City of Trees

There is an interesting article on the BBC web-site about a project to add a lot more trees to Manchester (here). A quick internet search reveals the project’s informative web-site Manchester City of Trees Project.

BBC pic
From BBC web-site


It is stated in the BBC article that the project has three objectives which are to plant more trees, to manage the existing trees better and to engage people in understanding the natural environment. But more interesting than these objects are the research objectives which include understanding the role of trees in the improvement of the urban environment. Their website claims that tree planting has many benefits including “creating healthier, happier communities to helping tackle climate change, reconnecting our children to the natural world, and providing essential habitats for wildlife” (ref).

An interesting project with a history going back to 1991 revealing another way to engage people in their environment and community and to work towards a better city.

“What Wales is doing today the world will do tomorrow” – Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is a very interesting bit of legislation.  It requires the impact of a wide range of decisions on the wellbeing of future generations to be assessed and to be taken into account in the decision making process. Of course this should not be required in an ideal world but what a great idea to manage the real world!

As is says on the Welsh Government website

The Act will make the public bodies listed in the Act think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach.

This new law will mean that, for the first time, public bodies listed in the Act must do what they do in a sustainable way.

Public bodies need to make sure that when making their decisions they take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future.

It will expect them to:

  • work together better
  • involve people reflecting the diversity of our communities
  • look to the long term as well as focusing on now
  • take action to try and stop problems getting worse – or even stop them happening in the first place.

Nanny state or one to follow? Certainly one to watch with interest.

Title quote from

UN Sustainable Development Goal 11

If you follow the “Resilient City” theme on the internet you often come across the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 11 which is to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

The text states that more than half of the world population live in cities and that the fraction is expected to rise. However, this urban population growth is often outstripping the rate of development of the cities resulting in slum conditions, often overflowing the formal administrative boundaries of the cities.

As the size of cities increases the per-capita carbon dioxide emissions increase, the difficultly of removing solid wastes increases while air quality tends to reduce.

Against Goal 11 the UN has a number of targets that aim to improve the conditions for the urban poor with adequate housing and public transport, inclusion, reduced impact of natural disasters – particularly on the urban poor, improved city environments with public open spaces and improved urban planning.

These goals are all very laudable and, with a completion date of 2030 placed on many of them, very challenging.

This is important work. Vital for the future of humanity. But less relevant to the resilient cities theme in the developed world and temperate climate.

Lancet Series on Urban Design, Transport and Public Health

Famouth6The Lancet urban design, transport and health Series, is a series of papers discussing how the expected enlargement of cities should be managed to enable healthy communities. Mainly aimed at growing mega-cities the papers provide some useful background for the Resilient City theme being pursued by several organisations.

The three papers in the series are:

(1)        City planning and population health: a global challenge,

(2)        Land use, transport, and population health: estimating the health benefits of compact cities

(3)        Use of science to guide city planning policy and practice: how to achieve healthy and sustainable future cities

These three papers explore the thesis that land-use and transport policies contribute to worldwide epidemics of injuries and non-communicable diseases through traffic exposure, noise, air pollution, social isolation, low physical activity, and sedentary behaviours. They argue that designing and building “compact cities” with good public transport where a higher fraction of journeys are by foot, on bicycle or on low-pollution public transport would result in a healthier population suffering less traffic trauma, less ill-health effects of sedentary lifestyles and less ill-health effects of poor air quality. There also believe that “compact cities” could optimise socialisation leading to happier as well as healthier cities.

The first paper identifies 3 regional and 5 local policies and practices which, they claim, can affect a wide range of health outcomes including non-communicable diseases such as obesity. These measures include:

  • “Destination accessibility” which aims to have people’s place of work, shopping facilities and leisure facilities either within walking or cycling distance of home or linked by good public transport;
  • “Demand Management” which makes the use of the private car harder by rationing parking spaces in the centres;
  • “Urban design” which separates cars from pedestrians and cyclists, provides public open spaces near to housing and has transport hubs and schools within a 15 minute walk of homes.
  • Public transport – bus stops within 400m and rail links within 800m of homes;
  • Diversity – different density housing near to and on top of shops and services;
  • Desirability – Neighbourhoods designed to be safe, attractive, and accessible; public transport that is convenient, affordable, frequent, safe, and comfortable.

It has a clever graphic on page 2915 (link here) showing how 8 urban system policies can be used to enhance liveability, health, wellbeing, and quality of life; social, health, and environmental equity and quality.

A number of indicators are suggested. These can be used to determine a city’s performance in these areas. Indicators include the extent of regulation, percentage of population living within a given range of public transport, percentage of people who can get to work within a given time without using their own car, percentage of green or open space within the city and measures of health of community members in terms of the prevalence of such things as respiratory illnesses and obesity.

The second paper speculates about the health benefits of a compact city by considering a number of cities around the world and modelling the impact of changes to the density and layout that reduce the number of car miles and increases walking, cycling and public transport usage. They argue that the sprawling residential only suburbs that are common in the USA, Australia and New Zealand mitigate against public transport and walking or cycling.

Data analysis and modelling was used to try to understand the relationship between the layout and distances involved in cities and the modes of transport used and then to try understand the impact on the environment and on health of those modes of transport. I was struck by the data presented in Table 1 which seems to show that walking and cycling in Boston is much safer than the same activities in London (based on deaths and injuries per 100 million kilometres). The paper presents tables of the changes in distances travelled by each mode of transport (Table 3) and of the health implications of this (Table 4) for an arbitrary change in urban density (+30%), land use diversity (+30%) and distance to public transport (-30%).

The third paper discusses how the research can be used to influence decision makers. It makes the point that research results are often expressed in ways that are inaccessible to decision makers and that research is only one of many determinants of policy. It suggests that better use of research findings would result from the adoption of a four step process: Undertake policy-relevant research, use research methods that policy makers understand and value, actively disseminate findings to policy makers and engage in advocacy. It suggests that teaming with policy makers at all stages is a good idea. It gives several examples of organisations that have adopted this form of conscious “research translation” to good effect in areas relating urban planning to health outcomes.

New ‘central heating for cities’ to help reduce energy bills

distheatThe government have announced a new scheme to support district heating projects. This seems a good idea if they can find suitable heat sources. I’ve seen it used in other European countries. Why not here?   (link)