaim the Fields European Assembly will be in Romania in September. For more information go to the website: