How to build a Fairer City

Four leading academics propose the ‘grounded city’ – where sustainable transport, accessible broadband and modest housing take precedence over ostentatious tower blocks. Our manifesto is about how the fairer city can be achieved by changing both the imaginary and the practice underlying economic and social policy. The central argument is that we can move towards a fairer city by reframing our problems and rethinking our solutions in two ways:

1. Break with the dominant old problem of the competitive city, which competes economically against other cities and sponsors internal competition for limited opportunities.

2. Stop fixating on redistributive policies which will not deliver fairness, and start thinking about reorganising policies which build a grounded economy in the areas which are not exposed to competition.

The global obsession of our age is competing everywhere with everyone for everything. In the mainstream imaginary, every city has to chase competitive success in a league table where it secures prosperity by getting ahead of others. Our premise is that competition is the wrong kind of imaginary; that we are trapped by an idea of the externally competitive city as a basis for economic success.

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Posted in Cities, Urban, Urbanization | Tagged , ,

Citizen Participation Resources

We believe that civic engagement, or including people in your governing process, is important to your success. Whether you’re a government organisation or a business, connecting with your communities will benefit both you and your community. But getting started with a civic engagement project can be intimidating. So this week, we’ve put together a resource list for you to help you plan and feel confident about your community engagement project.

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Posted in Community, Participation | Tagged , ,

Design for Social Sustainability – a Framework for Creating Thriving Communities

Our starting point is that although there is widespread understanding of the physical and environmental challenges involved in creating new settlements, there is still much to be learnt about what makes some communities succeed and others fail. In this paper we argue that building new communities that can flourish and become socially successful and sustainable is as important as designing places that are physically, economically and environmentally sustainable.  Social sustainability is an issue of public value as well as the wellbeing, quality of life and satisfaction of future residents. It demands a new approach to planning, design and development that we call social design, which needs to be integrated into policy and professional practice across all the disciplines involved in the creation of new communities – much like the way standards of environmental sustainability have become widely adopted in recent years. This paper sets out how to plan, design and develop successful and socially sustainable new communities. The ideas and examples are drawn from a large scale review of evidence about what makes communities flourish, with practical examples and approaches from new settlements around the world.

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Posted in Community, Planning, Resilient community, Social design, Sustainable | Tagged , , , ,

Growing Grassroots Innovations: Exploring the Role of Community-based Social Movements

The challenges of sustainable development (and climate change and peak oil in particular) demand system-wide transformations in socio-technical systems of provision. An academic literature around co-evolutionary innovation for sustainability has recently emerged to attempt to understand the dynamics and directions of such socio-technical transformations and social change, which are termed ‘sustainability transitions’. This literature has previously focused on market-based technological innovations. Here we apply it to a new context of social movements and social innovation, and examine the role of civil society-based social movements in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy in the UK. We present new empirical research from a study of the UK’s Transition Movement (a ‘grassroots innovation’) and assess its attempts to grow and diffuse beyond the niche. Applying strategic niche management theory to this civil society context delivers theoretically-informed practical recommendations for this social movement to diffuse beyond its niche: to foster deeper engagement with resourceful regime actors; to manage expectations more realistically by delivering tangible opportunities for action and participation; and to embrace a community-based, action-oriented model of social learning (in preference to a cognitive theory of behaviour change). Furthermore, our study indicates areas where theory can be refined to better explain the experience of grassroots innovations and social movements, namely through a fuller appreciation of internal niche processes, and integration with theories of social movements and social practices.

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Posted in Grassroots innovations, Social innovation, Social movements, Sustainability transitions, Sustainable development | Tagged , , , , ,

Understanding Cities: Advances in Integrated Assessment of Urban Sustainability

The urgent need to reconfigure urban areas to consume fewer resources, generate less pollution, be more resilient to the impacts of extreme events and become more sustainable in general, is widely recognised. To address these issues, requires integrated thinking across a range of urban systems, topics, issues and perspectives that are traditionally considered separately. This book introduces key results from the European Science Foundation funded COST Action network that brought together researchers and practitioners involved in urban integrated assessment. Using case studies, theoretical approaches and reporting experience from across Europe this book explores the challenges and opportunities of urban integrated assessment through four perspectives:
(i) Quantified integrated assessment modelling;
(ii) Climate change adaptation and mitigation;
(iii) Green and blue infrastructure; and,
(iv) Urban policy and governance.
The book closes by outlining priorities for future research and development and presents a generic framework for urban integrated assessment to analyse the potential benefits and trade-offs of sustainability policies and interventions.

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Posted in Assessment, Cities, Green city, Sustainability, Sustainable development | Tagged , , , ,

Green Infrastructure – Life support for Human Habitats

The value of ‘green infrastructure’ in urban landscapes is becoming increasingly recognised by health professionals, water managers, planners, policy makers and designers around the world. The rapid expansion of towns and cities contains the real risk of creating unliveable, unhealthy environments. The contention is that human habitats need to be healthy and friendly places that use and recycle resources wisely, are clean, safe and accessible, are protected as far as possible from extreme weather conditions, and where natural systems are not only recognised and valued for the critical functions and services they provide, but are assisted in delivering these services. Green Infrastructure is the network of green places and water systems that delivers multiple environmental, social and economic values and services to urban communities. This network includes parks and reserves, backyards and gardens, waterways and wetlands, streets and transport corridors, pathways and greenways, farms and orchards, squares and plazas, business and institutional green areas, roof gardens and living walls, sports fields and cemeteries. Green Infrastructure (GI) is critical to the health, liveability and sustainability of urban environments. It strengthens the resilience of towns and cities to respond to the major current and future challenges of growth, health, climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as water, energy and food security.

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Posted in Green city, Infrastructure | Tagged ,

Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development – A New Research Agenda

Community action for sustainable development is an important  element of most countries’ policies for sustainable development. We welcome this growing recognition of the role of civil society in achieving sustainability objectives, but tempered with a few words of caution: First, there is very little empirical evidence to support claims that such objectives are realistic or achievable; second there is a lack of understanding about how to best harness and support the activities that are taking place; and third, existing evidence points to the need for policy support and public investment, and that effective communities may require effective states. In short, the ‘big   society’ rhetoric promises a growing role for civil society, but must not be a smokescreen for community development budget cuts. Spurred on by these issues, we have developed a research agenda to deepen our understanding of these civil society processes, and their potential. Our recent research into this field, which we term ‘grassroots innovations’ examines the processes by which community-led initiatives might develop new solutions for sustainable development, and how those ideas and practices might grow and diffuse into wider society.

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Read also: Grassroots Innovations

Posted in Community development, Grassroots innovations, Social innovation, Sustainable development | Tagged , , ,

The Social Innovation Dynamic

Social innovation is an initiative, product or process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system.  Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact. While social innovation  has recognizable stages and phases, achieving durability and scale is a dynamic process  that requires both emergence of opportunity and deliberate agency, and a connection between the two. The capacity of any society to create a steady flow of social innovations, particularly those which re-engage vulnerable populations, is an important contributor to the overall social and ecological resilience.

Social innovation is needed to build social and ecological resilience in the face of  mounting complex challenges to our economic, social, political and cultural institutions. Intractable problems are not new, but their interconnection in the context of global systems is presenting a new level of urgency and uncertainty. Building capacity at local, regional, national and international levels for not only new inventions and creativity in the social arena but also for system transformation can build resilience in the face of this uncertainty. In particular, the re-engagement of vulnerable populations can have a positive impact on our capacity for innovation and can add to the resilience of the whole.

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Posted in Social change, Social innovation | Tagged ,

Unlocking the Potential of Sharing

The sharing economy allows people to share property, resources, time and skills across online platforms. This can unlock previously unused, or under-used assets – helping people make money from their empty spare room and the tools in their sheds they use once a year. It allows people to go from owning expensive assets, such as cars, to paying for them only when they need them. Individuals can make more from their skills, and work more flexibly. There has been tremendous growth in the sharing economy in recent years, and this is set to continue. This is a huge opportunity and our ambition should be to be the world’s leading sharing economy. As with all disruption, we also need to be careful. Sharing economy businesses and traditional operators need to be treated fairly, particularly in terms of regulation. Consumers must be protected, and trust must be strengthened in online transactions. However, a degree of caution should not stop us from embracing the potential sharing offers for a new, more efficient and more flexible economy.

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Read also: Design for Sharing

Give & Take

Teaching, Designing, and Sharing

Posted in Sharing, Sharing economy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rethinking Smart Cities From The Ground Up

This report tells the stories of cities around the world – from Beijing to Amsterdam, and from London to Jakarta – that are addressing urban challenges by using digital technologies to engage and enable citizens. As cities bring people together to live, work and play, they amplify their ability to create wealth and ideas. But scale and density also bring acute challenges: how to move around people and things; how to provide energy; how to keep people safe. ‘Smart cities’ offer sensors, ‘big data’ and advanced computing as answers to these challenges, but they have often faced criticism for being too concerned with hardware rather than with people. In this report we argue that successful smart cities of the future will combine the best aspects of technology infrastructure while making the most of the growing potential of ‘collaborative technologies‘, technologies that enable greater collaboration between urban communities and between citizens and city governments. How will this work in practice? Drawing on examples from all around the world we investigate four emerging methods which are helping city governments engage and enable citizens: the collaborative economy, crowdsourcing data, collective intelligence and crowdfunding.

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