What kind of example are we setting with our urbanisation model?
London tops Knight Frank’s Global Wealth Report and yet, as of November 2018, fuel poverty affects over 350,000 homes in the city. The shiny glass and steel towers that are surging upwards across London are symbols of the rising wealth and income inequalities of our society. These disparities deepen the distrust between communities and the government that serves them; they tend to make the individual feel powerless and isolated.
In the race for London’s space, housing is winning but communities are being dismantled in the process. Unsustainable infrastructure, rising energy bills, dirty air and depletion of green spaces are increasing the burdens of the city. As a centre of global capacity, what type of example are we creating?
What we see is lost potential.
Now let’s frame London in a global context: 54% of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas and this number is set to rise to 70% by 2050. Rapid urbanisation and climate volatility are already straining our cities to their breaking points; these pressures are only slated to increase over the coming decades. We must act now to increase the resilience of our cities by fully embracing sustainable urban design principles.
Very few cities are as well placed as London to do this. It has the wealth and public support necessary to equip itself against future shocks. Furthermore, it has the global clout necessary to provide a blueprint for how other cities can do the same. And yet our government, in its infinite wisdom, continues to invest in projects that further destabilise our future: a £30 billion roads programme, or a third runway at Heathrow. This type of city planning is at direct odds with the realities of a post-carbon future. This same money, time and energy could be used to future-proof our infrastructure, raise current standards of living and facilitate greater equality.
How to deal with a government whose policy is stuck in reverse
When we think of ourselves as a collective, we realise that we contain all the capacity necessary for a resilient city. Energy Garden is a city-wide infrastructure project that addresses food and fuel poverty with the ancillary benefits of improving air quality and education. We have taken an existing infrastructure network (London Overground) and increased its utility by planting gardens that bring green to an otherwise grey platform. We pay for the upkeep of our gardens with the revenue generated by solar panels; these assets are paid for by a Community Benefit Society where everyone, no matter how much they contribute, has an equal say in decision making. Energy Garden creates resilient empowered communities by embedding the core principles of ownership, control over decision making and visible community benefit.
Activating a sense of community in London
We are changing the way people commute and helping to change the way they think about their community in the process. A city-wide average of 14 minutes waiting on the Overground platform offers plenty of time to enjoy, interact with, or learn about our gardens in 40 stations. 137 community groups are connected across the London Transport network and they are empowered to create local solutions to greening the spaces, improve biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions, and tackle climate change. Energy Garden’s unique Youth Training Programme of mentoring, training and work experience teaches tomorrow’s community leaders how to advocate for a sustainable future. We believe the path to a resilient city lies in the shared responsibility of our wellbeing.