Tag: Climate change

Camilla Ween

Looking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guide good urban growth

Guest blog by Camilla Ween, RIBA, MCIHT, AoU, Harvard Loeb Fellow

The planet is in a climate crisis and the UK is in a housing crisis. We need a paradigm shift in the way we do things so that we can deliver about 250,000 new homes annually, that will not exacerbate our attempts to reach zero carbon and that will not destroy the planet.

The United Nations has outlined 17 Goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to help shape a future that delivers decent lives for people, while at the same time protecting our environment. The UK should look to these for guidance over all development that we embark upon, as the SDGs articulate most clearly what sustainable development looks like. UK local and national planning policies are inevitably UK focussed and do not encompass global issues. We should, therefore, use the SDGs to filter proposals and ensure that they fulfil the global aspirations for a decent future. Designs must push against local barriers if proposals fall short.

Transport is responsible for about 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, much arising from personal car journeys. Our society will not be able to achieve the UN goals if we do not change the way we travel; that means we need to create new communities that are NOT car dependent. That means careful consideration of where new development is located, as well as how we design new communities, for example, places that are well connected with high quality public realm and movement infrastructure that encourage people to want to move to a car-free lifestyle.

Development projects are often framed in very narrow and specific ways. However, if we keep an open mind and look broadly for opportunities, then by simply tweaking the design we can achieve so much more for little or no extra cost. Every design project offers the opportunity to include design features that help us achieve the SDGs’ aspirations.

The design process can and should seize opportunities to deliver sustainable solutions; good connectivity will encourage people to walk or cycle; careful design and layout can include biodiversity corridors and sustainable drainage solutions; pleasant public spaces, that feel welcoming, can help cement social cohesion.

By locating new development near public transport and designing communities that are well connected to the things we need to get to will mean that people are more likely to forgo car journeys. Rail travel has a very low carbon footprint, so developing along rail corridors is obvious and ensuring that the access to it is mainly by public transport, walking or cycling will mean that people will choose the low carbon travel option. That means no more ‘Park & Ride’ facilities.

Many transport projects I have worked on started with very narrow and specific briefs, but with a little discussion it was possible to broaden the remit and include other objectives. For example, a project for the city of Kano in Nigeria simply asked for five freight terminals and five bus interchanges; our design included permeability of the (very large) sites, biodiversity corridors, green infrastructure and walking and cycling networks that would integrate the sites into the city.

Kano, map of development

 

Kano, image of development

 

A project in Mexico City required interchange between two BRT routes and a commuter rail station. It was very clear that the solution could be very simple, but also that there existed multiple urban issues; the transport infrastructure separated an affluent community from an informal community and everyone from accessing a regional hospital by any other mode than a car and a local park was also inaccessible. We proposed a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link both communities to each other, provide easy access to all the transport facilities, the hospital and the park and the bonus was a new public space at the heart of the community; the project went a long way to promote sustainable transport as well as social inclusion.

Mexico City project

Another project that I am involved with is Connected Cities. This is a methodology which proposes development (which encompasses many of the Garden City principles) along existing rail corridors and no more than 1km from a station. The principle is that compact settlements are created, with access to amenities or a rail station that are no more that 15 minutes away by walking or cycling. A cluster of settlements, each offering social, leisure, retail or education facilities would all be connected together via rail and form a Connected City. By being well connected, dependency on car travel is almost entirely overcome.

The United Nations has recently launched the Urban Economy Forum, which aims to help deliver the UN SDGs. This will be a repository of best practice and learning for future urban development that will create decent lives for people that do not harm the environment.

Camilla Ween is an architect and urbanist at Goldstein Ween Architects and a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. Her work focusses on sustainable urban design and the integration of transport, working in the UK and globally. She is a Steering Group member of the United Nations Urban Economy Forum, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and member of several other design review panels. She is a published author as well as a regular lecturer at international universities and conferences.

Simon Norton

In Memoriam Simon Norton

We were deeply sad to learn that Simon Norton, a supporter of Transport for New Homes since its inception, passed away in February 2019.

A passionate and thoughtful campaigner for sustainable transport, Simon Norton helped to set up Transport for New Homes and funded the project through the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a grant-making charity that he founded and chaired. Simon was a member of our steering group, and he helped to research our Transport for New Homes report, visiting a number of new housing developments and assessing their public transport provision.

Jenny Raggett, lead author of the report, accompanied Simon on some of these visits. Jenny remembers Simon’s unique approach, his humour and the extraordinary depth of his knowledge:

 I could describe the unique experience of going to Priors Hall’s Park housing estate with Simon as part of the Transport for New Homes visits. This could include the detailed knowledge that Simon had of the naming of bus stops and the exact departure times of buses at Corby station on the way, the fruitless pursuit of somewhere for tea in the enormous development without any facilities, how we got a tour in the developer’s 4×4 because he had rarely seen any pedestrians and wondered what we were doing, and how Simon designed a bus service in his head on the spot and told the developer all about it in detail. Then there was a cross country walk afterwards organised by Simon to see a nice village followed by a race across a field with a very tall crop to get the bus back, Simon waving an OS map saying that the footpath was definitely this way and that if we missed the bus there wasn’t another one that day. We did catch it…”

Simon’s work was guided by a deep concern about climate change and a core belief that good public transport is a human right. Just days after his death, the Committee on Climate Change adopted the key findings and recommendations of the Transport for New Homes report – a great tribute to Simon’s vision.

The Committee on Climate Change says:

 New developments should enable sustainable travel, which should be a primary consideration from the beginning of the planning process. This includes planning neighbourhoods around infrastructure to encourage walking, cycling, the use of public transport and electric vehicles. Walking and cycling routes should be well lit, feel safe and be segregated from busy traffic. Integrating consideration of sustainable transport into plans for new houses should ensure developments are easy to serve by public transport. Local authorities must consider where best to locate new homes to minimise the need to travel to work and amenities such as shops and schools.”

This is just one way in which Simon’s legacy will live on.

The Transport for New Homes Charter is dedicated to Simon.