Category Archives: Event

Urban Forum – Manchester: Towards a Just City?

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 18 June at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Full details here.

Manchester like many cities at present suffers from growing divides, poverty and inequality. The Council has cut jobs and reduced services, while the centre of the city and surrounding retail high streets are blighted with a growing number of empty store fronts. With house prices stagnant or falling and unemployment levels across Greater Manchester continuing to rise, it is unclear how housing or labour markets can improve the living conditions of the local area. Some analysts point to possibilities for job growth from the creative industries and financial services sectors, but these opportunities remain as yet unrealised. In this research forum we bring together a number of stakeholders to explore where manchester is now, the challenges it faces and what it needs to do to become more at ease with itself and more socially just.

Panel:

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES); Allison Foreman, Project Development Coordinator, Greater Manchester Pay and Employment Rights Advice Service; John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester; Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Chair: Adam Leaver (Manchester Business School, University of Manchester)

Some of the panel give their viewpoints below:

Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

In the current economic and political climate it can be difficult to get behind the headlines and uncover what the real situation is.

Whilst the ongoing drive to cut spending dominates much of government thinking, it would be incorrect from a business perspective to say that all is lost and that there is no money available.

Since the financial tornado struck in Autumn 2008 the private sector has borne the brunt of the maelstrom caused by a combination of seemingly reckless activity by banks and successive governments’ inability to react adequately to promote growth and help create adequate employment opportunities.  The public sector too has suffered greatly from these tough economic times.

Things are better than they were – this isn’t denying the seriousness of the situation – but let’s be clear this means flat or low growth. Our most recent Quarterly Economic Survey, completed by over 800 businesses, showed that one of the worst hit sectors, construction, showed some signs of growth. This sounds promising, but the reality is that this is from a breath-takingly low starting point.

Some sectors have fared better but set against the broader economic conditions these results are often difficult to see. On the one hand private sector jobs figures remain positive but this is counterbalanced by weaknesses elsewhere, ensuring that the overall situation (for those out of work) is still challenging.

However some of the present issues predate present experience and will need more than an economic upturn to rectify. Ask any employer about skills or rather the lack of them and it’s apparent we have a startling wide range of shortages.  The figures make stark reading: with over 15% of Greater Manchester residents having no skills. The challenge of inadequately trained and work ready employees dates back to issues caused two or even three recessions ago. We feel the brunt now because of the acuteness of circumstances.

Likewise the state of our high streets. Previous recessions dealt severe if not fatal blows to our large manufacturing base. This time around major high street chains – some of which have been around for generations – have gone out of business. However as we sit shopping on Amazon whilst shaking our head at the news of another boarded up shop, should we ask ourselves about the role we have played in this?

One price of a reasonably robust level of employment is the significant rise of part-time working which has benefits as well as some obvious downsides.

Yes, there are increasing numbers of high value, high skills jobs, but there are also plenty of low skill, low value jobs.

We do have a part to play however in putting things right. The Chamber is tackling the skills issue through its Employer Ownership of Skills work, our members want to help reinvigorate our town centres; more businesses are showing an interest in trading abroad – those that do are better placed to develop and grow in the future.

Whilst it can be dangerous to pick winners, it is sometimes more dangerous to ignore them. We have and always have had some world class businesses in Manchester, and many more aspire to be so.  They don’t want special treatment just an environment that encourages enterprise which will allow them to grow and create the opportunities for the future so desperately needed to lead the economic recovery. They generally understand the social role they play and the impact they have on communities.

I see this everyday and I see what can and must be done. It isn’t beyond anyone’s ability to make this happen but everyone has a part to play either as catalysts for change or giving support to those that take action.

John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester

Books have been published, phds written, and raging debates held on what exactly it means to be a Just City. There isn’t scope in these few words to do any of that work justice, so I will take as my starting point a narrow definition that I think most people would broadly agree with: a Just City is one that provides equality of opportunity to all residents, especially the young. The interesting question then becomes: what can local policy makers do to ensure that all residents share the same opportunities in life? The weight of research tells us that the single most significant differentiating factor between those who succeed in life and those that do not is their level of skill. This underscores the need for a single-minded focus on improving education. This needs to start in the very earliest years, certainly before school and ideally from birth onwards, to ensure a radical improvement in life chances. At the same time, while improving educational outcomes across the spectrum is the archetypal easy thing to say but difficult thing to do, do it we must. The need to improve skill levels also holds for those who have left education and find themselves either unemployed or in low paid work.

If that sounds too easy, it’s probably because it is. In the current economic climate there are two factors which mean making Manchester a more Just City is all the more challenging. First, despite the labour market holding up better than expected at the start of the recession, there is still a shortage of job opportunities. Public agencies have to focus on generating economic growth and jobs for our residents to move into. It would be foolish to focus simply on the distribution of wealth without concerning ourselves with where that wealth is to come from. Second, public sector budgets are reducing and the pressures on services that support many of our most deprived residents increasing. It is not enough to identify what more policy makers can do, we need to identify what can be done differently to achieve better outcomes with less money. Through its economic growth objectives and public service reform programme Greater Manchester is ahead of most places in tackling these issues head on and making the city a more just place. If we achieve all we want to, we might yet write the definitive book.

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)

Across the UK, and the world, we are in a moment of significant economic injustice.  Things which have always been there are now in more obvious focus.  Inequality knows no compass points in Britain today.  There is a growing complex patchwork quilt of haves and have-nots.  And yes in London too.

In urban policy terms, neo liberal ideas around urban enrepreneuralism, where we just made it easy for global financial capitalism are being exposed and urban policy with a focus on manufacturing and industry struggles to find and alternative.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it would appear in policy terms that the message of necessity has not yet got through.

So we need to face up to some realities.

Four things we need to do.

1. Recognise.  The so called good times were not that good.

Most historic and present economic development, basically hangs on to the half truth that a growing economy will lift people out of poverty – trickle down.  However, even the good times were not that good for some areas.  We cannot boom-goggle – A chronic condition of vision in which nothing is seen but endless boom just around the corner. We need to do something more progressive with growth, wealth creation, and redistribute in different ways.

2. Reducing poverty is not the outcome of economic growth, it’s part of the solution

Tackling poverty is part of the economic answer and unless we do something about poverty, then it may be difficult to restore the kind of prosperity we would like. Our economy needs the poor to not be poor.

Levels of disposable income are reducing local demand.  Trickle up economics tells us that the poorest have a higher propensity to consume. They will spend a higher proportion of their income, usually locally. They must start earning and spending. Our businesses (especially our SME’s) need this. This relationship means, we have an irrefutable economic rationale for dealing with this shocking situation as regards low wages, underemployment and poverty.

3. We need to advance and accelerate new economic thinking.

Some great organic grass roots based stuff is happening

  • The rise of alternative financial models –such as crowdfunding
  •  appreciation of a social return on investment,
  • new forms of exchange, production and consumption cooperatives,

Local economic policy needs to catch up with this narrative and be bold. This is the future.

4. There is the need for a new economic activism, driving transformation. 

In this, we need the central state to set a better redistributive context.  The poorest areas need more support, this is not jam spreading.  It’s about giving the most in need more sustenance. We need a proper industrial strategy and a coherent set of initiatives.

From there we look at the local state, to work to think about a new economic and social destiny.  This includes things like the development of positive local multiplier outcomes, which means local sourcing, means local jobs, means more local spend.

Just look at this city – Manchester City Council spends over 50% of its commissioned goods and services within the Manchester economy.  With over 50% of that in the most deprived neighbourhoods.  Suppliers re-spent 47p in every pound back in Manchester economy in 10/11.  A good start. (for more details see here)

It’s also about a new local social and economic contract, with business at the front appreciating place, respecting public inputs to its success and working where it can to play more of an activist place role.

Finally the economic sphere is not some opposite to social life.  The aim of the economy, is to improve social life.  This means creating an economy, which is not solely for private gain, but there to support social institutions for social development and a decent standard of living for all.  This has to be the economic future.  This is a just city.

 

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Urban Forum – Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 30 April, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

Developing ‘age-friendly’ cities has become a key issue for improving the quality of life of all generations. Population ageing and urbanization have in their different ways become the dominant trends of the 21st century, raising issues for all types of communities. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be residing in cities. By that time many of the major urban areas of the Global North will have 25 per cent or more of their population aged 60 and over. Cities will remain central to economic development, attracting waves of migrants and supporting new industries. However, the extent to which what has been termed the ‘new urban age’ will produce ‘age-friendly communities’ remains uncertain.

Cities have many advantages for older people in respect of easy access to medical services, provision of cultural and leisure facilities, shopping and general necessities for daily living. However, urban life can also create threatening environments, producing insecurity, feelings of exclusion, and vulnerability with changes to neighbourhoods. These issues affect all age groups and not just older people. However, with older people spending 80 per cent of their time in the home and home environment, support from the immediate neighbourhood and beyond becomes crucial. What is the scope for developing age-friendly cities to take account of these issues? Some questions to be considered in the debate will include:

Cities are viewed as key drivers for economic success but can they integrate ageing populations as well? Can the resources of the city be used to improve quality of life in old age – just 1 in 20 households may have the money to take account of what cities such as Manchester have to offer? Can cities be designed in the interests of all age groups? What are the options for responding to different housing needs across the life course? How can older people be central to the regeneration of urban neighbourhoods? Can older and younger age groups work together to identify common needs and secure ‘rights to the city’ which work in the interests of all generations.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Graeme Henderson, Research Fellow, IPPR North

If recovering from the financial crisis is the key fiscal policy challenge of this decade, an ageing population will be the biggest of the next decade, and the one after that. Too often population ageing is seen only as a burden on the economy but this plays down its potential benefits and the opportunities it will bring. Making work work better for older people who want to remain in the workforce for longer can help increase our country’s economic capacity in the same way that the influx of women into the workforce did in the post-war period. Adapting products and services, homes and even cities, to fit with the requirements and preferences of older citizens is opening up potential growth markets which we should be every bit as on focused on as emerging economies on the other side of the world.

Equally, older workers often have built up a vast amount of experience from working in the same or similar fields for many years. There is a justified perception that this expertise is not being properly utilised in workplaces and by society. A cultural shift is necessary to ensure that this accumulated knowledge is better understood and fully made use of.

While there is a moral case for developing age-friendly cities, we must not let take understate the economic case either.

Cities in the North of England already aspire to be at the frontier of embracing the silver economy. However, while they are home to several ground-breaking initiatives, these initiatives are largely isolated from wider economic strategies and have yet to deliver a breakthrough in turning around economic challenges. For example, the northern regions have the lowest levels of economic activity among older age men, while for women the three northern regions account for three of the lowest five performers amongst 50-59 year olds, and the three lowest among over 60s.

In most regions and cities, the response to ageing has been on the perceived costs of population change, its impact on service delivery, a focus on attracting a relatively declining cohort of younger workers and new sources of economic growth rather than considering the potential economic contribution of their growing ‘silver’ cohort. Ageism is sadly rife in our society and is perhaps the main obstacle standing in the way of a flourishing silver economy. There is also a perception that older workers extending their careers prevents young people finding jobs.

IPPR North’s new Silver Economies project will seek to address these challenges and look at how to better harness the economic potential of our maturing society.

Stefan White, Manchester School of Architecture

The role of urban research and design in making cities age-friendly: (con)testing the WHO design guidance in a Manchester Neighbourhood

We have just completed a participatory urban research and design project for of an age-friendly neighbourhood in ‘Old Moat’, Manchester, UK for Southway Housing Trust.

Our reflection on the Old Moat project is focussed on how the WHO age-friendly city programme and policies enable us to both understand (Research) and produce (Design) more inclusive urban environments. The key issues which have arisen in trying to come to know a particular neighbourhood of the city and then attempting to arrive at concrete proposals for making it more ‘Age-friendly’ are  how we decide to define and act in relation to  the three broad categories of ‘City’, ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Age-friendly’.

City

We have taken the view that the City should be understood as a  complex entity where physical and social issues and causes interact and interlock with one another: A multiplicity of networks at different spatial scales constituted through territorialised relations that stretch beyond its limits (Robinson 2005).  Urban research and design for a city of networks involves understanding and changing the relations between places, groups and services as well as the physical environments, organisations and provisions themselves.

Using the example of ‘Old Moat’ we argue that urban design should not be understood as limited to removing ‘unfriendly’ objects or surfaces but include stimulating both formal and informal enabling services, socialities and infrastructure networks.

E.g more benches are a common request heard in age-friendly research and a sensible proposition with regard to the average mobility of older people – however concerns over management and anti-social behaviour often prevent them from being installed or are the reason for their removal. How can we design a neighbourhood with more benches?

Neighbourhood

We have approached the concept of Neighbourhood as comprising both the community and the space in which it is practiced (DeCertau, Petrescu). This means it is not just a space on a map but made what it is by the people who live there. This approach asks that we address the political engagement or involvement of a community in parallel with any environmental ‘improvements’.

In this context we have found that the design of age-friendly cities presents immediate challenges in terms of both negotiating  and understanding territorial relationships between specific neighbourhoods and the general resources of ‘City’.

We argue that age-friendly urban research and design must facilitate community-led negotiation of interventions within both a neighbourhood and the wider city networks to which it relates.  E.g making an area especially suited for Older people may have the effect of reducing the provision elsewhere, how can we design an ‘Age-friendly’ neighbourhood in an ‘Age-friendly’ city?

Age-friendly

Following these relational definitions of city and the neighbours who both ‘inhabit’ and create it, we contest that while ‘Age-friendliness’ (as defined in the eight interlocking World Health Organisation ‘domains’) presents a social model for the understanding  (research) of the impact of the city on older people – and promotes participation as part of this –  it currently limits its definition of the role of design to a medical model (Hanson 2007).  This either assumes that the relations between ‘Citizens’ are not what, in fact, makes ‘the City’ liveable or friendly – or that design can have no role in changing these things.

We argue instead that  making a city more age-friendly is a participatory process of research and design for the development of  urban environmental proposals which should negotiate:  both physical and social  aspects of territory; within each specific neighbourhood;  across a range of scales and time frames of the city.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People Team, Manchester City Council

Ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involves risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Accordingly, the primary focus of age-friendly programmes has been on older people and ageing.

In the age of austerity the argument for all-age improvement social programmes is persuasive and intuitively ‘right’.  However there is evidence that without a specific focus on older people, especially in cities, the policy and delivery drivers that can create ‘good places to grow old’ are often overlooked.

The emerging debates, policy focus and city-based programmes concerned with age-friendly cities reflect a number of key demographic, economic and policy drivers.

The first of these is the compelling demographic driver.  As the Dublin Declaration, signed by 42 municipalities in September 2011, argues,

“In a world in which life expectancy is increasing at the rate of over two years per decade, and the percentage of the population over 65 years is projected to double over the next forty years, the need to prepare for these changes is both urgent and timely.”

So by 2030 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, whilst one-quarter of urban populations in high income countries will be aged sixty and over.  And by 2050 one-quarter of urban populations in less developed countries will be aged sixty and over. (Phillipson 2010)

These are well known and well-worn facts that we often tire of hearing, but they signal profound social and economic changes which will create new types of communities, not just in the relatively rich north, but also across the BRIC countries and beyond.

We know that ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involved risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Health inequalities affecting such areas are well documented and extremely persistent.  And as Gierveld and Scharf (2008) argue,

“There is emerging evidence that urban environments may place older people as heightened risk of isolation and loneliness.”

The position of older people in cities, at least in a UK context, is described by an Audit Commission (2008) report in these terms:

“Some Councils will see an outward migration of affluent people in their 50 and 60s…the remaining older population …tends to be…poorer, isolated and more vulnerable with a lower life expectancy and a need for acute interventions.”

Unfortunately, for most part the dominant narratives of ageing have concerned pension and health and care service reform.  I will leave aside for now the content of these narratives, but insofar as ageing is discussed in political and social discourse it is at this level.  There is also an important subplot developing in this story.  That of generational competition and the notion of the baby boomer generation having accumulated wealth (and power) for itself at the expense of the generations following it.  The impact of these narratives is all too often to prevent public policy moving beyond first base.

 

In response to these challenges the World Health Organisation age-friendly environments programme was launched in the mid 2000s and resulted 33 cities collaborating on the production of a good practice guide.  The WHO guide is based on eight ‘domains’ which include social and civic participation, the built environment, transport, housing and so on.  (WHO 2007)

In 2010 a Global Network of age-friendly cities was declared, bringing together around a dozen partners – including Manchester – signed up to ambitious plans.   138 cities have now signed up to the WHO network.

A criticism of the focus on older people in mainstream age-friendly programmes is that they either represent a missed opportunity to improving cities for all age groups and/or that they exclude young people or potentially create generational fractures.  In my experience this is an imagined risk.  And at a delivery level it is commonplace in age-friendly programmes that intergenerational approaches such as Manchester’s ‘Generations Together’ initiative, figure highly.  More widely, in a UK context there is little to suggest that the ageing agenda crowds out those aimed at younger generations.

The implications of the age-friendly approach that I’ve outlined suggest a broad range of national and local actions.  Partners should:

  • Work within the framework of  the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities and promote the Dublin Declaration on age-friendly cities and environments;
  • Respond to local needs, desires, inequalities and the specific challenges of growing older in each area with a holistic approach to cover the range of services, opportunities and neighbourhood needs important to residents, including healthy ageing in mid-later life;
  • Include cross-generational approaches in age-friendly programmes;
  • Adopt inclusive approaches that are flexible to the strengths of local communities, voluntary organisations and frontline staff;
  • Shift the focus of support services towards earlier interventions, ill-health prevention, whole populations and multi-faceted initiatives;
  • Learn from academic and expert partners and independent scrutiny and evaluation; and
  • Maintain a citizenship perspective on engagement to create communities of interest with older people in the lead.

CONCLUSION

The demographic, economic and policy drivers outlined above demand a linked up, programmatic response at international, national and local levels.  So for now at least, the international movement which aims to create age-friendly cities and communities should be encouraged to flourish.

It is being realistic to acknowledge that, in particular, in the western economies, the cold economic climate presents us with significant policy and delivery challenges in respect of disadvantaged urban populations.   In this context the specific and growing needs (and assets) of the urban old requires a distinctive voice, of which the age-friendly movement is an inspiring example.

References

Audit Commission (2008) Don’t Stop Me Now: preparing for an ageing population” Audit Commission, London

McGarry P and Morris J (2011) A Great Place to Grow Older: A case study of how Manchester is developing an age-friendly city.  Working with Older People Volume 15 issues 1, Pier Press.

Phillipson C (2010) Growing Old in Urban Environments: Development of Age-friendly Communities, in the SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology edited by Dannefer D and

Phillipson C, Sage publications.

Scharf T and Gierveld J (2008) Loneliness in Urban Neighbourhoods: An Anglo-Dutch Comparison, European Journal of Ageing, 5, 103-115.

World Health Organisation (2007) Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide, World Health Organisation Geneva  http://www.who.int/ageing/publications

Feeding the City: The Politics & Promise of Urban Food

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 13 March, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Feeding the City:  The Politics & Promise of Urban Food’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Feeding the City:  The Politics & Promise of Urban Food

Cities around the world are emerging as key locales for growing food. A variety of approaches are being piloted to enhance health and well-being, encourage local economic growth and self-sufficiency, enrich social cohesion and community development, and diversify urban greening and resilience. In this research forum, we will discuss the opportunities and barriers of urban agriculture and speculate on the future of growing food in cities.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Debbie Ellen,  Independent Researcher

There has been an upsurge in interest in ‘local food’ and urban growing in recent years. The BIG Lottery Local Food fund stopped accepting applications after a year of a 5 year programme due to the high number of bids received.  Allotment waiting lists across the country are long, with waiting times in some areas of Manchester between 5 and 10 years.

Amid this wave of enthusiasm for local food and grow your own there are some significant challenges in parts of Manchester where poverty and a lack of skills, particularly cookery skills mean that a range of different aspects of food need to be addressed.  The increase in the cost of fuel and the increase in food prices means that a choice often has to be made between staying warm and eating a healthy diet.

Debbie will talk about these issues and provide some examples of projects in Manchester that are working to enable communities to grow, cook and eat sustainably.

Liz Postlethwaite, Director – Small Things Creative Projects

Cities as we know them, and associated urban spaces are dead. The economy continues to flounder with models of economic urban regeneration that we have come to rely upon looking increasingly out of place in the world that we are now living in. Alongside this levels of urban deprivation are soaring, and levels of unemployment, especially in young people, continue going up and up. Once grounded urban communities are finding it tough to hold together, and unrest and dis-satisfaction bubble close to the surface of many neighbourhoods, waiting to erupt.

At the same time as this the climate is changing, natural resources are becoming scarce, and acres of land and industrial building space lay vacant in urban locations, awaiting economic growth to return tin a way hat seems increasingly unlikely with each new day – and each new news report.

In view of all these challenges is urban agriculture a key way for us to reinvent community, location and place within cities? And to reconnect to the natural world in a way that has been long ignored in urban contexts, much to the detriment of quality of life. Drawing on examples from the UK, and other parts of the world including Cuba and Detroit, Liz will consider the part that UA can play in forming our cities of the future, and the potential it has to make them cleaner, more abundant, and more attractive places to live.

Graeme Sheriff, Manchester Architecture Research Centre

Food brings a set of quite special challenges to the planners and designers of sustainable cities. Food is essential for life: we need to eat, and we need to eat often. We consume it, if we are able, several times a day and we buy it daily or weekly. Personal choice, taste and preference are hugely important, and these are bound up in our cultures, religions and social contexts. Food requires a great deal of end-user knowledge. We need to know what to buy, how to plan meals, how to store food, how to cook it, and these things can mean the difference between a healthy relationship with food and a destructive one, making education and awareness on food issues extremely important.

Yet food is full of contradictions. Whilst the relative frequency with which we interact with it might suggest we could make rapid changes, we often have little control over it; often not knowing where it comes from, how it’s been produced, what elements have been introduced into the food chain. Our choices may be limited by where we live or how much we earn.  And whilst we may feel that we have an intimate relationship with the food we eat, we rarely know the full extent of the chain of social and environmental impacts that our choices trigger, at home and globally.

Urban food growing is at once a way to try to reign in and reduce this chain of impacts, and a way to develop a more intimate relationship with food. At the same time as attempting to ‘feed the city’, we are equipping city residents to engage with food. Recent research has suggested that it is these less tangible benefits that have been most prominent in community food projects in the UK: the awareness raising, education, skills development, physical exercise and socialising. But this is not to belittle the potential to produce much more food in UK cities. We should be asking how we can maximise this, recognising that urban food is not only about growing, but also about making connections with the wider food system, perhaps through local trading systems and stronger relationships with regional and UK producers. There are many challenges and unanswered questions: What will be the role of the supermarkets? How do we win over the price-conscious consumer? Can food compete with other demands on space such as housing, transport and energy generation?

Chris Walsh, Kindling Trust

Urban Food growing has many advocates and is getting a lot of press. But is it the best way to increase food access and should it be the focus for establishing a sustainable food system for our City?

Manchester is not Hong Kong or New York with dense high-rise communities. There is a lot of land in Gtr Manchester and we has easy access to prime agricultural land just a few miles from the city centre. Green belt land is under ultilised and rural farming communities live and work just half-an-hour away.

Technological fixes or urban planning have a crucial role to play, but for scale, sustainability and efficiency, we need to rejuvenate our peri-urban farming, establish the UK’s first Farm Belt and focus on enterprising solutions that find fair markets that improve food access and create jobs and training.

The Kindling Trust is working to reconnect urban and rural communities and Chris will be spending ten minutes exploring projects like Manchester Veg People; Greater Manchester Land Army and  FeedingManchester.

The debate will be chaired by Carly McLachlan (University of Manchester)

Ten Years After! What is the Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games for Manchester?

The B of the Bang was a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick and was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

 

In July and August 2002 the city of Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games.  This eleven day event was to mark the beginning of a strategy to systematically redevelop the east of Manchester.  After decades of losing its population and suffering multiple forms of distress, the plan was to use the Games to reintegrate the area’s neighborhoods back into the wider space economy.  New East Manchester, an urban regeneration company, was established to oversee the redevelopment.  Fast forward to July 2012 and London is about to host the Olympics.  A central feature of the discussions prior to the Games has been over their legacy in the area to the east of London.  This has involved learning from the efforts of other cities, such as Manchester, who have hosted major cultural and sporting events.

On 10 July 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the current state of East Manchester and the on-going legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue.  The aim is to develop understandings that can inform the wider redevelopment efforts in the city, particularly in the context of shrinking public sector finances. Below are some brief provocations from each panelist to initiate reflection and debate.

Pete Bradshaw, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Infrastructure, Manchester City Football Club.

Ten years on… legacy in action or inaction?

The Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly captured the imagination of people across our city, our region, our nation and across the Commonwealth too.

Manchester and its city region had gained valuable experience in bidding for two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) and in doing so, had the opportunity to stage a variety of international sporting events and an insight and understanding of what Games’ host cities needed – and indeed the risks involved. Embarking on a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games therefore, would need to be founded in reality, deliverability and should leave lasting legacy for the people of Manchester and for sport, locally, regionally and nationally.

When considering the development of Games’ facilities – it would be critical that they should be fit-for-purpose insofar as the Games were concerned, but no less important would be the need for those very facilities to provide a life beyond the Games without the need for further funding whilst developing new opportunities, events, inward investment and jobs.

Facilities  for the future and in helping deliver legacy would only be one consideration; participation and engagement another. Some twenty years previous, the Sports Council in its launch of Sport – The Next ten Years noted: “Although participation is made possible through facility provision, it is made actual only by sensitive management, inspiring leadership and energetic promotion”. Never more would this be the case with the legacy of Manchester 2002.

Programmes and activities directly related to the Games were (and are) there for all to see, successful at the time and in some cases setting precedence for events and investments ten years on. 15,000 Volunteers engaged with M2002 Pre Volunteer Programme and across the city we can still find them working on events and engaged in jobs as a result. There was Games XChange which created a comprehensive data base and event information resource; the Community Curriculum Pack shared with local education authorities from across the region whilst Let’s Celebrate engaged people of all ages in arts, cultural and events management. Passport gave people access to opportunities which included art, sport, environment, health and jobs and these were supported by Healthier Communities and Prosperity North West programmes.

The emerging development of east Manchester in 2012 is testament to the faith City leaders places in the Manchester 2002 Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure of Sportcity helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognises the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhood.

The changing, even unstable economic climate has presented challenges, no doubt, but the grounding, the character, the leadership and aspiration that lead City leaders to host the XVII Commonwealth Games is vital to our future success and the creation of and access to opportunities for people in our city. I remain convinced that there has been and will continue to be action and investment, there is certainly confidence in this city and about this city.

Rev. David Gray – Faith Network for Manchester and Growing faith in Community

Building trust between communities and practitioners is essential

Having been the workshop of the world during the great industrial push when mines, mills, factories and foundries were producing steel, cotton, coal and railway rolling stock for communities around the world, by the 1990’s East Manchester had become the most disadvantaged community inWestern Europe. Following industrial decline, the well meaning but empathy void slum clearances had broken the back and the heart of the community. Intricate connections reminiscent of eco systems like the Wood Wide Web were broken as orchestras, extended family networks, faith communities; sporting and artistic societies were broken up forever. As psychopathic predators preyed on the children who dwelt in a landscape where a once proud people no longer seemed to matter to those who wielded power, the working class became the post-working class and fell to their knees feeling useless, overlooked and de-skilled. Mortality rates rose to endemic levels due to the impact of hitherto misunderstood industrial diseases; mental ill-health spread like a plague and crime and anti-social behaviour took root among the disaffected. In a trail of broken promises from politicians and planners, hope began to retreat. Children growing up in a culture of unemployment that had been passed on like a baton down several generations lost any concept of there being a link between school and potential career paths.

In due course, a remnant of community activists and a new generation of regeneration professionals began to address the issues. But trust that had been broken had to be re-earned. The prospect of the Commonwealth Games being hosted in East Manchester came with mixed blessings. On one hand, this offered energising hope for the future – but on the other, fears of the gentrification of the area were fuelled as the dreaded compulsory purchases of living memory were once again used to destabilise the existing community.

The games themselves proved an uplifting experience for those local people who managed to remain in the community. Manchester Royal Artillery at nearby Belle Vue Barracks had been threatened with being disbanded, but received a reprieve when myself and others wrote to her Britannic Majesty to plead their cause as a force for good in our community, resulting in a battery salute from artillery field guns opening the games themselves.

The summer of 2002 was a balmy one and the atmosphere around the games was positive for visitors and host community alike.

The games over, a new threat reared its head when the politicians and planners put all their eggs into one basket with a proposal to regenerate the East Manchestereconomy by creating a super casino. Once again the long suffering community was filled with dread.

‘Communities for Stability’ was formed to explore alternatives and the Faith Network for Manchester held a conference “Gambling with our Future” that explored the positives of job creation alongside negatives such as organised crime, sexual exploitation and the impact of habitual gambling. Soon local communities were shouting loudly for something more diverse that was built on local experience and the diversity of the communities of this great city. In short, they were saying: “Bring Back Belle Vue – but with a modern, ethical ethos”.

In due course myself – by now made redundant from my post as community coordinator on the team that restored Gorton Monastery and going through the transition to becoming a sole trader – and unemployed trades union steward Damian Carr compiled, in consultation with local people, businesses, faith and community groups, Manchester City Football Club, police officers, teachers, children and health professionals a business plan that, with the help of Sir Gerald Kaufman, we presented to then communities minister Hazel Blears.

We took with us the directors of a company wishing to bring an eco-affordable housing manufacturing base to the area.

A lot has happened since that meeting. The Moscow and Chinese State Circuses have visited East Manchester; in September we will host a Circus themed parade and Carnival and the legacy of sporting and leisure represented by the games and the old Belle Vue have begun to inform the way ahead. But there is still no eco-affordable housing manufacturing base here, despite all the signs of its being sorely needed.

With a new national speedway stadium in the pipeline and the reintroduction of animal features such as EST Donkey Centre where Donkey’s housed in five star accommodation work to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties, the magic of Belle Vue is unfolding once again.

This is part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, but it has been far from easy for local people to help drive new initiatives with so many disappointments in the fields of politics and banking in our national life. We are determined that our future is not driven by the greed and self interest of a minority of people who are unlikely to settle here themselves to share a stake in our unfolding future. We don’t say we know best, but we do say that unless the indigenous populace – including people who settle here from other lands – are thoroughly involved in what emerges post Commonwealth Games, the damage done by previous waves of regeneration will be compounded and our communities, indeed our national life itself, may never recover from the resultant wounds, allowing apathy to take a hold that will slowly throttle breath out of democracy as people cease to exercise their voting power within a system in which they have totally lost faith.

Camilla Lewis, Social Anthropology PhD candidate, University of Manchester

An uncertain future?

In 2002, the Commonwealth Games were championed as a win-win solution for Manchester. The sporting event would bring worldwide attention and investment to the city and offer a unique opportunity to kick start social regeneration and transform the fortunes of some of Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods. East Manchester was chosen as an ideal site as it offered large, cheap, de-industrial areas suitable for the main sporting facilities. Over the past ten years, under the banner of ‘New East Manchester’, the area has been radically transformed through multiple processes of rebranding and rebuilding. The industrial past has been largely erased in order to refashion the landscape and, in turn, to create a sustainable, cohesive community. This begs the questions; what kind of legacy has the Games produced and have the expectations of the ambitious regeneration plans been met?

The answers to these questions are complex and contested. East Manchester is a large geographical area with a heterogeneous social landscape. Since local people report constant changes to neighbourhoods it is very difficult to talk about how a single event has changed people’s experiences in a uniform way. Rather than one moment of transformation, the social life and landscape in the area have been reconfigured in multiple ways with changes accelerating over the past decade. While there have been many positive reactions to the newly configured landscape, many local residents feel that the area is characterised by a sense of precariousness and uncertainty about the future. Despite the continuing regeneration efforts, East Manchester is still socially and spatially dislocated from the rest of the city. The future and sustainability of the area is questioned, due to the persistence of high levels of unemployment. In this context, new dynamics of social life have emerged in which relations to place have been reconstituted around historical ideas about community rather than a linear idea of progress and development. The Games promised to instill a sense of certainty and optimism for East Manchester which would be based on a socially accepted ambition towards progress. However, ten years after, community in the past is often remarked on with nostalgia and warmth whereas the future is described as uncertain.

Tom Russell,  former Chief Executive of New East Manchester

Lessons for driving social and economic renewal?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games, by common accord, was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester. It also has had wider significance in  terms of the approach adopted by London towards the staging of the 2012 Olympics, and by Glasgow in looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success in 2002.

The city was always clear, through the bidding process for the event and beyond, that it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Heavily influenced by Barcelona’s approach to the 1992 Olympics, the city’s primary objective was the comprehensive economic, physical and social renewal of the east of the city, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country in terms of poverty and urban deprivation. Yet the relationship between an international sporting event – elitist by definition and frozen in  a moment in time – and deep-seated problems of urban decline and renewal is not obvious, and cities have faced considerable criticism over the cost and opportunity cost that such events involve.

My contribution to the Forum will aim to examine this relationship and evaluate progress towards the ambitious objectives Manchester set itself, the continuing challenges that the area faces, and the lessons that can be drawn from Manchester’s experience of harnessing a major international event to drive economic and social renewal.

City as Museum / City as Instrument: new possibilities for sound and the city

Image from Manchester's Sonic Meta-Ontology Project

Image from ‘Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology’ Project

 

See end of article for details of Locative Audio event on 29th June.

It’s an exciting time to be a composer or sound artist. Innovations in and new connections between methodology, technology and creative practice are creating a host of new possibilities for the sonic exploration of experience. NOVARS, the Research Centre for Electro Acoustic Composition and Sound Art at the University of Manchester work at the cutting edge of this new territory. So what are these developments? To keep it simple here we will talk about two, both of which relate to space.

The first concerns the composition and performance of sound in relation to space. Composition tools and performance environments are becoming increasingly sophisticated through collaboration and feedback between composers, musicians, researchers and engineers. For example, virtual 3-dimensional environments and multi-speaker matrix diffusion sound systems mean that composers and sound artists are increasingly able to realise complex and immersive sound environments in concert halls, performance spaces and headphones.

A second key development, also space-related, arises from mobile phone technology and virtual geotagging.  Groups like Escoitar, who work at the fluid edge between art and technology – are developing mobile applications which can add a virtual and interactive layer of sound – a sonic annotation – to places and spaces. Escoitar’s NoTours application detects location (via GPS), which triggers the playing of audio files as the individual listener moves through space and enters specific location points.

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

cities@manchester have supported NOVARS’ work in the urban environment, which is brought together under the banner Locative Audio.  Last year NOVARS worked with Escoitar/NoTours on the experimental Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology project. This research and composition project culminated in an augmented aurality tour of the city, open to the public. The project had a number of stages. The initial part was the composition of five sonic pieces in response to specific sites in the city, for example around China Town and a bus journey. These were then ‘tagged’ on to specific geo-locations in the city using the software. The outcome was a tour of Manchester along specific routes; participants were given a prepared smartphone and headphones and taken along these predefined routes.  As they moved through the city with the device in their pockets their GPS-tracked location automatically triggered the playing of sonic pieces in specific sites. It can be highly interactive as the audio files play in particular formulations depending on how the listener moves through space.

This mapping of sonic materials on to spatial environments has huge practical and creative potential. Ricardo Climent, project director and NOVARS co-director, explains:

“by ‘Augmenting the Aurality’ of a specific every-day location, composers can recover memories of a particular place, can produce sonic alternatives to repositories of visual information; and even attempt to forecast desired futures through sound”.

This short video featuring Ricardo and others involved in the project explains more.

This year Locative Audio focuses on the concept of ‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’. Culminating in an interactive audiogame showcase event on 29th June, researchers, composers, artists and practitioners have been invited to respond to:

  •  “The study of Cities from a sonic perspective” (e.g. using mobile technology and physical tours around the city), with
  • “The concert hall’, as an immersive interactive environment (often using physics-graphics-audio-game engines and virtual worlds) which can potentially connect with the former.

So if last year’s project brought composers and audiences out into the city, this year sees an attempt to link the city back to the concert hall.

Ricardo explains:

“with renewed support from cities@manchester the 2012 Locative Audio Project takes our exploration a step further by connecting the ‘Augmented Aurality City Tours’ with ‘The Concert Hall’. We are inviting a number of participants from the UK and abroad to share their creative thinking with us, combining Location-based Audio and Media with game-physics-audio engine technologies often found in the production of virtual environments and games”.

The profusion and diversity of these interactions between sound and technology can obscure a quite simple understanding, shared by many of the practitioners involved, of the value and potential of sound and sonic experience. One of the speakers at the upcoming Locative Audio event on 29th June, Roddy Hawkins, tells us why he thinks it is so important for understanding and experiencing cities:

“One way or another sound affects us all in the city. And yet we know remarkably little about how people engage with the sensory overload that is presented by the urban landscape. When you consider that over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban areas you very quickly begin to appreciate the enormity of the topic and the relevance of a critical and creative approach to the study of sound in that context. From product design to acoustic cocooning, sonic branding to noise pollution, the city is a complex space that both constructs and reflects the fragmented experience of the modern day city-dweller.

“What is particularly exciting about the topic is its relevance and impact beyond academia: in my experience, given the opportunity, most people have something to say on the way they experience sound in the city — as pleasure, escape, noise, information, warning. Understanding this experience is fundamental to the way we engage with the city as an idea. But there is something about the experience of the city which isn’t captured by academic discourse. It’s crucial, therefore, that its complexity is captured in as many ways as possible.

“‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’ is especially important because it reaches out through the medium we are exploring: sound. It brings together academics, sound artists, new technologies and listeners in a model of exchange that we need to build and sustain in the future. I’m really looking forward to the sonic journey promised by the forthcoming Locative Audio event; with GPS and game audio technologies, we’re going to explore the city and its complex sound in an interactive, engaging way. We need to open our ears to open our eyes.”

This ambition for the possibilities of sound both as a medium and as a creative tool is echoed by Ricardo:

“As composers, we want to take a step forward in the way we interact with cities and people and learn from other agents who do so; e.g.  historians, social enterprise leaders, developers, policy makers, archaeologists, urban planners, heritage officials, to mention a few. By combining creative forces to collage narratives and sound via soundwalks, composers and sound aggregators can also interact with other disciplines to project a new understanding of a specific place and time. Such audio-guided geo-walks may convert the city into a new ‘open hall’ to experience sound.”

Locative Audio are holding a big open event on Friday 29th June from 12:00 to 17:00 at the John Thaw Studio Theatre, Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, University of Manchester. The event aims to brings together the range of potential applications and possibilities opened up by digital technologies and methodologies. It will include talk, media and virtual installations, live music events and audio guide tours of areas in the city. Full details including the programme can be found on the website: http://locativeaudio.org/.

Text by Caitriona Devery.

‘Every Revolution has its Space: from Occupying Squares to Transforming Cities?’: Audio Recording

Image from Elentari86 via flickr

25th April, 4-6.30 pm,  Cordingley Lecture Theatre, Humanities Bridgeford Street

Presentations by:
Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, University of Manchester
Andy Merrifield, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Department of Geography, University of Manchester
Neil Smith, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography, CUNY Graduate Center, New York

Play audio recording 

A conversation among three geographers exploring the relationship between contemporary political movements, symbolic and material spaces of the contemporary city, and strategies for radical social change in an era defined by consensual party politics.  The presentations and audience participation extend from theoretical considerations of politics and urban society to speculations on what contemporary political manifestations might mean, and how they might be interpreted and encouraged.

This event was organised by:
OpenSpace:  An interdisciplinary forum for doctoral and postdoctoral research supporting dialogue on cities and beyond, initiated by PhD researchers in the Department of Geography

And was supported by:
The Leverhulme Trust: Visiting Professorships
cities@manchester
The Urban Transformations Research Group, Geography, University of Manchester

For further information, please contact brian.rosa@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk

Towards a Sustainable Manchester?

In the context of the ever-deepening financial crisis and a series of environmental uncertainties, attention has turned to how cities can be adaptable, resilient and sustainable. In addition to actions by government, there is growing acknowledgement that local groups will need to play a role in redefining what constitutes economic activities. Building upon their existing contributions, these groups will be required to be involved in the production of a more economically robust Manchester.

On 21 June 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the opportunities and challenges for Manchester to realise a more sustainable future. This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue. The aim is to develop understandings that can inform further developments in the city. Below are some brief provocations from each panellist to initiate reflection and debate.

Charlie Baker, URBED

‘Carbon mitigation as an urban development strategy’

If you take the view that we are powerless in the face of climate change, then we cannot adapt to it any better than the people of Pompeii adapted to living near a volcano – partly because, like them, we’re not really sure how bad it will get. But it’s not a volcano, it is something we as a species are doing to ourselves and by definition we can and therefore must do something about.

Manchester has a strong history of leading change and with efficient planning could make the Low Carbon Economic Area an example to the world. URBED have proved through a set of real world projects that, with a proper assessment method, it is possible to take a very ordinary house and reduce its carbon footprint by 80% without resorting to eco-bling, while making it a more comfortable, healthier place to live and getting households off the fuel cost escalator which is pushing many towards fuel poverty. Retrofitting Manchester’s housing stock would cost £15-20 billion, which over 30 years would support substantial local job creation and manufacturing. ‘Made in Manchester’ could become a sign of a reliable retrofit product, with an ecosystem of local suppliers who can make things like properly fitting triple glazed windows.

But Mancunians need to want to do this to make it happen. Informing people through local examples where they can see what can be done and using co-operatives and community organisations to identify trusted suppliers can expand the number of houses retrofitted, moving up the adoption curve until it becomes culturally normal. Allowing people with spare cash to invest in a bond which helps fund other people’s retrofits will get them a better return than banks currently offer with a carbon savings return as well. Once people understand housing retrofits, many of the ideas can be applied to community and commercial buildings. At a city scale, a network of decarbonised renewable power generation would be owned by the consumers who would get the financial benefits. This is how Manchester can transform the contemporary carbon mitigation challenge into a long-term economic opportunity.

James Evans, University of Manchester

‘Transforming Manchester through experimentation’

Sustainability lays down a moral challenge to figure out how to do things differently, to live differently. Perhaps the most important characteristic of cities that are held to be more sustainable is an ability and willingness to experiment with new regulations, technologies and forms of organisation. This is a win-win scenario – novelty is also the key to making cities more interesting and, subsequently, more successful as people flock to them to live, work and play. Difference generates both pride and revenue. Manchester’s own Gay Village is testimony to this. But what would the sustainable equivalent of Canal Street be?

Running a city in a radically different way requires us to learn from other cities that have experimented successfully. For example, Copenhagen’s reduction of central area car parking by 3% every year has had the effect of creating a city in which cycling is more prevalent than Amsterdam. Changing laws changes how people live, but it also opens up rich new niches for experimentation. Staying with the example of cycling, the Dutch law of strict liability means that in any collision between a motorised and non-motorised vehicle the motorised vehicle is liable. This simple change of law transformed Dutch cities into cycling paradises and stimulated a mass of inventions in bike engineering and planning, such as the utility bike that makes cycling easy, comfortable and thus popular, and the woonerf, or bike-centric suburb. The pace of change can be quick. In 1950, rates of cycling were higher in the UK than in Holland. Today, a third of journeys in Holland are made by bike compared to just 1% here.

Experiments don’t just happen, they need the right conditions in which to propagate. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that people are ready and willing to take up the challenge – it is simply a matter of changing regulations in line with accepted goals to let a thousand flowers bloom. Some of the changes that would breed more sustainable lifestyles are easily defensible. The idea of Nudge economics suggests that policy makers need to meet people half way when it comes to prompting change. In a nutshell, make it easier for people to do things that are part of the solution, and harder for them to do those that are not. This requires fairly brave decisions from those in charge, but then what better reason to sacrifice a little pragmatism on the altar of radicalism than the alarming consensus that humanity is facing a four degree rise in global temperature over the next century? Lots of exciting experiments are already happening in Manchester and the city has a proven willingness to pursue sustainability through its transport and planning system. But experiments will remain just that without the fillip of regulatory change.

Neil McInroy, Centre for Local Economic Strategies

‘A resilient Manchester needs to come out fighting’

From Cottonopolis to the present, Manchester is a great example of a durable city. However, unlike never before, this durability is challenged. The world is faced with unprecedented levels of global, national, city and local environmental change, with significant social and economic turbulence. These changes are not predictable or singular, but highly unpredictable, interconnected and complex. There are many views to this crisis.  Some are active ‘deniers’, some choose to turn a blind eye, some have more pressing everyday ‘here and now’ problems, whilst others hunker down under old securities. But it is clear that Manchester cannot avoid these changes (this is simply beyond the ability of all cities) or merely seek to lessen the worse of the impacts (the poorest and most vulnerable will suffer).

Some enlightened individuals and organisations focus on adapting for and mitigating environmental change. Of course, flood defence plans and a move to a low- or no-carbon future is of vital importance. However, Manchester is not going to be resilient if we merely think about environmental sustainability. Instead, we need Manchester to develop a more broad-based proactive capability – rolling with the inevitable economic, environmental and social punches – and bouncing back from adversity or springing toward opportunity. In a city of social and economic inequality, we must also create a broad and penetrative transformation of Manchester’s economic development model, in which prosperity, social and economic justice and well being for all stands alongside the physical limits of our environment.

In this, I believe the city requires a broad ‘development strategy’ – a new deal for Manchester. In practical terms, this means transforming our economy toward a more steady state and closed loop economic system whilst maintaining (in the short term) traditional economic growth. It means investing in people through pre- and re-distribution of wealth policies (i.e Manchester Living Wage). It means building social groups and citizenry to take more individual and collective responsibility. It means making this city greener, more energy self-sufficient and reducing its carbon footprint. Above all, it means developing a comprehensive social, environmental and economic transformation. Manchester needs to have resilience in its DNA and be capable of coming out fighting. This is Manchester’s future.

Todd Holden, Director Low Carbon Policy and Programmes at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

‘We started it, so we’ll finish it’

A few hundred years ago here in Manchester, we changed the way the world worked forever through the industrial revolution and the social benefit and wealth it created. The economic model which drove this industrialisation has not changed in the intervening centuries and it has clearly brought lots of benefit. At the same time, a simple look around us says it’s not without its faults but few would say it’s fundamentally flawed, it just needs tweaking.

Business economics is the same as Darwinian evolution, it’s the survival of the fittest. So every year companies get better at doing what they do. In the beginning, this was fine as it meant that year on year, people had to work less hours to earn a living wage. But since the 1970s there has been little reduction in the working week. So the only way companies could carry on employing the same number of people is if they and the economy grew. The problem isn’t that we need growth, it’s that growth is based on the consumption on energy and materials which on average get disposed of within six weeks of being extracted from the ground. So every year, we use and dispose of more and more stuff.

But – and it’s a significant ‘but’ – as every Star Trek fan knows ‘you cannae change the laws of physics.’ In a world where there is only a finite amount of resources, the faster we use them the faster they will run out. What then? As Paul Ekins (Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at the UCL Energy Institute) has said, when the laws of physics clash with the laws of economics, physics wins every time. Yet we live in a world which, as far as it can, tries to ignore this simple fact. This is a challenge of our making, it seems only right that we recognise this reality and work towards finding the solutions.