#CabotNext10 Spotlight on City Futures

 

Dr Katharina Burger

In conversation with Dr Katharina Burger, theme lead at the Cabot Institute for the Environment

Why did you choose to become a theme leader at Cabot Institute?

I applied to become a Theme Leader at Cabot, a voluntary role, to bring together scientists from different faculties to help us jointly develop proposals to address some of the major challenges facing our urban environments. My educational background is in Civil Engineering at Bristol and I am now in the School of Management, I felt that this combination would allow me to build links and communicate across different ways of thinking about socio-technical challenges and systems.

In your opinion, what is one of the biggest global challenges associated with your theme? (Feel free to name others if there is more than one)

The biggest challenge is to evolve environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free and economically productive cities. The following areas are part of this challenge:

  1. Divided Cities/Inclusive Growth: addressing intra-urban spatial inequalities and economic segregation in cities, including across income groups and new arrivals to the city, the role of housing affordability and public transport accessibility in widening intra-city inequalities
  2. Providing urban services through effective governance, innovation and resilient infrastructures: the role of public policies in bridging urban divides and the relevance of the scale of analysis, developing insights to build effective cross-sector partnerships, including co-design and delivery of impactful projects, engaging communities and supporting inclusion
  3. Infrastructure resilience: smart and sustainable city infrastructure, adaptive to climate change, enabling low carbon transitions; sustainable financing and new multi-sectoral business models.

As we are looking into the future, what longer term projects are there in your theme?

At the University of Bristol, and within the GW4 Alliance, there are several groups seeking to make a positive impact on our urban futures. For example, there is an Urban Research Group in the Faculty of Social Sciences & Law, a GW4 Urban Humanities cluster, and some very large projects on smart and sustainable cities in engineering. Cabot has always managed to convene people with different interests, and the work of the Cabot City Futures theme is really composed of the multiplicity of individual projects that take place across the university. It is this variety of interests, particularly when discussed with a view to their role in climate-friendly and inclusive future cities, that captures what the theme is about.

Examples of research related to cities can be found by using UoB’s search engine with a keyword search. Staff self-identify as being affiliated with Cabot, and this is also visible through this search engine.

Across the portfolio of projects in your theme, what type of institutions are you working with? (For example, governments, NGO’s)

Theme members work with a wide range of institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations, businesses and community organisations within Bristol, and internationally.

Examples of research related to cities, and information about participating organisations, can be found by using UoB’s search engine with a keyword search.

What disciplines are currently represented within your theme?

On the City Futures Theme mailing list, the following disciplines are represented:

Accounting and Finance, Aerospace Engineering, Anthropology and Archaeology, Biological Sciences, Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Economics, Economics, Finance and Management, Education, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Engineering Mathematics, English, French, Geographical Sciences, History, Italian, Law School, Management, Mechanical Engineering, Medical School, Philosophy, Physics, Physics, Policy Studies, Psychological Science, Sociology, Politics and International Studies, and Veterinary School.

In your opinion, why is it important to highlight interdisciplinary research both in general and here at Bristol?

Interdisciplinary research is key to addressing challenges that cut across social, cultural and technical boundaries, and challenges within cities tend to be characterised by this complexity. As such, systems approaches are needed to engage citizens, businesses, local government, and academia in shaping City futures. This means that we need to bring together disciplines that are:

  1. human-centred and focus on individual and collective learning processes
  2. traditional engineering disciplines that support many of the technical systems and increasingly digital infrastructures that underpin many of the services that citizens rely on for quality of life
  3. more foundational disciplines, such as, biology and chemistry that develop innovative approaches to nature-based solutions for cities to make them more climate-resilient.
  4. community medicines which help to develop a more holistic approach to notions of resilience in cities.

And of course, there are questions around the role of a city in international city networks so that learning is enabled, and this may require insights from political scientists, while there are also questions about urban histories and urban futures where humanities scholars and anthropologists may be particularly well-versed in helping us develop a better understanding of challenges. And there are most certainly many more disciplines where specialist perspectives, frameworks, and methodologies can contribute to help us genuinely develop novel approaches to city futures.

Are there any projects which are currently underway in your theme which are interdisciplinary that you believe should be highlighted in this campaign?

The theme has supported various interdisciplinary activities over the years. Please consult the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

A project that I am currently working on is a knowledge exchange project with West of England Combined Authority (WECA), where we’re developing Open Access toolkit to aid with sustainable business recovery in the City of Bristol and the wider region. The project cuts across questions of socio-economic mobility and HR diversity, sustainable business practices, and technological innovation, highlighting the need for interdisciplinary thinking in order to address challenges that pertain to inclusive urban prosperity, quality of life and sustainability .

For more information about this Cabot Institute for the Environment research theme, visit our website.

Tackling urban landslides in an uncertain future

One of the challenges of the 21st century is how to reconcile global urban growth with the prevention and mitigation of environmental disasters, such as those caused by landslides. Every year 300 million people are exposed to landslides worldwide, with over 4,000 fatalities, 250,000 of people affected, and billions of US dollars of economic damage. However, impacts might be worse in the future for two main reasons. First, severe precipitations might become more frequent under climate change, causing more rainfall-triggered landslides. Second, growing urban population will lead more people to live in areas exposed to landslides globally, and in particular in developing countries where low-income dwellers are starting to overcrowd landslide-prone areas such as steep slopes. With more hurricanes to come and more people at risk, understanding where and when landslides might occur is becoming increasingly crucial.

Current predictions are too uncertain to support decisions

One method to predict landslides in the future is to look at landslides in the past. The analysis of historical records allows the identification of those hillslopes that have failed in the past. Currently stable hillslopes where similar conditions exist (for example, similar slope gradients) are ‘tagged’ with high landslide probability. These areas might be then excluded for construction development or might be the first to be alerted when a severe precipitation is expected.

This approach to landslide prediction is, however, often insufficient. Landslides and rainfall records as well as data on hillslope properties are often affected by large errors or unavailable in sufficient detail. In addition, what happened in the past might not be representative of what may happen in the future, making historical records less useful for long-term projections. Climate and socio-economic models can be used to build scenarios of how rainfall patters and cities might look like in the future. Unfortunately, these scenarios can vary significantly because they depend on highly uncertain factors such as future carbon emissions. As a result, landslide estimates can also be very different and sometimes even contradictory – some predicting an increase and others a decrease in landslides occurrence – undermining their practical use for risk management.

From ‘predict then act’ to ‘act now with low regrets’

Instead of trying to predict how climate and urban expansion will evolve in the future, I used a different approach centred on decision making. I ask the question: how much climate and/or urban expansion needs to change before landslide hazard significantly increases?

The scientific method behind my analysis (Bozzolan et al. 2020, NHESS) first generates thousands of synthetic but realistic hillslopes representations of the study area. Then, it imposes hypothetical scenarios of increasing rainfall severities and urban expansion, also considering different construction features that could affect slope stability (for example, the presence or not of adequate slope drainage such as roof gutters on houses).

Finally, it uses a computer model to assess the stability of these virtual hillslopes, generating a new synthetic library of landslide records. By exploring the library is now possible to identify those combinations of rainfall and urban development conditions (e.g., with or without roof gutters) for which hillslopes are most likely to fail. ‘Low-regret’ mitigation actions will be those that perform well across scenarios and therefore should be prioritised even if future rainfall and urban predictions remain unknown.

A practical tool for decision makers

This new method which explores many ‘what if’ scenarios is a useful tool for decision makers in landslide risk management and reduction. For example, figure 1 shows how a map of landslide probability in Saint Lucia (Eastern Caribbean) might look like if the severity of a destructive rainstorm such as the 2010 Hurricane Tomas were to increase under climate change or if unregulated housing expanded on slopes susceptible to failure. The analysis also shows that when both scenarios are included landslide probability disproportionally increases, revealing that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. This information could be used to assess the risk and damages associated with each scenario and to identify low-regret nation-wide risk reduction and risk transfer strategies.

Figure 1: Maps of landslide probability in Saint Lucia under different ‘what if’ scenarios. The percentage (+%) indicates the increase of areas with high landslide probability.

The same method can also be applied to quantify the cost-benefit ratio of different landslide mitigation options, such as improving urban drainage or tree planting at the community/household scale. In Freetown (Sierra Leone), for example, I collaborated with the engineering firm Arup to identify those landslide hazard mitigation actions that would lead to the largest reduction in landslide probability for certain locations or types of slopes, and should thus be prioritised. The information generated through this analysis not only provides evidence to governments and investors for informing urban planning, but it might also encourage landslide probability from low to high micro-insurance in disaster prevention, where insurers offer lower premiums to reward risk-reducing behaviours.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Elisa Bozzolan from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol.

Airport towns like Luton and Hounslow are suffering as people fly less often – here’s how to help them

Thousands of aircraft were grounded during the pandemic. Now research is showing people might fly less.
JetKat/Shutterstock

Tens of thousands of aircraft have been grounded for well over a year due to the pandemic. In April 2020 air travel around the world was cut by 94% from April 2019. By June 2021 it was still 60% down on June 2019 thanks to holidays being cancelled, work trips shelved, and long-planned journeys to see family and friends moved to another time.

Never has any global industry collapsed with such speed. In climate terms, this has been a cause for celebration. It has represented a chance for reducing emissions that contribute significantly to climate change and pollute our air.

Some people who live close to an airport may also have welcomed the drop in noise. But many others will be worrying about the effect the long-term reduction in air travel may have on their community’s economy.

Will the industry bounce back?

Industrial bodies estimate that it might take five years for passenger demand to return to pre-pandemic levels. That’s a longer expected recovery than any other mode of transport. Globally, an estimated 46 million jobs have been deemed at risk. This isn’t just pilots or cabin crew; it’s also those who screen your baggage or make your lunch.

But will the air industry even bounce back in five years? Research our team conducted in early 2021 in Bristol, an English city with an airport and a century-old aviation industry, found that close to 60% of those surveyed expect to fly less in the future. Many of our respondents gave climate change and the pandemic as equally important reasons. Other polling has shown that many elsewhere remain wary of flying in the future too.

Businesses may also operate differently. Polling has found that four in ten business travellers are likely to fly less in the future. Business-class seats are an important part of airline income – on some flights corporate travel can represent 75% of revenue.

Setting aside ideas about electric planes for now, it seems obvious that we will need to fly less to move to a zero-carbon economy. Two-thirds of people want a post-pandemic economic recovery to prioritise climate change. This means fewer planes, and fewer jobs for crew and baggage handlers and so on.

Rebuilding communities

The decline of older industries such as mining, textiles or pottery resulted in high unemployment in towns which were massively dependent on one of them. We are all familiar with how the closure of a local pit or car plant caused the decline of once vibrant towns, leaving a generation to struggle with unemployment and the need to retrain.

Steel mills were nestled deep in the fabric of nearby communities. Their closure removed the pivot around which lives, work and leisure were based. So with the pandemic, whole communities are at risk of a similar economic decline.

In summer 2020 the rate of those jobless (be it unemployed or on furlough) was higher in areas near UK airports. In Hounslow (near London Heathrow) this was 40% of the population – with an estimated £1 billion loss to the borough’s economy. At Gatwick airport in 2020, there were job losses for 40% of its workforce, many of whom live in nearby towns such as Crawley.

Hounslow in west London
Towns like Hounslow are highly dependent on the nearby airport for employment.
BasPhoto/Shutterstock

Many towns and communities are economically dependent on nearby airports. Luton Airport is estimated to have sustained over 27,000 jobs (directly and indirectly) and is a major employer in the region. The decline of the sector has broader effects on subsidiary industries too, such as taxis, maintenance, catering and hotels.

So what is to be done? The Green Jobs Taskforce, an industry and government initiative set up in 2020 to look at future employment, has called on the UK government to invest in jobs related to wind turbines, electric trains and replacing gas boilers.

Any version of a green new deal is necessarily a job-heavy economy, with a great deal of work needed to alter the infrastructure that powers our current lifestyle. The UK government’s Ten Point Plan for Green Industrial Revolution pledges 250,000 green jobs. The political question here is whether politicians and policymakers will be brave enough to resist a bounce back for aviation and invest in a longer term future for these airport towns, to avoid them suffering a decade of decline.

This is likely to see aviation jobs lost, and will require very targeted support for cities or regions reliant on airport employment. To build back better, a green recovery must seek to support these communities and provide them with new opportunities and livelihoods.The Conversation

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This blog was written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Ed Atkins, Lecturer, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol and Professor Martin Parker, Professor of Organisation Studies, University of BristolThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Martin Parker
Ed Atkins

‘Together we’ve got this’ – creating space for social sustainability in Bristol

Towards the bottom of Park Street large white letters against a pink backdrop read ‘Together, we’ve got this’. Alongside it the words ‘Bristol together’ are framed above an inscription reading: ‘Bristol’s safely reopening. Help us keep it open by washing your hands, wearing a face covering and keeping a safe distance from other shoppers. Thank you and enjoy your visit.’ I first spotted this sign in September last year. However, in the months that have slowly crept by since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic filled with lockdowns, isolating and social distancing, the word ‘together’ seems to have popped up all over the city. It can be found on street corners and shop fronts all along the Park Street-Queens Road-Whiteladies Road corridor that runs through the University’s campus, connecting the harbour and city centre to the Downs. Along this strip, a sign outside a cafe encourages social distancing with the words ‘We stand together by standing apart’, while a notice on the glossy sliding doors of a supermarket and the red and yellow of a post office poster remind patrons that ‘We’re all in this together’. Yet my personal favourite is the board outside a frozen food shop I spotted one day proclaiming ‘Together never tasted this good’ above a picture of a cheesecake. But what is it about ‘together’ that tastes so good? And, perhaps more importantly, what is togetherness? (If not an Eton mess cheesecake).

Two years ago I set out to explore the question ‘How do people live together in cities?’ through a PhD. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa the idea of togetherness has always haunted me like an ungraspable treasure chest at the end of our so-called rainbow nation. As many readers will appreciate the dominant narrative about post-apartheid South Africa is one in which the lasting legacy of segregation is well documented such that the ‘post’ of post-apartheid is rendered something of a fantasy and a failure. And yet I had noticed that despite the country’s long history of apartness, urban life in South Africa seemed to be full of small moments of togetherness which defy the common grammar of apartness with which accounts of South African cities are typically written. One such moment arrived in April 2020 when, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic a collective called ‘Cape Town Together’ was born. Through neighbourhood based mutual aid groups residents in Cape Town came together under to self-organise and share resources and information in response to the pandemic. My research has been dedicated to studying practices such as these in answer to the question: ‘How do people live together in cities?’ and the related question of what togetherness is.

Three themes emerged in response to these questions which I argue are not only applicable to Cape Town, but also to cities elsewhere such as Bristol. First, in answer to the question ‘What is togetherness?’, I learnt that it is as much, if not more, a practice as it is a sentiment or a state of being. This is significant because the implication is that, despite what form it takes (whether it be empathy, solidarity, or sharing,) togetherness takes practice; through repeated action we learn to be together by practicing togetherness and in doing so forming new habits and repertoires for living together. Secondly, I learnt that togetherness has a spatial component. Public space in the city provides an ever present training ground on which people can practice togetherness; rehearse social interactions, test, and develop new repertoires of being together. But the practices of togetherness which emerge also shape and are shaped by by the spaces in which they occur. This means that the quality of public space in the city matters because it has an impact on shaping social relations. Finally, togetherness is mediated by institutions just like the University of Bristol which provide places and repeated opportunities for practice along with guidelines, and pre-existing repertoires for social interactions.

Earlier this year the Cabot Institute for the Environment put out a call for short video submissions about activities and ideas for how the University could create positive impact by addressing a sustainability challenge in Bristol. This blog piece stems from the idea I pitched to create spaces where people can practice togetherness as a step towards realising greater social sustainability in our city. To return to the cheesecake, perhaps togetherness has never tasted this good because we’ve never craved it this much. In the wake of COVID-19, which has introduced a host of new ways to be apart and to be together, the University and city are thus presented with an opportunity to build truly inclusive spaces which not only bring or ‘throw’ (to use Geographer Doreen Massey’s term) people together but encourage engagement and practice in learning how to be together.

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This blog is written by Cara Mazetti Claassen, PhD Candidate at the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

We Need to Talk About Transport

 

The transition to zero-carbon is essential to the mitigation of climate change, but despite Paris Agreement commitments, transport emissions are still on the rise. The transition to clean forms of transport is a hot topic for the upcoming climate change conference COP26, which will take place in November 2021 in Glasgow.

Researchers agree that there are solutions to the transport problem, both simple and innovative, but we need to act fast. That much is clear from a local example; Bristol needs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 88%, to meet its ambitious net zero targets by 2030. For National Clean Air Day (17th June), I have been finding out about research on clean transport from experts at the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol.

Professor Martin Hurcombe, ‘Access and Active Leisure in a Time of Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities’

Self-proclaimed ‘MAMIL’ (middle-aged man in lycra), Professor Martin Hurcombe from the Modern Languages department is a keen cyclist, a passion he has integrated into his research. As an offshoot of his research in literary studies, Martin became fascinated by the French sports press and the way it represented cycling. As a result, he is currently writing a book exploring attitudes towards cycling from the late nineteenth century up to the present.

Martin is also working with the Brigstow Institute on an exciting project entitled ‘Access and Active Leisure in a Time of Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities’. This comparative study of Bristol and Bordeaux is exploring how the pandemic has highlighted longstanding issues around access to and enjoyment of urban spaces via active leisure. Both cities reflected profound inequalities, entrenched geographically, economically, socially and culturally, many of which originate in the cities’ parallel histories of empire, trade and industrialisation. Martin and his fellow researchers are investigating the ways in which the pandemic has heightened these structural inequalities, but also led to some positive re-shaping of the urban environment, from reduction of road traffic to a massive increase in cycling with recent government statistics show that cycling levels during lockdown rose by up to 300% on some days.

While the benefits of cycling are clear; a healthier population, decreased congestion and a cleaner urban environment, Martin laid out various key challenges faced in its promotion and uptake. These include the attitudes of drivers towards cyclists, infrastructural challenges and issues of safety.

Why is it important to conduct cultural, qualitative research in the transport sector?

To change attitudes, we need to take a broader cultural approach, not just an infrastructural one; issues of who has a ‘right’ to occupy the streets play out on a daily basis in how a cyclist or a runner feels and acts on the roads. Despite the challenges revealed by his public engagement research, Martin seemed determined that this kind of research will be valuable in ‘finding a way we can all share this space’. Research like this can be used to draw out diversity in active leisure and dispel the traditional image of the cyclist, to broaden it to include people of all sectors of society. Martin also recently worked on ‘Putting a Positive Spin on the Story of Cycling’ (PPS), that was developed with local charity Life Cycle.

We want to demonstrate that cycling was, and is, something for everybody.

Georgina de Courcy-Bower, E-scooters in Bristol

Georgina completed her Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management during the pandemic. Following the legislation of e-scooters in the UK on 4th July 2020, a change in law brought forward to reduce crowding on public transport as a result of COVID-19, she chose to write her dissertation on this new micro-mobility. Georgina explained that the Voi scooters, introduced to Bristol as part of a shared mobility pilot scheme in UK cities, were considered and promoted as a ‘last mile’ solution to fill gaps between transport links and homes or offices, in hopes to draw more people away from their cars and tackle congestion and air pollution – two key issues associated with the car-dominated transport system known to Bristol.

Georgina decided to investigate the viability of these e-scooters as a solution to sustainable urban transport in Bristol, by conducting a policy analysis to explore the successes and failures of implementation of e-scooters in cities around the world. Overall, e-scooters were found to be a positive alternative to cars. However, Georgina did come across certain roadblocks to their success in her research; for example, the lifecycle analysis of e-scooters shows that they still produce significant emissions, particularly compared to active travel, because of their production and dissemination.

Are e-scooters a viable part of the solution to sustainable transport?

 The most effective way to encourage a modal shift away from cars will be to reallocate space to all other road users, such as forms of public transport or active travel. She suggested that we need to begin ‘designing cities around people’, proffering the local example of Cotham Hill, where the road has been closed to through-traffic to allow restaurants and businesses to expand onto the street and create a safer space for pedestrians and cyclists. Georgina concluded that when e-scooters are paired with other ambitious policies, they are more likely to provide public benefit. However, e-scooters cannot act alone in decarbonising the transport system.

Understanding the city as a complex system and taking a more holistic approach to environmental transport sustainability is likely to be the most successful strategy.

Dr Colin Nolden, Riding Sunbeams

Dr Colin Nolden is the non-executive director of Community Energy South, an umbrella organisation for community energy groups. A member organisation pioneered the idea of connecting community-owned solar farms to the railway traction system, realising that it would be possible to repurpose existing solar PV technology to do so. This idea led to the formation of a spin-off company, now known as Riding Sunbeams.
The current railway system’s electricity is supplied through supply points to the national electricity grid. Therefore, decarbonisation of electrified railways currently hinges upon the decarbonisation of our electricity grid. Riding Sunbeams provides an alternative to this with huge rail decarbonisation potential; supplying renewable energy directly into railway electricity substations and overhead rail gantries, bypassing the grid entirely. This can be achieved without the need for costly electricity grid reinforcements. Network Rail seemed like the obvious choice to approach with Riding Sunbeams’ innovation, especially given that they are the UK’s biggest single electricity user.

What are the social benefits of renewable, community energy?

Colin was in charge of conducting a Social Impact Framework (SIF) for the project and found that there is great potential for positive social impacts; community energy groups that could be developing solar traction farms are strongly rooted in local communities, and provide local jobs, volunteering opportunities and reduce economic leakage from geographical areas. So far, Riding Sunbeams has successfully implemented one pilot project, in the summer of 2019, a solar array of just over 100 panels connected to the railway outside Aldershot station in the UK. Since April 2019, Riding Sunbeams have also been exploring the potential for integrating other clean energy technologies like wind power.
There has been significant support for the technology from the government and people championing it within Network Rail, and as a result Riding Sunbeams has procured funding from Innovate UK and the Department for Transport. Colin explained that the SIF demonstrated a variety of positive social impacts to community-owned traction supply that could tick a lot of the boxes Network Rail want to tick. Nevertheless, he concluded that

Despite good will and innovation, ‘it takes a long time to disentangle things and implement new systems.

Emilia Melville, Moving Bristol Forward’s Transport Manifesto

Researcher, Emilia Melville, is one member of the team behind Moving Bristol Forward’s Transport Manifesto and its vision for a better transport future for Bristol. Moving Bristol Forward is a collaboration between Zero West and Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance (TfGB). Emilia became involved through Zero West, a community interest company, whose mission is to get the west of England to zero carbon. Teamed up with TfGB, it was important to them that this project had a significant participatory element. As a result of consultations with the public, a manifesto was written that envisions a different future for our cities; one that integrates many voices and imagines streets not overcrowded by cars, but filled with active travellers and efficient, clean public transport. To read the Manifesto’s 8 key aims, click here. The goal is to gain endorsements from organisations and policymakers, along with support from the public.

How Bristol measures up to other cities in terms of moving towards clean transport?

There is a lot of good will, citing such schemes as Playing Out Bristol, a resident led movement restoring children’s freedom to play out in the streets and spaces where they live. However, Bristol faces many challenges, not least because of its heavy car-dependency. This is partly due to car-oriented planning and construction that happened in the 1960s. Commuters face issues such as a lack of connections between the outskirts and the centre, and not feeling safe on public transport or in active travel has been a recurring problem cited in public engagement sessions. The city lacks a combined transport authority, like TfL in London, that would allow for integrated ticketing, better-connected routes and an overall better coordination. Nevertheless, while the issues Bristol faces do require serious thinking about major urban planning changes, there have been examples of successful conversions in the past. Queen’s Square, now a beautiful and well-loved park, once had a dual carriageway and major bus route running through it! In 1999, the City Council made a successful grant application to restore it as a park as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme.
Queens square, Bristol, before and after dual carriageway was removed to create the well-loved park it is today (Photo by Bristol Live).
To get behind the manifesto, you can write to your local representatives, share it on social media platforms or tell your friends and family about it.

My Thoughts on Our Talks About Transport

I asked Emilia what she would say to the person that does not believe in the power of the individual, for example, someone who thinks ‘it won’t make a difference if I ride my bike versus drive my car, so I’ll just drive’. She replied that, firstly, riding your bike is great! You inhale much less air pollution than someone in a car, can make eye contact with fellow road-users and get a good burst of exercise. She concluded that change needs to happen at different levels: it is important that we show policymakers that we want to see change, whether that be by writing to them to endorse the manifesto, or increasing the presence of active travellers in the streets. As Martin explained in our conversation, critical mass is key! The same can be said for using public transport; the higher the demand is for it, the more likely we are to see policy changes that increase investment in it, thus resulting in greater regularity and efficiency of services.
As the UK hosts COP26 for the first time, this is a key opportunity to galvanise efforts to achieve the UK’s legally-binding net zero emissions goal by 2050. Speaking with the four transport experts led me to these conclusions:
The Department for Transport needs to encourage the public to avoid journeys by car that can be taken by other means of transport.
• There is a need to shift necessary journeys to the most sustainable modes, and alongside this, clean up motorised journeys by transitioning to Zero Emissions Vehicles.
• Alternatives to private cars need to be made more readily available, accessible and attractive.
• Finally, we should build on the momentum of the shift towards active travel brought around by the pandemic, encourage a return to public and active transport and a shift away from motorised travel.
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This blog is written by Lucy Morris, Master’s by Research (MScR) student at Cabot Institute for the Environment. Lucy is currently researching ‘Why Framing Animals Matters: Representing Non-human Animals On-screen’ and produced this blog as part of a part-time role as communications assistant at the Cabot Institute.
Lucy Morris

 

 

Interested in postgraduate study? The Cabot Institute runs a unique Master’s by Research programme that offers a blend of in-depth research on a range of Global Environmental Challenges, with interdisciplinary cohort building and training. Find out more.

 

 

How scientists and policymakers collaborate towards sustainable Bristol

 

In the world facing increasingly complex and interdisciplinary challenges, our job descriptions expand to account for new collaborations, duties, and types of knowledge to engage with. Civil servants are now expected to ground their policies in evidence, while scientists are required to translate their findings so that they’re useful to the citizens, industry practitioners or politicians.

Climate action is no different. It comes to life at the curious intersection of activism, political will, market incentives, democratic mandate and, of course, scientific knowledge. As a university researcher, I am on a mission to ensure academic knowledge serves Bristol’s transition to the sustainable city.

An effective collaboration across the worlds of science and policy requires some professional unlearning. Convoluted and jargon-filled academic writing style is not going to cut it if we’re serious about influencing ‘the real world’ (sorry). Similarly, our traditional output formats are simply too long to be accessible for policymakers. I also firmly believe that we ought to advance public debates, rather than solely our respective disciplinary conversations; for that matter we need to invite a broader set of discussants to the table.

After 4 years of researching city-level climate policymaking, my head was filled with ideas and recommendations to the key local decisionmakers. Luckily, upon the completion of my PhD I have been offered a role on the Bristol’s Advisory Committee for Climate Change (BACCC). Over the past two years (well, nearly), we have been scrutinising the development of One City Climate Strategy and advising the local council on their policy development.

What does it involve in practice? – You might be asking. Our work so far has been mostly focusing on synthesising the academic evidence and communicating it in an effective way (with lots of help from a team in PolicyBristol, thank you!). Knowing ‘what works’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is one thing, conveying the message to convince politicians and citizens is no less a challenge!

Below, I’d like to tell you about three ways experts at BACCC collaborated with policymakers on local climate action:

  1. Submission of evidence to the national government inquiry: Covid impact on transport
  2. Analysis of policy gaps and opportunities: Energy White Paper
  3. Rapid review of evidence: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Submission of evidence to the national government inquiry

Over autumn 2020, Bristol City Council approached us for comments on the national inquiry exploring Covid-19 impacts on transport. At BACCC, we advised the council on the scope of the evidence submission, communication strategy and appropriate ways to present the data. We wanted to convey a message of a city that sees the covid-19 response as a leverage to ‘bounce forward’ to innovative and sustainable transport solutions rather than ‘bounce back’ to the old ways we deemed as normal:

“The council’s long-term ambition is to make the new road layouts permanent, creating cleaner air and better bus, walking and cycling journeys, alongside ongoing plans for a mass transit public transport system. The pandemic has had huge impacts on usual travel habits and, despite its challenges, air pollution levels dropped by almost half during the months of lockdown with big increases in walking and cycling. It would be prudent to capture those benefits and protect the long-term public health of the city”.

We are hoping that this submission, together with wealth of data on how people move will encourage the national government to devolve significant proportions of transport funding so that city leaders can turn covid emergency measures (e.g. bollards, signage, temporary closures) into high quality urban infrastructure.

Access the evidence here.

Analysis of policy gaps and opportunities

Policy landscape is dynamic; no single person has time to keep up with all the strategic documents, funding announcements and consultation opportunities. It is vital, therefore, that we are able to align the national policy direction with the local climate strategy. In early Spring 2021, we delivered a rapid assessment of gaps & opportunities, following our analysis of the National Government “Energy White Paper” and “10 Point plan”. While there are clear overlaps (e.g. in the funding for electric vehicles, retrofits, heat pumps installation), certain local ambitions cannot be clearly mapped to the national agenda. As such, we risk that Bristol’s plans in the realms of zero-carbon freight consolidation, solar generation or business carbon emissions will not come to fruition.

Read the full paper here.

Rapid review of evidence

Energised by the fierce (yet polarising) debate on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, we set ourselves to review the literature on the impacts, risks and opportunities on this controversial topic. We reviewed academic literature (from statistical public health analysis to qualitative human geography), news items and policy reports to provide a balanced feedback to the local planners. In particular, we wanted to disentangle empty rhetoric from genuine concerns to cool down the temperature of the conversation.

We provided six key recommendations:

  1. Reassure that the co-design process is taking place to deliver Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
  2. Show compelling evidence on: the benefits to health, safety and lower traffic speed.
  3. Clarify misconceptions about: potential traffic displacement, lack of accessibility for emergency services, lack of access for deliveries and blue badge holders, loss in customer footfall.
  4. Acknowledge complexities to do with the potential for short-term disruptions and the risk of gentrification
  5. Challenge sensationalist media reporting by dispelling unverified claims, exposing exaggerated claims and monitoring the evolving conversation.
  6. Above all, set out the narrative:
    • We need to make positive changes: we cannot continue as now for the health and wellbeing of our communities and beyond.
    • Some disruption is inevitable, and we will try to mitigate this and work with those affected, though the benefits are real and important.
    • What will be delivered will improve the environment for local people – and help to address national and international ambitions.

Access the full review and detailed recommendations.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member Dr Ola Michalec, a social scientist based at the University of Bristol, researching regulation in the domain of digital innovations for sustainable energy. Ola also serves as a member of the Bristol Advisory Committee for Climate Change.

Dr Ola Michalec

 

 

Bold Leadership, radical action – what Bristol residents want on climate change

What do Bristol residents really think about climate change? We know that Bristol has a reputation as a green city, but is it just ‘greenies’ at the centre of town who care? What kinds of policies would be acceptable or desirable? Are people aware of what the Council is planning to do?

Our team of eight researchers set out to all four corners of the city with clipboards , to find out what Bristol residents have to say. They approached people at bus stops, in leisure centres, at libraries and on the street to ask questions like:

  • What comes to mind when you think of climate change?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Are you aware of any planned changes in the city in relation to climate change?
  • Are there any future changes you would or wouldn’t want to see?

The answers came in from 333 residents of all parts of the city in February and March 2020, and then a further 1343 residents took part in an online survey in June, which included an additional question about whether Covid-19 had shifted their views on climate change in any way.

 

 

Careful analysis of the responses revealed the following insights:

  • Bristol residents are concerned about climate change and would welcome City leadership and policy that enables them to take action. People want change, but they don’t necessarily have the will or indeed power to act as individuals.
  • The emotion of fear was widely identified but what this meant for action was mixed. In some cases it motivated change while in others it held back action.
  • Transport is the biggest area of concern talked about both before and during the Covid-19 lockdown.
  • Residents are willing to see radical change in the city, and are frustrated that the visible steps taken so far aren’t enough to address the climate emergency. with the lack of visible steps that have been taken so far.
  • Equality and fairness is important to Bristolians, including an expectation that all sectors should pull their weight and that the cost of adaptation to climate change should not be carried by, or lead to the exclusion of, those least able to pay.
  • Residents expect a high level of integrity from Bristol City Council.

This research coincides with the launch of Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy, a cross-sector approach to the climate emergency in Bristol.  The promotion and communication of the One City Climate Strategy is a good opportunity for increasing understanding of the city’s plans, and involving residents in shaping what we do, and we hope that this research can inform that process. It is clear that people from across the city care about climate change, and are afraid and angry, but they want to see bold and consistent city wide leadership, and to know that the efforts they make to contribute to the change we need are part of a wider collective effort where everyone pulls their weight.

To find out more about what people said and the recommendations coming out of this research, you can download the full report.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Dr Jack Nicholls and Emilia Melville. This blog was reposted with kind permission from Praxis Research.

 

Is extreme heat an underestimated risk in Bristol?

Evidence that the Earth is warming at an alarming rate is indisputable, having almost doubled per decade since 1981 (relative to 1880-1981). In many countries, this warming has been accompanied by more frequent and severe heatwaves – prolonged periods of significantly above-average temperatures – especially during summer months.

Heatwaves pose significant threats to human health including discomfort, heatstroke and in extreme cases, death. In the summer of 2003 (one that I am sure many remember for its tropical temperatures), these threats were clear. A European heatwave event killed over 70,000 people across the continent – over 2,000 of these deaths were in England alone. As if these statistics weren’t alarming enough, projections suggest that by 2050, such summers could occur every other year and by 2080, a similar heatwave could kill three times as many people.

Cities face heightened risks

Heat-health risks are not equally distributed. Cities face heightened risks due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, where urban areas exhibit warmer temperatures than surrounding rural areas. This is primarily due to the concentration of dark, impervious surfaces. In the event of a heatwave, cities are therefore not only threatened by even warmer temperatures, but also by high population densities which creates greater exposure to such extreme heat.

UHIs have been observed and modelled across several of the UK’s largest cities. For example, in Birmingham an UHI intensity (the difference between urban and rural temperatures) of 9°C has been recorded. Some estimates for Manchester and London reach 10°C. However, little research has been conducted into the UK’s smaller cities, including Bristol, despite their rapidly growing populations.

Heat vulnerability

In the UK an ageing population implies that heat vulnerability will increase, especially in light of warming projections. Several other contributors to heat vulnerability are also well-established, including underlying health conditions and income. However, the relative influence of different factors is extremely context specific. What drives heat vulnerability in one city may play an insignificant role in another, making the development of tailored risk mitigation policies particularly difficult without location-specific research.

Climate resilience in Bristol

In 2018, Bristol declared ambitious intentions to be climate resilient by 2030. To achieve this, several specific targets have been put in place, including:

  • The adaptation of infrastructure to cope with extreme heat
  • The avoidance of heat-related deaths

Yet, the same report that outlines these goals also highlights an insufficient understanding of hotspots and heat risk in Bristol. This poses the question – how will Bristol achieve these targets without knowing where to target resources?

Bristol’s urban heat island

Considering the above, over the summer I worked on my MSc dissertation with two broad aims:

  1. Quantify Bristol’s urban heat island
  2. Map heat vulnerability across Bristol wards

Using a cloud-free Landsat image from a heatwave day in June 2018, I produced one of the first high-resolution maps of Bristol’s UHI (see below). The results were alarming, with several hotspots of 7-9°C in the central wards of Lawrence Hill, Easton and Southville. Maximum UHI intensity was almost 12°C, recorded at a warehouse in Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston. Though this magnitude may be amplified by the heatwave event, these findings still suggest Bristol exhibits an UHI similar to that of much larger cities including London, Birmingham and even Paris.

Image credit: Vicky Norton

Heat vulnerability in Bristol

Exploratory statistics revealed two principal determinants of an individual’s vulnerability to extreme heat in Bristol:

  1. Their socioeconomic status
  2. The combined effects of isolation, minority status and housing type.

These determinants were scored for each ward and compiled to create a heat vulnerability index (HVI). Even more concerning than Bristol’s surprising UHI intensity is that wards exhibiting the greatest heat vulnerability coincide with areas of greatest UHI intensity – Lawrence Hill and Easton (see below).

What’s also interesting about these findings is the composition of heat vulnerability in Bristol. Whilst socioeconomic status is a common determinant in many studies, the influential role of minority status and housing type appears particularly specific to Bristol. Unlike general UK projections, old age was also deemed an insignificant contributor to heat vulnerability in Bristol. Instead, the prevalence of a younger population suggests those under five years of age are of greater concern.

Image credit: Vicky Norton

Implications

But what do these findings mean for Bristol’s climate resilience endeavours? Firstly, they suggest Bristol’s UHI may be a much greater concern than previously thought, necessitating more immediate, effective mitigation efforts. Secondly, they reiterate the context specific nature of heat vulnerability and the importance of conducting location specific research. Considering UHI intensity and ward-level heat vulnerability, these findings provide a starting point for guiding adaptive and mitigative resource allocation. If Bristol is to achieve climate resilience by 2030, initial action may be best targeted towards areas most at risk – Lawrence Hill and Easton – and tailored to those most vulnerable.

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This blog is written by Vicky Norton, who has recently completed an MSc in Environmental Policy and Management run by Caboteer Dr Sean Fox.

Vicky Norton

 

 

E-scooters in Bristol: their potential contribution to a more sustainable transport system

Voi e-scooter parked across the pavement outside Victoria Rooms in Clifton. Image credit: Georgina de Courcy-Bower

At the end of October this year, the Swedish company Voi launched their e-scooters in Bristol as part of a pilot scheme. The government brought the scheme forward in the hope that e-scooters would ease demand for public transport and allow for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, Marvin Rees said that he hoped e-scooters would help the city reduce congestion and air pollution. These are two key issues associated with a car-dominated transport system present in Bristol and many other cities around the world.

I have been investigating whether e-scooters could help Bristol to meet its sustainable transport targets. These include meeting net-zero emissions by 2030 and simultaneously reducing inequality within the city. However, between 2005 and 2017 the decrease in CO2 emissions in Bristol’s transport sector was only 9%. To reach net-zero by 2030, there will need to be an 88% decrease from the 2005 baseline.

E-scooters have been called a ‘last mile’ solution to fill the gaps between transport links and homes or offices which could draw more people away from their cars. My research has found that policies towards the new micromobility focused on decreasing transport inequalities in the United States. Conversely in Europe, there was more consideration for the environmental impact, but both continents have policies emphasising the importance of safety.

E-scooters and the environment

Despite cities frequently referencing environmental sustainability, few were found to have policies or regulations to ensure this. There was often an assumption that e-scooter users would previously have made their journey by car. However, in Paris only 8% of users would have driven if e-scooters were not an option. This was higher in the US, with cities consistently having a modal shift from cars of over 30%. However, this was explained by the lower availability of public transport compared with European cities. Therefore, US policies would not have the desired effect in Bristol.

A second environmental consideration is the lifecycle analysis of e-scooters. This shows that e-scooters still produce a significant amount of CO2 emissions, particularly when compared to active travel. E-scooters used as part of a sharing scheme are also frequently vandalised which shortens their lifespan. In UK cities which started their trials before Bristol, operators have already complained of high rates of vandalism. Many are also thrown into rivers which causes ecological impacts.

E-scooters and inequality

Many cities in the US have regulations aiming to improve access to transport for low-income communities. This has included unsuccessful discounted services. Operators have often failed to comply or the schemes have not been marketed. A more successful regulation was rebalancing e-scooters to ensure that some are placed in deprived communities. However, operators have claimed that this is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Using large trucks to move e-scooters around the city will increase CO2 emissions associated with them.

It is important that environmental goals do not come at the cost of excluding certain communities in the city, and vice versa. However, overall the most significant factor for decreasing inequality or decreasing CO2 emissions is which mode the shift comes from.

The most effective way to encourage a modal shift away from cars is to reallocate space to other modes and start designing cities around people. However, making such a significant change in the way we live our lives will be met with backlash from some. E-scooters can help mitigate this by providing an alternative mode of transport that could make the reallocation of road space to micromobilities more politically feasible.

Safety of e-scooters

What can be agreed upon by everyone is that e-scooters must be safe for users and for those around them. The main complaints about e-scooters are that they block pavements for more vulnerable pedestrians and in most cities, e-scooters are banned from pavement riding. Nevertheless, casual observation shows that this is often ignored. However, in Portland it was found that the presence of cycle lanes and lower speed limits decreased e-scooter pavement use by around 30%. In Bristol, 70% of respondents for a Sustrans survey supported building more cycle tracks even if it took space away from other traffic. The presence of cycle tracks could also lead to more active travel which has co-benefits for individual health and wellbeing.

Governance of e-scooters

E-scooters and other shared mobility technologies are part of a change in governance. There is now collaboration between public and private and it is essential that communication between the two is transparent. Local authorities must make clear their goals and set boundaries for operators without restricting them to the extent that they are unable to provide their services.

Overall, e-scooters alone are not going to solve our dysfunctional urban transport systems. However, they might provide a catalyst for more radical change away from the car-dominated city.

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This blog was written by Georgina de Courcy-Bower, a recent graduate from the MSc Environmental Policy and Management course at the University of Bristol. The blog is based on her dissertation which was supervised by Cabot Institute member Dr Sean Fox.

Georgina de Courcey-Bower

 

 

 

Rebuilding Bristol as a city of care

I was asked to speak at an event organised by the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees and the City Office team that brought together academics and other interested in rebuilding Bristol. I was asked to respond to the following question and thought people might be interested in reading the full text here:

‘Bristol, along with cities all over the globe, is facing an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis. This brings both a challenge and an opportunity to rebuild our city. If we do it well, Bristol will be more inclusive, more sustainable and more resilient in the face of future shocks. If we do it without thinking, falling into old assumptions (i.e. badly), the opposite is true. How should we rebuild our city?’

In 5 minutes I can only hope to raise some issues and matters of concern. There are many present here today who will know a lot more than me about aspects of social justice – especially around race, disability and class and I hope they will join in afterwards with comments and concerns. This is intended to be a provocation for ongoing conversations that bring diverse knowledges and expertise together so that we can begin to rebuild our city to be more inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

We knew before this pandemic struck that many communities and organisations were facing an ongoing crisis – a crisis in which inequalities are growing, where austerity and a desire for growth at all costs had pushed cities around the world into a situation where social, economic and environmental justice were comprised.

The pandemic has helped to make visible where people and communities are falling through the cracks in our cities and illustrated more widely that a return to business as usual is not an attractive option for those of us interested in social, economic and environmental justice. It is not an option for those families living in crowded accommodation who don’t have enough food on a daily basis, it’s not an option for those living with disabilities or ill health who rely on inadequate, time rationed segments of care delivered by care workers who are undervalued and underpaid. It’s not an option either if we want to take our responsibilities to the planet seriously.

So what have we seen during this crisis that helps us to understand our challenges as a city and the assets that we have to draw on in rebuilding them.

We have seen the incredible efforts of the community and voluntary sector in the city who have built on established and designed new alliances to tackle their communities’ needs. These initiatives have gone way beyond reactively responding to the everyday, urgent needs of their communities. For instance, Knowle West Alliance, developed over the last two years, brings together large and small community organisations- they have set up a community food bank, coordinated volunteers, communicated through digital and postal service with all community members, used the amazing Bristol Can Do platform to recruit volunteers and assign them to a brand new befriending service and committed to reflecting and learning as part of this discussion. The Support Hub for older people, set up in 2 weeks in order to bring together organisations in the city concerned with the needs of older people, were determined to draw on their collective expertise to provide a range of support for older people including practical and emotional support but also virtual activities. These examples, and many others, demonstrate how through working collaboratively across sectors and alongside our communities we can go way beyond provision of ‘crisis’ support. They have shown the value and strength of the civil society sector in the city in working alongside communities at the margins building on their ongoing, long term work and trusted relationships with the communities that they serve.

We have finally appreciated and valued the key workers who support systems of care in the city – the care workers, teachers, food delivery workers and community development workers. Raising questions around how we might change our systems of value in the city.

Our neighbourhoods and streets have fostered intergenerational and cross cultural discussion and we have made new friends – we have come together in Whats App groups and through socially distant street gatherings to share our concerns, to provide care where this has been needed and, importantly, to laugh and cry together. A question we might want to explore here relates to how we might develop ‘community’ across our neighbourhoods providing the support we all need across generational and cultural difference, in and between hyperlocal areas?

Our green spaces have provided the space for those without gardens to enjoy fresh air and exercise, whilst socially distancing. Roads, free of cars, have provided new found space for children and families to play and cleaner air, particularly in those areas of the city where poor air quality is a particular concern. Lizzi has already suggested the need to capitalize on this in bringing forward environmental change in our city and globally.

I would argue that in Bristol’s response to COVID 19 we have seen that our city is a place resplendent with learning, creativity, innovation and care.

I want to pick up particularly on this last word which I think is highly relevant. I want to suggest that if we want to tackle issues of social, economic and environmental justice we need to retain a focus on the role of care in the city. I draw on the feminist scholar Jean Tronto’s definition of care as ‘everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair ‘our’ world so that we can live in it as well as possible. Feminist approaches to care foreground our interdependencies, and encourage us to take notice of peoples’ lived experiences, their existing knowledges and expertise and the stories they tell about them. They encourage us to do what Jane Jacob’s the great American City planner suggested – to take notice of the complexity of our city, to look closely ‘at the most ordinary scenes and events and attempt to see what they mean and whether any threads of principle emerge.’ (Jacobs, 161, p.23). I think we have seen a lot of these ordinary scenes during this pandemic but that we need to work quickly to recognise the threads of principles and new values that might emerge.

My suggestion is that we need to work care-fully together to build on the wide range of vital and lively existing learning, innovation and creativity in our cities. However, a word of caution. We must not make assumptions that there is consensus on what these principles or values might be and we need to recognize that ‘rebuilding Bristol’, especially if we want to challenge concerns around social, economic and environmental justice, will not be easy. We will need to continually ask ‘who is not involved?’ We will need to ensure that we work with others who are ‘not like us’ or with whom we disagree. We will need to design new processes and methods for this and we will have to be open to building new relational capacities in the process, with each other but also with the environment surrounding us.

I want to finish by saying this is a moment that we need to grasp head on drawing on the many assets that we have in the city, many of which have been made more visible through this crisis. We have achieved so much in the city during this pandemic which will support us to work differently to challenge questions of social, economic and environmental justice in the city.

**Watch Helen discuss this subject area in more detail in our Annual Lecture 2019 below**


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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Helen Manchester, Associate Professor in Digital Inequalities & Urban Futures at the School of Education, University of Bristol and a Bristol City Fellow. This blog was reposted with kind permission from the School of Education blog. View the original blog.

Helen Manchester