The New Climate Economy Report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate will surely become recognised as a milestone in facing up to the challenges of climate change. But the real test will be the reception from the leaders of the G10 countries, with th global economy still reeling from a massive recession.
At first impression the ten headline recommendations appear to continue the perspective that nature is ‘out there’ and people and business are ‘in the cities’, underlining the rural/urban divide. Like Odum's energy flow diagram from the 1970s, cities suck in resopurces and pump out waste, while the countryside both provides for our needs and cleans up the mess. Nonetheless, a proper reading of the report reveals a somewhat more enlighted attuitude :
A better model for urban development
The alternative to unplanned, unstructured urban expansion is a more efficient urban development model, based on managed growth which encourages higher densities, mixed-use neighbourhoods, walkable local environments, and – in Global Megacities and Mature Cities – the revitalisation and redevelopment of urban centres and brownfield sites, complemented by green spaces. This model prioritises high-quality public transport systems to make the most of compact urban forms and to reduce car dependence and congestion.
This is still an long way from realising the potential of cities as thriving, diverse and healthy landscapes where ecosystem services play a vital role in underpinning and supporting the local economy.
Nonetheless, looking at the area with which I am currently most involved, the report's vision fits with the Black Country approach of multiple centres, an emphasis on environmental transformation and green infrastructure. In particular I think the Black Country has an opportunity to showcase a response to recommendation 7
Make connected and compact cities the preferred form of urban development, by encouraging better-managed urban growth and prioritising investments in efficient and safe mass transit systems.
One route to this would be to give more consideration to more integrated urban transport, and invest more in the Metro and local bus services. But the Black Country has far, far more to offer in the quiest to achieve truly sustainable cityscapes.
The message to the Black Country and its leaders is to have the courage to contuinue on their chosen path with renewed vigour. The sub-region has a massive head-start because of the decentralised and ‘open’ landscape. There is plenty of developable land without having to compromise maintaining high levels of green infrastructure, indeed there is the opportunity to regenerate and improve green infrastructure side by side. A great example is Albion, the Black Country Garden City proposal from MADE which created such a stir when entered for the Wolfson Economic Prize.
Perhaps now is the time for all cities across the world to raise our aspirations for the urban landscape from ‘better’ to ‘best?