London is England’s capital city, one of the planet’s great cities and a city for people. But can a global city like London ever be sustainable?
Well, London’s history has shown it can sustain much – the coming and going of Romans. Marauding Vikings. Plague. Fire. The Blitz. Pea Soup Fogs.
And I think London has as good a chance as any city to be a sustainable city for the future.
Why? Because London is trying, and trying hard. Below are 4 steps London are taking towards the sustainable city, which I think any city could take. Would any of the steps succeed in your city?
1. Encourage walking, cycling and public transport – Congestion Charging
Public transport is part of London’s heart and soul; the red Double-Decker bus and the Tube are recognisable Worldwide. But Londoners, like everyone else, also like cars. The city became chock-a-block with them.
Could the city tempt people to walk, cycle and take more public transport?
Yes. Former mayor Ken Livingston used the carrot and stick approach when he introduced the Congestion Charge in February 2003. The stick is an £8 charge (used to be £5) on vehicles wishing to enter central London on weekday daytimes. The carrot was that all profit from the scheme is used to improve London’s transport infrastructure, especially busses.
Has it been successful?
Judge for yourself. A report from the Department for Transport claims 70,000 fewer cars in Central London, 6% more bus journeys, 12% more bicycle trips, 15 million litres of fuel saved per year and an extra £137m raised to invest in transport in 2006/7. Plus, although not universally popular, almost twice as many Londoners support the scheme than oppose it.
London was one of the first cities to try congestion charging. Could it work in your city?
2. Measure how you are doing – London City Limits
“You cannot manage what you cannot measure”, to paraphrase Lord Kelvin.
London took Lord Kelvin’s philosophy to heart and produced the fascinating City Limits report, which measures things like London’s consumption of materials, water, energy and food. And other things like London’s production of waste and CO2. Last, but not least, it estimates London’s ecological footprint.
The figures, which are for the year 2000, are astounding. To give just 3:
- London used 876,000,000,000 litres of water, of which 28% was wasted in leaks.
- London consumed 6.9 million tonnes of food, of which 81% came from outside the UK.
- London’s ecological footprint is the size of Spain.
What’s your definition of a sustainable city? Would London fit in it based on this report?
For what it’s worth, I like that London fessed up to it’s resource consumption and waste production. I have a feeling that it will encourage progress throughout the city for a long time to come.
What do you think?
3. Flagship development – BedZED
Beddinton is a district in the London Borough of Sutton. Until recently, its claim to fame was a controversy when Sir Walter Raleigh married a local resident, Elizabeth Throckmorton, who was a maid of honour of Queen Elizabeth I.
Today Beddington is home of BedZED, a landmark development of 99 homes that aims to be self sufficient with renewable energy. BedZED achieves this with solar energy, biomass combined heat & power (CHP) and highly energy efficient homes. Other initiatives include electric car facilities and rain water recycling.
Want to know more? Watch a video by one of the founding organisations, BioRegional:
BedZED is a flagship development that shows what is possible. I’d like to see more flagship developments, how about you?
4. Locally Produced Renewable Energy – The Merton Rule
History has given us centrally produced electricity and the power lines to bring it to our homes. For heating, many of us use natural gas piped in and burned in our boilers.
These are wonderful. They’ve given us an affordable and reliable energy supply, which is far cleaner than the energy we used 50 years ago.
Yet, in some situations, there are better energy solutions. And London is making them happen. For example, off the coast in the Thames Estuary you can find the proposed 1,000MW London Array wind farm.
Another innovation is the Merton Rule, a planning rule initiated by the London Borough of Merton that has since spread far and wide. The rule insists that large, new developments meets 10% of their energy need from locally produced renewable energy.
A good idea? Well, property developers have understandably resisted due to the extra costs. But I say good for Merton and good for London for encouraging local renewable energy.
Or do you think differently?
The final word
It’s a tall order for London to become a sustainable city for the future. But London is trying, trying hard and moving in the right direction. I like London’s 4 steps to the Sustainable City and I think they could be used in any city.
What do you think?