Tag Archives: Planning

Boda-Boda! Rethinking Unregulated Urban Transport in the Global South

Unregulated transport is vital to billions living with poor road access in the Global South, yet is increasingly marginalised in transport policies intended to modernise cities. In this article James Evans focuses on boda-boda motorcycle taxis in Uganda to ask how current thinking in Geography might help us re-think the role of informal transport in achieving more inclusive and sustainable urban development.

It is impossible to visit the Global South without being struck by the variety of transport at street level. Rickshaws, tuk-tuks, jeepneys, minibuses and bikes appear in all sorts of motorised and non-motorised forms across cities in Asia, Africa and South America.  Kampala, the rapidly growing capital of Uganda, is no exception. Synonymous with its unregulated army of motorcycle taxis, so-called boda-bodas dodge and weave through the congested streets and alleys with passengers clinging on to the driver. Boda-boda taxis are part of African bicycle culture, originating as a way to cross the Kenyan-Ugandan border in the 1960s and subsequently spreading through East Africa as an industry with relatively cheap entry costs for migrants. In 2010 the Kampala Boda-Boda Association estimated that there were upwards of 200,000 boda riders and 5,000 stages (stops) serving an urban population that has doubled in the last 20 years to some 1.5 million people.

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Offering affordable transport to the poor, boda-bodas are more efficient in terms of fuel, space and maintenance than cars. These kinds of informal modes of transport play an essential role filling the gap left by the absence of planned transport infrastructures and have grown at the same breakneck speed as the cities in which they exist, with estimates suggesting that informal transport accounts for 80-90% of public transport journeys in medium sized cities. Manifesting what AbdouMaliq Simone terms the distinctive mobility of the African city where movement is essential to daily survival, boda-bodas support the ‘thickening fields of social relations’ that city dwellers depend on. Flexible and cheap, they contribute to the connectivity and resilience of the city, running errands delivering both goods and information in addition to providing personal transport. It is through informal urban infrastructures like boda-bodas that existing socio-economic relations find material expression in the city.

Unlike slums that are often out of sight, informal transportation permeates and often defines the experience of an entire city. In response to a national road safety crisis that has been compared to HIV in terms of its national importance and the protestations of more affluent car-driving residents of the city, the recently formed Kampala Capital City Authority is attempting to bring the unruly growth of boda-bodas under control, leading to a long-running dispute between the boda-boda operators and the city authority over perceived attempts to cleanse the city of their presence. It is the powerful versus the poor, but more than this it is battle between competing visions of the city. This is a story that we find repeating itself from Shanghai to Lagos, leading to calls for new thinking about the role of informal transport in urban development. Delhi may have famously failed in their attempt to ban motorised rickshaws in 2010, but Chinese cities have progressively banned various forms of two wheeled transport in the name of modern transport planning.

The 2013 UN Habitat report Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility, which provides the nearest thing to a template for current global thinking on the issue of sustainable mobility, argues that robust land use planning is necessary to create urban landscapes that are amenable to more sustainable forms of mobility. But local transport solutions like boda-bodas question the validity of top-down planning approaches that seek to impose Western infrastructure on the city. Because informal transport infrastructures have developed incrementally with the city, they have shaped it materially and territorially. No doubt transport needs are dictated by the ways cities are planned, but equally the existing urban landscape reflects the kinds of transportation available. Changing the material form of a city is easier said than done; to the extent that things like existing houses, streets, wells and shops are obdurate, cities are locked into certain transport futures. At the same time, informal transport is so integral to cities like Kampala that imagining a future without it literally requires us to imagine a different place. For the city to be in any sense sustainable and inclusive, informal transport has to play a part.

While the idea that informal transport is more adaptable and thus potentially sustainable is not new, few studies have attempted to understand how its social functions are materially and territorially embedded in the city. More often than not, African roads are approached as a source of either terror or fascination by writers and commentators struck (not unreasonably) by their apparent chaos. Perhaps because of its poor safety record, motorcycle transport has received relatively little academic attention despite its importance to the billion people currently living in cities with poor roads. Researchers have focused on the impact of roads and road-building projects on local communities and cultures, but specific work on the day-to-day experiences of driving and using taxis is less common.

One way to capture this relation between mobility and the city is to rethink informal transport as a materially embedded urban infrastructure. Recent research has shown how self-building technologies and sanitation in informal settlements unavoidably reflect material conditions and constitute something distinctive and different to the kinds of development that characterise Western cities. In challenging received norms about mobility, the street-level practices of boda-bodas produce a very different kind of city to the ones commonly envisaged in planning documents and strategies. Focusing on the distinctive qualities of informal transport opens up new ways to think about infrastructure provision in the city and what a transition to sustainability could and indeed should look like.

Many basic everyday questions remain unanswered about boda-bodas in Kampala. For example, how do boda-bodas connect the city? Where do bikes circulate, what is their range, where are the stages, what routes do they trace, which parts of the city do they link and what are their working rhythms? What role do they play in circulating goods, people and informal knowledge? Beyond this, how is boda-boda infrastructure embedded in the city? For example, how, where and when are bikes fuelled, stored, repaired, recycled, reclaimed and maintained? Where do the drivers live and what do they eat?

Materiality matters. Just as political ecologists have shown how power is manifested in the material resource flows of cities so it is possible to open up alternative visions of the city though materially grounded analyses. In Kampala, the city planning authority is potentially receptive, currently developing a low-carbon development plan in addition to finding itself at the centre of a major transport row. If current solutions like simply building more roads have failed as a strategy in the West then they certainly won’t solve the transport challenges faced by cities in the South, which are that much more acute. There is an opportunity to establish a new agenda for the study of informal transport and its role in achieving more sustainable and inclusive urban development. In the search for viable alternatives, the question of what we can learn from existing forms of transport like boda-bodas seems to be a valid one.

 

Statistical boundaries and small area data: something worth saving?

By Nissa Finney, CCSR, University of Manchester

Statistical and small area boundaries are invisible on the ground. Yet they shape the physical nature of cities because they demarcate areas that are governed. And they are part of the construction of places because they determine a space that has political representation, or is served by a care trust, or is provided with services by a particular local authority.

Statistical boundaries are ‘territorial units’ within the UK for which data are collected and collated by the national statistical agencies (Office for National Statistics in England and Wales, General Register Office for Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides a useful guide to the geographical boundaries it works with (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/geography/beginner-s-guide/index.html). There are many types of sub-national boundaries for which small area data are produced – administrative, electoral, census, health, postal. And the boundaries within each of these types change frequently. For example, census boundaries change in an attempt to provide statistics that reflect geographical areas with some social meaning and amendments to electoral boundaries may reflect demographic change. Statistical boundaries both shape and reflect society.

In the UK, statistics are produced for very small areas. For example, census data are published for ‘Output Areas’. Output Areas have a recommended size of 125 households and are generated from data after the completion of each census. Output Areas are designed to have similar population sizes to each other and to be as socially homogenous as possible based on tenure of household and dwelling type. Output Areas are small enough to sit within larger boundaries and always fit exactly within local authority districts.

What kind of data can we get for these small areas? Good examples are provided by the Neighbourhood Statistics website, (http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/) the portal through which ONS disseminates its small area data. By selecting the area you’re interested in, you can view hundreds of data tables on all kinds of topics drawn from census and other data that ONS manages. You can find out about population, education, health, work, deprivation and more for small areas. For example, we can see the area of the University of Manchester (Lower Super Output Area Manchester 018B; Figure 1). If we’re interested, for example, in immigration and diversity we can quickly learn that:

image 1

  • 772 households live in this area
  • of the 2,802 residents over the age of 3 in 2011, 1,766 (63%) have English as their main language
  • 671 (23%) of the 2,893 residents have lived in the UK for less than 2 years
  • the three largest ethnic groups are White British (816; 28%), Chinese (478; 16%), Indian and Pakistani (215 or 7% each)

How might this type of data for small areas be used? Perhaps it is used by providers of health care or education in Manchester to tailor their services for their population. Perhaps it is used by the University to monitor how well it is engaging with the community within which it sits. Perhaps it is used by the local authority in population and economic forecasts. It is certainly used by academics interested in population change. For example, census data for small areas have been used in Dynamics of Diversity: Evidence from the 2011 Census Briefings produced by the ESRC Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) in association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. These analyses of census small area data have revealed increases in ethnic mixing residentially   (Simpson, L (2013); Catney, G. (2013), available at www.ethnicity.ac.uk). Indeed, such data allow us to identify places that are superdiverse, including Moss Side, the most diverse ward in Manchester district (Figure 2). They also allow us to examine where certain population groups have grown. For example, Figure 3 shows that, between 2001 and 2011, the populations of Pakistani, African and Other White ethnic groups in Manchester and Greater Manchester grew more in areas in which these groups were less concentrated than areas in which these groups were most concentrated in 2001.

Figure 2: Superdiversity in Moss Side, as shown by 2011 Census small area data

Figure 2: Superdiversity in Moss Side, as shown by 2011 Census small area data

Figure 3: Minority populations have grown most in parts of Manchester in which they were least clustered (as shown by Census 2011 small area data)

Figure 3: Minority populations have grown most in parts of Manchester in which they were least clustered (as shown by Census 2011 small area data)

In other words, these ethnic groups have spread out residentially in Manchester over the 2000s. To the contrary, the Chinese population in Manchester district and Greater Manchester grew most over the decade in wards in which it was most concentrated in 2001, perhaps reflecting a growth in the Chinese international student population who settle in the central parts of the city where other Chinese people already reside. These patterns tell us something interesting about how Manchester’s population is changing, and allow us to speculate about and investigate what’s driving these patterns of population change.

How else are small area data being used? Perhaps you have used them. Perhaps you have used them without realising their origins.

Now is an important time to think about how these small area data are used. That is because they are under threat. The Office for National Statistics is currently assessing alternatives to a census for producing population and small area socio-demographic statistics for England and Wales. The review programme is called ‘Beyond 2011’ (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/what-we-do/programmes—projects/beyond-2011/index.html). The impetus comes from the Treasury (Treasury Select Committee report ‘Counting the Population’, May 2008) and the UK Statistics Authority who would like to see feasible and less costly alternatives to the census that will make the 2011 Census the last of its kind. This call to find a less costly alternative to the decennial census came prior to the 2011 census. The 2011 census has been widely acclaimed as the most successful in recent times; efficiently run, cost-effective and producing a breadth and depth of data that is world-leading. ONS will have a public consultation on its Beyond 2011 proposals between September and November 2013 and will put its recommendations to government in 2014.

The Beyond 2011 proposals may mean that small area data are not produced. It is a real possibility that the future data landscape in the UK will not include the world-leading breadth and quality of small area data that we currently enjoy.

If small area data are to be included in the Beyond 2011 recommendations the case for them needs to be made. There is a danger that small area data will be lost because they’re taken for granted; because they are used by many, but their origins and the efforts to produce them, and their world-leading quality are not necessarily recognised.

It is with this concern in mind that I urge you to consider the appeal by the Beyond 2011 Independent Working Group (Members of the Beyond 2011 Working Group are Piers Elias, Tees Valley Unlimited, and co-chair of Local Authorities’ liaison with central government on population statistics (CLIP); David Martin, Professor of Geography, University of Southampton, Deputy Director ESRC UK Data Service and National Centre for Research Methods; Paul Norman, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Leeds; Phil Rees, Emeritus Professor of Population Geography, University of Leeds; Ludi Simpson, Professor of Population Studies, University of Manchester, President of the British Society for Population Studies). to provide examples of how you have used Census statistics, particularly for small areas (local authority level and below). These can be sent to ONS at benefits.realisation@ons.gsi.gov.uk and copied to the Independent Working Group at AreaStatistics@gmail.com. You may also want to respond to the ONS consultation in the Autumn.

Perhaps it is helpful to think about this is terms of what we won’t have, and what we won’t be able to do, if we don’t have small area data. If small area statistical boundaries and the information about population, health, housing, education, work, migration that they contain were not to exist, what would we not know about cities, and about how cities are changing? How would our understandings of contemporary cities be different without the backdrop of the world-leading quality small area data that we currently enjoy?

 

Symposium report: The Making of Post-war Manchester, 1945-74: Plans and Projects

Poster

On the 8th May we organised a successful one-day symposium examining urban change in post-war Manchester, focussed upon infrastructural projects and the local implementation of central government initiatives in the three decades following 1945. Over one hundred people attended the event and engaged with a fascinating set of presentations from a range of geographers, historians, planners, architects and archaeologists composed of a mixture of well known professors, established scholars and new researchers. Fittingly for the symposium’s temporal focus it was held in the concrete bunker formerly known as the Kantorowich Building, designed by Professors Roy Kantorowich and Norman Hanson and completed in 1970. The speakers presented in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre, named after Reginald Cordingley (shown in full instructive mode below), Professor of Architecture at the University of Manchester between 1933 and 1962.

Source - Rylands Collection, Image Number - JRL1201094

Source – Rylands Collection, Image Number – JRL1201094

Aim: What changed in Manchester and what drove the changes?

The presentations were intended to reference transformative events and large scale built projects of the era in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate. The intellectual objective of the symposium programme was to reveal a selection of the significant narratives of the shifting social and physical development of the city during the years 1945 – 1974. Whilst we recognise that the two dates are, in many respects, arbitrary bookends for processes of change and urban development that are often long running and cumulative, they do provide a set of sensible marker posts – running from the end of the Second World War in 1945 up to 1974 and the wholesale political reorganisation of the conurbation in the wake of the Local Government Act (1972).

City of Manchester Plan

City of Manchester Plan

As a departure point, 1945 is particularly interesting and equally problematic, as it is all too easy to assume it as a pivotal moment, when, in actuality, it simply marked the end of the wartime hiatus and the resumption of many schemes and strategies devised in the decades before 1939. That said, many of the speakers made explicit reference to Rowland Nicholas’ 1945 City of Manchester Plan as a signature ‘visionary’ document of the era and it is evidently a useful narrative touchstone. It is perhaps unsurprising that the other end of these three decades was less considered. There were markedly fewer references to the formation of Greater Manchester, possibly reflective of its ambiguous status at the time and its limited legacy in the makeup of contemporary Manchester. It is now an apposite time to consider this period, via a public symposium, for several reasons, not least of all because some of the personnel directly involved in the projects are still around and can be ‘brought out of the woodwork’ to tell their stories. Moreover, primary documentary material is newly emerging into archives and becoming publicly available, and more generally it taps into growing scholarly engagement and broader public fascination with these three decades not just in this city, but across Europe.

map

This symposium built directly on our experience of curating a successful public exhibition in spring 2012, entitled Infra_MANC, that considered the role of infrastructure in the making of post-war cities by looking at the planning of the Mancunian Way elevated urban motorway, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian ‘secret’ underground telephone exchange and fanciful notions for a rooftop city centre heliport. The 200 page illustrated catalogue from this exhibition has just been released online as free PDF book. The study of both built and unbuilt projects has the capacity to reveal new histories, particularly political relationships and the interplay of local interests with national policy directives. Unrealised urban schemes, be they for buildings or infrastructure, frequently leave unrefined traces of their gestation, promotion and failure that do not gloss over the fractious and antagonistic relations of policy makers and power players. In this regard the active debates and discourse around the things that did not physically alter, but still had the capacity to change, the city were as relevant to the symposium as the obvious large scale extant developments, which were also considered.

The Symposium

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source - Joe Blakey

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source – Joe Blakey

The event itself was arranged into four sessions. It began with a contextual overview, eloquently chaired by Professor Brian Robson and in the opening talk by Professor Michael Hebbert, a former professor at Manchester, dissected the limits of the assigned time frame and provided passionate prose on the relative shift from the modern industrial metropolis to a something approaching a post-modern service city and its refraction through the lens of Granada Television’s Coronation Street. Subsequent sessions dealt with spatial changes related to housing renewal, the development of key social institutions including higher education and the NHS, and the impact of pollution control on the environmental quality for the city and its citizens. Midway through the day a stimulating presentation was given on population migration in the post-war period contrasting the situation in Moss Side to Cheetham Hill, presented by University of Manchester colleagues Laurence Brown from History and Niall Cunningham based in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) (shown in the photograph above). The day concluded with presentations on the development of aviation facilities for Manchester, the broader culture of the Mancunian Way and a description of the ‘disconnected city’ caused by distinct shadow of unbuilt ring roads in the urban form of the city centre.

Each participant received a 36 page printed booklet containing the full programme and speaker details. The symposium also included a gallery of reproductions of nearly twenty of the key plans and maps from the era and the Manchester Modernist Society were on hand with their ‘pop-up shop’. The full programme and abstract of the presentations are given on the supporting blog, PostwarMcr. With the kind permission of the speakers we have been able to provide copies of the slides for the majority of the talks, which are also available via the blog.

The symposium was made possible with financial support via a Seedcorn grant from the Cities@Manchester initiative and with complementary fund through the Campion Fund of the Manchester Statistical Society. Behind the scenes logistical support was provided by colleagues in SED and several student volunteers from architecture and geography. The Manchester School of Architecture kindly underwrote printing costs.

The Future of Post-war Manchester

Manchester and its Region

 

We plan to develop an edited book following the themes of the symposium and we are pleased that many of the speakers have committed to contributing chapters. In broad terms the volume will be a compendium of new and existing works and organised in the manner of a ‘regional study’ with chapters covering key themes (housing, transport, education, industrial change, etc.). As such, the book will have clear resonances with earlier edited volumes, such as the survey prepared under the editorship of Charles Carter for the meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Manchester, August 29 to September 5, 1962. As currently proposed, our new title, The Making of Post-war Manchester will, hopefully, be much broader in style and with discursive space for commentaries, shorter essays and visual interpretations of how city changed during the thirty or so years after the end of the Second World War. It is likely that it will be published and distributed by bauprint, Richard’s cottage publishing arm, designed and priced to appeal to wide readership interested in the city’s histories. Once the initial print run is sold we will also make the book available free online as a popular and educative resource.

The Making of Post-war Manchester symposium brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and professionals in planning and architecture, along with students studying aspects of Manchester’s development, and some members of the general public, interested in the recent history of their city. It is hoped that the crossing of disciplines will provide new narrative associations previously unexplored that may act as a platform for further research and discourse.

Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture 

Martin Dodge, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester 

 

‘Anti-park’ to ‘Designer Park’? The proposed development of Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

by Clare Murray, PhD candidate in German Studies

The heavily contested decision to remove part of the longest remaining stretch of Berlin Wall to make way for luxury new flats has led to the re-emergence of some of the key issues that have characterised post-unification urban planning in Berlin: gentrification; the treatment of historical traces; and the significance of interim spaces. Underlying these is the confrontation between a market-driven, neo-liberal socio-economic structure and a rejection of that as a dominant framework which should shape the urban environment of Berlin. At the time of writing, the East Side Gallery has been granted a stay of execution but this is far from the only arena in Berlin where these debates play out:  just over five kilometres away the airfield of the former Flughafen Tempelhof is subject to a redevelopment plan which has pitted individuals, citizens’ groups, and some politicians against the Berlin Senate.

The site itself is of great architectural and historical importance: The airfield is a key site in aviation history having hosted pioneering flight demonstrations in the early twentieth century; Sagebiel’s colossal airport building, begun in 1937 and never fully realised, was one of the prestige projects of the Third Reich. A hybrid between stone-clad National Socialist monumentality and a technically innovative 1930s city airport, it remains one of the most iconic buildings in Berlin; the use of the airport by the American Air Force after the war, and in particular, its connection with the Air Lift have re-inscribed the site as a ‘symbol of freedom’ to many (West) Berliners; and the controversial cessation of flight operations in 2008 brought the site’s future firmly into public discourse.

When the airport closed, a unique asset was brought back into public use: a 270 hectare area of open space.  Its use as a military exercise and parade ground and then as an airfield had preserved the vast green area and enabled it to leap-frog almost two centuries of ideas about how public space should be constituted. It has now, however, been exposed to the forces acting on the 21st century Western European city. In 2010 the airfield was opened as a unique city park, enabling visitors to cycle and skate on the former runways and to play sport and picnic underneath now defunct signs displaying instructions to pilots. Citizens were invited to apply for space to establish interim ‘pioneer’ projects which currently range from a unicycle school to allotment-type ‘urban gardening’ facilities for residents without access to a garden.

On 6th March 2013 the ‘masterplan’ for the future of the site was unveiled at a lively public meeting in the former airport building. The plans confirmed the intention to ‘develop’ the former airfield in two senses of the word: to build new ‘city quarters’ on the field’s edges; and to alter its internal structure[1]. The Senate for Urban Development states that they are meeting demands for increased housing in Berlin and for improved facilities at the park yet both elements of this reconfiguration of Tempelhofer Feld are being met with resistance.

Citizens’ initiatives such as 100% Tempelhofer Feld are leading the campaign against the proposal to build on the former airfield[2]. They have organised a petition for a referendum which will reach the second round in September. Green and Left Party politicians have submitted a motion to the Abgeordenethaus for a halt to the planning process while this petition is still running[3] .

The reaction is not only against the proposal to build on the site but also about the plan to reshape the 230 hectares that will remain as parkland. The 2013 ‘masterplan’ makes clear that the next few years will see increased intervention into the remaining park landscape.  The proposed system of pathways will shape how visitors use and experience the space, creating easily accessible areas which will be more intensively used than the expanse in the middle where there will be fewer paths. The 4 hectare water basin, which will collect rainwater from the building, will constitute the first major permanent feature on the landscape which does not attest to its history or former function. The 1000 trees, which are to be planted at the site’s edges to provide shade and seem to be positioned to serve a double function in screening the proposed new city quarters, will bring about a contraction of the site’s perimeter, diminishing the vast emptiness of the Feld’s panorama.

Those campaigning for Tempelhofer Feld to remain in its present condition fear the transformation of ‘anti-park’ into ‘designer park’[4]. The designation of ‘anti-park’ derives from the fact that, as an appropriation of left-over space, Tempelhofer Freheit, as the park is named,  is not the product of an over-arching  ‘park design’ process. Accordingly, several of the features that characterise the western public park are absent here.

In contrast to the taming of nature prized in the gardens of the baroque or renaissance period, the park at Tempelhof has been characterised by the celebration of the capacity of nature to reclaim and reassert itself.

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

Unlike the pathways of the nineteenth century park, with their graceful contours and simple variety which Joyce explains were carefully designed to encourage walking in the belief the working class would seek to emulate the comportment of their ‘betters’,  the default means of getting around Tempelhof are the former runways, shaped to fulfil an entirely different function. Similarly, while Joyce explains that a key feature in the design of nineteenth century public park was the variation of the (in)finitude of space, achieved through the strategic planting of trees to open and close the panorama, Tempelhof is characterised by the vast emptiness of its horizon[5].

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

In other ways, however, the ordering processes that Joyce identified in the nineteenth-century public park have been active at Tempelhofer Freiheit since its opening. There is, of course, considerable relaxation in the idea of what is ‘appropriate’ for a public park – ‘swearing’ and ‘dirty clothes’ are not banned, for example, yet the restriction of loose dogs and barbecuing to designated areas, unusual in Berlin, raised eyebrows. More pronounced is the issue of (in)accessibility that arose when it became clear that the park would have a perimeter fence with opening and closing hours;  ‘a people’s park –until the sun goes down’ wrote one newspaper[6]. The rejection of the idea that through the numbered gates and the non-porous boundaries of Tempelhof, the park and its visitors become countable, knowable and therefore manageable feeds into a wider theme which is particularly salient in 21st century Berlin; resistance to the homogenisation both of space and of the individuals that inhabit that space. Through the fence, Tempelhofer Feld is demarcated as a ‘place’ wherein particular norms of behaviour are expected and, to an extent, enforced.  This is consolidated by the fact that the public can only use the park during daylight hours, i.e. when they are visible, this suggests that when they cannot be seen, and thus monitored, the ‘general public’ may not conduct themselves ‘appropriately’ and should thus not be permitted to access the park.

Tempelhofer Feld is seen as a tranche of wilderness which through historical circumstance has persisted within the urban area. The proposed development is seen as an extension of attempts to manage its wilderness, to limit access to it, to shape how it is to be used and experienced and, most significantly, to repackage parts of it as a commodity.


[1] Up-to-date information and a PDF download of the masterplan are available at http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/ueber-die-tempelhofer-freiheit/aktuelles/nachrichten/standortkonferenz/

Urban land and conflict in the global South

by Melanie Lombard, Global Urban Research Centre, School of Environment and Development

In an urbanising world, land is a critical issue. In cities of the global South, where most urbanisation is taking place, where and how people access land is one of the most pressing concerns for citizens and states alike. However, land as a resource is subject to scarcity, whether actual or market driven, and is often associated with urban conflict. The insecure tenure deriving from informal transactions is seen as a source of wider insecurity; the interests of informal settlers and private commercial interests frequently conflict; contestation of urban spaces between non-state actors and state actors is common; and the latter often perceive informal land development as unruly and conflictual because it is not regulated by state law. Meanwhile, widespread attempts to implement legalisation programmes are themselves contentious, as land tenure processes are often ‘complicated, political and violent’ (Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002, 241). However, relatively little is known about the precise causes and consequences of land conflict in rapidly urbanising cities.

These were some of the considerations that informed the agenda for a workshop on ‘Urban land and conflict in the global South’, hosted by the Global Urban Research Centre at the University of Manchester on 14 March 2013. Funded by cities@manchester and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, the event brought together a diverse group of (mainly) early career researchers, presenting work on these themes from a variety of fields including urban planning, urban studies, development studies, and conflict management, carried out in diverse contexts including South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Cambodia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. We were accompanied by colleagues from the University of Manchester who introduced and chaired sessions, as well as Professor Carole Rakodi of Birmingham University, and Dr Leonith Hinojosa of the Open University, who as discussants offered incisive comments on the content of the papers, drawing on their own extensive research experience in these fields.

The broad aim of the day was to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to exploring the relationship between urban land and conflict in cities of the global South, including the linkages between land conflict and violence in the urban setting, and policy responses to this. The quality of the presentations and ensuing discussions resulted in a fascinating and stimulating workshop. At the end of the day, considering how to develop future research agendas in this area, several key themes which offered particular analytical challenges stood out, namely: defining conflict in diverse urban settings; interrogating categories used to understand land development and conflict and to devise policy responses; identifying relevant actors and examining the connections between them; and incorporating scale into the analysis.

Defining conflict

Urban conflict – understood as social tensions, antagonisms and the ‘many forms of low-level instability’ (Beall et al. 2011, 5) that occur frequently in the urban environment – does not necessarily result in violence and so tends to receive less research and policy attention than civil war or violent insurgency. However, ‘protracted social conflict’ (Azar et al. 1978), marked by successive violent episodes, is arguably more common and more intractable; and although less visible, latent or everyday conflict may be equally damaging for local populations. Conceptions of conflict need to be rethought in urban contexts, to take account of the diversity of urban social and political contexts, plural legal and governance systems, and the tendency for land conflict to overlap with and be exacerbated by ethnic or other identity-based tensions, blurring the boundary between ‘divided cities’ and ‘peaceful’ ones. For instance, Kamna Patel’s paper on urban upgrading in South Africa considered how the characteristics of urban settings influence land-related conflict, particularly the ways in which identity may influence claims and contestations.

Interrogating categories

Typically, processes of urban land development are characterised as either ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, and the ‘formal’ (tenure and related arrangements governed by state law, administration and policy) tends to be privileged, despite persistent critiques of this dichotomous framework (e.g. Roy 2005). A second challenge, then, is to interrogate hierarchical categories and their implications for understanding and addressing urban land conflict. A common response to urban land conflict has been attempted tenure formalisation. Colin Marx’s research from South Africa showed how this is underpinned by a categorisation of land management practices into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. As a ‘solution’ to informal land tenure, formalisation is often preferable to displacement, an issue explored in Philippa McMahon’s paper on relocation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; but Beth Chitekwe-Biti’s work on upgrading in Namibia suggested that it may reproduce as much as ameliorate poor residents’ vulnerability to insecurity and exacerbate conflict.

Identifying actors

Essential to any analysis of the links between urban land and conflict is an understanding of the role of the state and other diverse actors. Environmental governance perspectives suggest focusing on resource coordination processes involving multiple actors (Budds and Hinojosa 2012); equally important is the power dimension underpinning the state’s fluctuating relations with other actors. Sara Fregonese’s paper on hybrid sovereignties in Beirut, Lebanon suggested the need to move beyond state/non-state dichotomies in the context of urban territorial conflict, while Sobia Kaker’s paper showed how land conflict emerges through ‘enclavisation’ in Karachi, Pakistan, when urban residents re-territorialise ordinary neighbourhood spaces in response to the state’s failure to address urban insecurity. In particular, state-market relations may determine intervention, in turn affecting state-citizen relations, as shown in Ozlem Celik’s work from Istanbul, Turkey. The third challenge is thus to identify the key actors involved in land conflict in particular urban settings, and the specific relations between them.

Incorporating scale

Finally, it is important to consider scale in analysing the development of urban land conflict. In my own work on local land conflict in two provincial Mexican cities, I explore the influence and interaction of global, national and regional factors on urban land conflict. However, multi-scalar approaches must incorporate local agency, relating to local power systems but also neighbourhood and household dynamics, where everyday conflicts frequently emerge and may be resolved, as suggested by several of the presentations.

Taken together, these four analytical challenges support the need to develop a further theoretical and empirical research agenda in this as yet under-researched field. While there has been considerable discussion of land conflict in rural contexts (Pons-Vignon and Solignac Lecomte 2004, USAID 2005, Huggins 2010, Development and Change 2013), it remains relatively underexplored in the urban setting. Some previous works have considered land tenure and urban poverty (e.g. Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002; Payne 2002) and conflict within urban land delivery systems (e.g. IDPR 2006), and there have been some attempts to assess policy interventions (e.g. Payne et al 2009). In addition, attention to conflict in urban areas has increased in recent years (e.g. Beall et al 2011; Moser and Horn 2011; Moser and Rodgers 2012). However, the specific land-conflict nexus remains curiously under-researched in the urban environment, perhaps because it is often difficult and risky to research conflict and violence, and because interventions that explicitly seek to address poor people’s needs may challenge powerful economic and political vested interests. Nevertheless, continued rapid urbanisation; the effects of wider conflicts on urban areas and their roles in post-conflict situations; cities’ contribution to national economic development; and the evolving links between investors and property interests at global, national and local levels all make a pressing case for further exploration of these issues. The workshop provided a first step in this direction, and hopefully offered a platform for future collaboration between researchers in this field.

 

References

Azar, E., Jureidini, P. and McLaurin, R. (1978) ‘Protracted Social Conflict: Theory and Practice in the Middle East’ Journal of Palestine Studies 8(1), 41-60.

Beall, J., Goodfellow, T. and Rodgers, D. (2011) Cities, Conflict and State Fragility. Crisis States Working Paper Series No.2. London School of Economics.

Budds, J. and Hinojosa, L. (2012) ‘Restructuring and rescaling water governance in mining contexts: The co-production of waterscapes in Peru’ Water Alternatives 5(1), 119-137.

Development and Change (2013) Special issue: Governing the global land grab: The role of the state in the rush for land. 44(2), 189-471.

Durand-Lasserve, A. and Royston, L. (eds.) (2002) Holding their Ground: Secure Land Tenure for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Huggins, C. (2010) Land, Power and Identity, Roots of violent conflict in Eastern DRC. London: International Alert.

International Development Planning Review (2006) Special Issue on conflict and accommodation in land delivery processes in African cities. 28(2), 127-285.

Moser, C. and Horn, P. (2011) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Conceptual Framework Paper, Manchester: University of Manchester, Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#1.

Moser, C. and Rodgers, D. (2012) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Global Policy Report, Manchester: University of Manchester Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#2.

Payne, G. (ed.) (2002) Land, Rights and Innovation, Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing.

Payne, G., Durand-Lasserve, A. and Rakodi, C. (2009) The limits of land titling and home ownership, Environment and Urbanization, 21(2), 443-62.

Pons-Vignon, N. and Solignac Lecomte, H. (2004) Land, Violent Conflict and Development. Paris: OECD.

Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning’ Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2), 147-158.

USAID (2005) Land and Conflict, A toolkit for intervention. Washington, DC: US Agency for International Development

Going, going, gone! Empty Homes for £1, but at what cost to community?

by Matthew Thompson, PhD Candidate, School of Environment and Development Venmore St, Anfield (source Share the City blog)

Venmore St, Anfield (source: Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source: Share the City blog)

What to do with street upon street of beautiful period properties dating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras – the architectural heyday of the city in which they once proudly stood – but which now stand empty, derelict, and apparently unwanted? Well it all depends which city you are in of course. In London, these empty terraces would be snapped up in the blink of an eye – in the speculative feeding frenzy driving the epicentre of the FIRE (Finance-Insurance-Real-Estate nexus).

But this city is obviously not London. It’s Liverpool, where such demand is simply nonexistent. Or at least that’s the story we’re told by those behind the Merseyside Pathfinder programme, one of nine Pathfinders rolled out across Northern UK cities in New Labour’s massive £2.3 billion Housing Market Renewal (HMR) scheme initiated in 2003, which condemned some 400,000 homes nationally. In Merseyside alone, around 18,000 houses were targeted for clearance and redevelopment; a huge physical restructuring not seen since 1960s urban renewal.

In this blog post I question the rationale for HMR and unpack some of its contradictory effects in Liverpool, in opening up the space, so to speak, for experimentation in community-led self-help housing.

The policy narrative goes something like this. The so-called ‘wicked’ problems of long-term economic decline, emptying out of the inner-city, and increasingly concentrated deprivation – a downward spiral of demand, falling prices, rising vacancies, dereliction, and abandonment – requires a drastic solution: whole-scale restructuring of ‘failing’ housing markets and replacement of ‘obsolete’ terraces with a ‘sustainable’ mix of tenures for 21st century urban living.

Yet this is a city apparently going through a cultural renaissance: European Capital of Culture in 2008; its urban core transformed through culture-led regeneration and speculative development. In fact, despite a glut of empty apartments left over from the noughties building boom, Liverpool has successfully attracted new residents back into the city for the first time since the 1930s, after decades of decline.

History repeats itself. First as tragedy, then as farce. HMR made the same tragic mistakes of post-war modernist planning, but without the earnest paternalism of social democratic aspirations and welfarist goals. It came at the height of renewed state ambitions for socio-spatial engineering – albeit New Labour’s zombie-like resuscitation of the long-dead-and-buried political taste for comprehensive public planning, with the added ingredient of ‘roll-out’ neoliberalism. And it was of course overseen by a public-private partnership which in true QUANGO style was given the farcically slick name of ‘NewHeartlands’, clumsily flailing at rebranding a new place identity.

Through its focus on solving ‘market failure’ – by reconnecting local to regional markets plugged into global circuits of capital – it is not difficult to see HMR as a classic case of that powerful process of neoliberal capitalist urbanisation made infamous by David Harvey as ‘accumulation by dispossession’. And dispossessed they were. Compulsory purchase orders have displaced many residents of Pathfinder clearance zones to assemble large land banks. The eviction of an 88 year old Bootle woman who had lived in her terraced home all her life is just one of the more controversial examples sensationalised by the media.

Regeneration on this massive scale might be seen as the new extractive industry for our post-industrial age: mining speculative value from urban land through the successive recycling of our built environment. The new-build suburban houses with which Pathfinder replaced some of the Victorian terraces represent a downgrading of both urban density and build quality, with built-in obsolescence part of their very raison d’être.

It may seem all too easy to denounce HMR along these lines. At best a shambles, at worst a scandal. Its fiercest critics accuse it of state-led gentrification tantamount to class cleansing; a direct transfer of wealth from public funds into private hands. Yet even Grant Shapps, in a statement to Parliament, alluded to an intentional strategy of ‘managed decline’ for the financial benefit of developers and the state. Demolition plans teleologically set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy of blight.

But there’s a reason why policymakers and researchers call the socio-economic problems targeted by HMR ‘wicked’. There is a long and complicated history of complex structural forces, policy interventions and cultural conditions interacting and compounding in often unpredictable ways to produce the multifarious effects of decline with which HMR was designed to tackle. Had the programme been seen through to its 25 year conclusion in 2019 it may well have produced beneficial socio-economic transformation. But we will never know.

The Coalition government’s cancellation of HMR in 2011 – coinciding with the worst economic downturn and property slump in almost a century – has left the programme only part-finished. Owing principally perhaps to these capricious political and economic conditions, HMR has undeniably generated more blight. Dense urban neighbourhoods have been flattened or reduced to something resembling a warzone; swathes of wasteland aggressively fenced off from surrounding streets stubbornly still bustling with activity; hundreds of crumbling empty houses boarded up, left to rot. And all without the funds for either rebuild or refurbishment for reuse.

Unsurprisingly, various community and campaign groups – led by the likes of Empty Homes and SAVE Britain’s Heritage – have been vigorously campaigning for bringing these tinned-up terraces back into community use. Channel 4’s ‘Restoration Man’, George Clarke, helped kickstart a national debate in visiting several ex-HMR Liverpool neighbourhoods in his popular TV documentary – and is now championing community-led refurbishment projects as newly appointed head of the government’s Empty Homes Review. The Coalition government have introduced a £100million Empty Homes Fund and a £50m Clusters of Empty Homes Fund alongside a £75million Transitional Fund, specifically intended for refurbishing previously-condemned ex-HMR properties.

However, SAVE have highlighted in a judicial review how the Transitional Fund is being illegally misspent to demolish a further 5,000 houses. This follows the controversial decision to save Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s birthplace amidst the clearance of hundreds of surrounding houses in the Welsh Streets area of Granby; sparking angry accusations of being a ‘tokenistic smokescreen’ for civic vandalism.

And so it was into this fray that Liverpool City Council recently announced its ‘homesteading’ plan to sell off 20 ex-HMR houses for just £1. The plan follows a pioneering project in Stoke-on-Trent, in which 70 empties are being sold to local people for £1 with a low-interest £30,000 loan made available for DIY renovation, but with the crucial condition that buyers commit to living in them for a minimum of 5 years without subletting.

The demand has been so high – over 2,000 people or 100 per house registering interest – the council has extended the deadline and is considering making more empties available. This raises serious questions that need to be answered over the fundamental logic of HMR in writing off otherwise desirable housing as ‘obsolete’. It also signals more promising prospects for campaigns across Liverpool’s ex-HMR neighbourhoods to establish Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and housing cooperatives for community acquisition and reuse of empty homes.

In one of the three homesteading neighbourhoods, Granby residents have come together to form one of the UK’s first urban CLTs, Granby 4 Streets; a charitable organisation capable of bidding on publicly-owned assets for community ownership. One of these four streets, Beaconsfield Street, witnessed the start of the Toxteth riots in 1981, and has been condemned by council demolition plans ever since; wilful neglect which some residents feel is punishment for ‘the uprising’. But in the last few years, community activism in the form of ‘guerrilla gardening’ has transformed the tree-lined streets from desolation into a verdant display of ownership and pride of place. Communal street gardens, colourfully-decorated frontages, and wildflower meadows are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike in the popular monthly Cairns Street Market.

Granby 4 Streets mirrors similar campaigns across Liverpool to establish CLTs for the community ownership of ex-HMR housing; together representing a radical new model of urban regeneration through grassroots community asset acquisition. Their successful development might contain the blueprint for a small-scale bottom-up alternative to fill the gap left by the retreating state in our emerging era of ‘Big Society’ austerity urbanism.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the £1 houses in the homesteading plan will end up under local stewardship, owned and managed by CLTs, which are, in principle at least, democratically controlled by member residents for the mutual benefit of affordable housing in perpetuity. Or instead flogged off individually to more socially-mobile residents looking for a bargain with little stake in community life.

But the picture is more complex than this simple dichotomy. The conditions of the homesteading plan require that individual buyers live in their new homes for at least 5 years without subletting out to tenants, which may well protect against landlordism and ensure local people affected by HMR become the principal beneficiaries. However, there is no reason why homeowners, after this short period, would not simply sell up and move on, cashing in on their sweat equity to pocket the difference. This not only amounts to a considerable transfer of public assets into private hands, but may also stoke gentrification processes, further displacing original residents.

The positive potential of CLTs and other forms of mutual ownership lies in their unique ability to protect these assets under a trust structure to ensure that housing remains affordable and accessible to successive local residents for generations to come. Covenants and constitutional conditions built into the CLT governance model limit the resale value of houses and ensure a minimum equity stake is retained under CLT ownership so that homes remain tied to the locality and controlled by members through accountable governance processes.

Local authorities are nonetheless apprehensive to simply hand over entire terraced streets to CLTs for a number of reasons. First, individual ownership is perceived as a tried-and-tested model reflecting deep-seated ideological biases for homeownership and owner-occupation. Individuals appear more reliable in renovating one house at a time at a more manageable scale. CLTs must therefore do more to demonstrate their long-term financial and organisational viability as well as their expertise in housing management.

Second, CLTs produce a different set of tensions and contradictions within their own practices as well as in their relationship with the state, the market, and the surrounding local community. They must similarly demonstrate their capacity for inclusive democratic governance and fair representation of all local residents. Inward-looking or tightly-bounded groups may make CLT membership exclusive to certain people: emancipatory for some, but divisive for others. Owning assets in trust for the entire community, both present and future, is ultimately a matter of trust. CLTs must also first gain the trust and support of public and other external partners in order to access their most fundamental resource of all: land.

Finally, the biggest barrier appears to be politics. The transfer of public assets into CLT hands represents a considerable shift of power from local government to local communities. It is unrealistic to assume that councils would jump at the chance to divest their power to potential competitors for dwindling public resources at the local level. This is all too evident in the refusal of Sefton Council to support the otherwise successful £5.2million funding application to DCLG that would have enabled Little Klondyke CLT in Bootle, north Liverpool, to acquire and refurbish 120 homes for community reuse. As it stands, the CLT cannot access government funding without approval from the local authority. And so Little Klondyke remains derelict.

But the tensions do not end there. Even if Merseyside CLTs were to receive public funding to become institutionalised as housing providers there still remains the grave danger of co-optation into housing association structures. Large commercially-driven yet publicly-funded RSLs with profit-making development arms have been heavily involved in Pathfinder redevelopment schemes – and yet ironically formed out of the charitable housing cooperatives that emerged from 1960s grassroots community resistance to municipal urban renewal. Now contending for the £1 houses, these huge housing companies not only present stiff competition for CLT campaigns in the acquisition of empty homes, but also pose the threat of incorporation into increasingly professionalised and commodified social housing markets. Whether contemporary CLTs will be swallowed up into marketised forms of housing provision like their historical non-market antecedents – including many of Liverpool’s 1970s cooperatives – will be the greatest test for community-led self-help housing. Tragic the first time, farcical the next; it begs the question: will history repeat itself?

The relationship between large-scale regeneration programmes like HMR and community-led self-help housing initiatives is complex and ambiguous, and therefore one requiring deeper research. Ironically, it took the threat of dissolution posed by top-down spatial engineering to crystallise deprived yet diverse neighbourhoods into more cohesive place-based communities. Embedded in the ashes of HMR are the seeds of exciting institutional innovations in local asset ownership. The successful development of CLTs may herald a shift toward more mutual social relations and cooperative forms of citizenship that do far more to regenerate deprived localities than expensive top-down tinkering with markets. The real test for Localism – or dare I say it, the Big Society – is whether these embryonic seeds will be tended to politically; and given sufficient institutional nutrition to grow into financially-sustainable forms of inclusive local governance.

A (Green) Roof Above Your Head?

by Andrew Speak, PhD candidate in Geography

There are some exciting, positive changes going on in some of the world’s cities and most people don’t even know it is happening.  That’s because it is happening above their heads!  I’m talking about green roofs.  A green roof is basically replacing conventional bitumen or concrete roof surfaces with a layer of plants.  The main type is known as an extensive green roof and consists of a thin layer of soil, which supports a mat of Sedum plants.  Sedum is a succulent plant that comes in many varieties, and has pretty flowers, but importantly can withstand the harsh conditions on a rooftop – periods of drought and high winds for example.  At the other end of the scale is an intensive roof which has a thicker soil layer that can support a wider variety of plants such as small trees, shrubs and even vegetables.

Extensive sedum green roof on Number One First Street, Manchester

 

Urban vegetation has many benefits, which are increasingly being recognised by city planners.  Street trees possess these benefits, but there is generally a lack of space at street level for tree planting schemes, so the space afforded by rooftops is a perfect site for urban greening.  There are a number of specific benefits:

  1. Reduced solar energy gain by building materials, through shading and replacement of concrete surfaces.  This lowers the need for air conditioning in summer which can lead to huge financial benefits.  Plants reflect more radiation than conventional urban surfaces.  Vegetation also has a cooling effect from the process of evapotranspiration which uses incoming long wave radiation to change water from liquid to gas.  The altered thermal budget of cities leads to a reduction in the Urban Heat Island phenomenon, which can make cities very uncomfortable places to be in summer.
  2. Plants act as passive filters of urban air pollution by providing a larger surface area for deposition.  Pollutants are then washed off in rains.
  3. Replacement of impervious urban surfaces with soil can reduce the pressure on urban drainage systems by acting as a storage buffer in rainfall events.  The water retained by green roofs is then returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration.  There is some evidence that pollutants can be retained within the soil layer as well, thus reducing the impact on receiving water bodies.
  4. Green roofs can provide habitats for birds and insects, thus replacing the biodiversity lost to urban sprawl.  Using native plants on green roofs is frequently promoted.
  5. Urban green space has a strong aesthetic quality and has been shown to reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being.
  6. By protecting roof membranes from huge diurnal temperature extremes and UV radiation, the lifetime of the roof is extended, thus adding another long term financial incentive.

The ability of green roofs to counteract high urban temperatures is being promoted as a form of climate change adaptation.  Work done by Manchester University’s Ecocities group has demonstrated the usefulness of green roofs to keep the city cool under future climate projections.

So if they are so beneficial, why aren’t UK cities full of them?  Currently, a lot of green roofs in this country tend to be ‘showcase’ roofs on National Trust visitor centres, garden centres and art galleries.  One inescapable reason is that green roofs do have a fairly high initial construction cost and intensive roofs can also have considerable maintenance costs.  Plus, not all existing buildings can support the extra weight that a wet or snow-laden green roof would add to the structure.  But this hasn’t stopped countries like Germany, Austria, and more recently the US and Japan, changing their googlemaps satellite street views from grey to green.

The contemporary green roof movement started in German-speaking countries.  One theory is that they sprouted spontaneously from flat roofs in Berlin that had been covered in sand as a fire-proof method after the war.   Deliberate roof garden construction was a large feature of the modernist movement, with flat roofs seen as an extra space to be utilised for enjoyment of healthy outdoor lifestyles.   The environmental movements that started in the 70s ensured growing numbers of people would start to look for alternative ways to live more sustainably.  Germany, Austria and Switzerland have always been very proficient at incorporating verdant elements into urban design, as beautifully demonstrated by the architect Hundertwasser.  Perhaps, it is something unique about the German appreciation of nature that has influenced the design of cities with a desire to bring nature into them.  Whatever the reason, Germany leads the way in green roofing with 5 square miles of green roofs being built every year, helped by government subsidies for construction costs, and policies that state new builds of a certain area with a flat roof MUST have a green roof.

‘Waldspirale’ in Darmstadt, Germany, by the architect Hundertwasser

 

Ubiquitous green roofing also exists in Scandinavia, where the turf roof dominates.  These roofs serve the purpose of acting as insulation from extreme winter cold, and have been in use since Viking times.   A recent trip to Norway opened my eyes to the possibilities of turf roofs, with everything from car garages to bin-sheds supporting mini-meadows.

No roof is too small for a green roof in Norway

A traditional turf roof in northern Norway

 

The UK lacks a definite policy at the moment with regards green roofs.  A number of architects install them on new builds, with the motivation being mostly driven by meeting BREEAM sustainability standards and getting an A or B on the Building Energy Rating, but there are no legal or carrot-and-stick methods to ensure green roofs are factored into new building designs.  Some new living roofs are even criticised because they are high-profile and well-publicised, which has led to accusations of them being a form of green-washing of neoliberal construction projects.

There are signs that the UK is catching up though.  The Green Roof Centre in Sheffield is doing great work at promoting green roofs and carrying out research on suitable plants and substrates.  They have also drawn up a UK specific code of best practice for green and living roof installation.  The Centre have been involved in a number of projects on schools, bus shelters  and university buildings, helping Sheffield towards having the highest number of green roofs.  London is also unveiling more and more green roofs of various sizes and types, often thanks to the influence of charismatic urban ecologist and green roof fanatic, Dusty Gedge.  Here in Manchester there are a number in the city centre, such as Number One First Street, The Hive, Spinningfields Apartments, Whitworth Art Gallery and MMU’s All Saint’s building.  There are a couple of notable roofs in the suburbs as well, such as the roof vegetable garden at Hulme Garden Centre and the intensive green roof on Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton which even has a pond on it!  And small DIY green roofs are popping up all over the place in people’s gardens.

So the ball is rolling, albeit slowly here in Britain.  Whether the motivation is to reduce air conditioning bills, attract wildlife, lower the burden on the city’s drains, or just have a conversation piece on the garden shed, more and more plants are sprouting up in the urban roofscape.

Andy Speak is a 3rd year Geography PhD student, investigating a number of environmental benefits of green roofs in Manchester. Watch Andrew talking about his research in this video.

Further info on green roofs:

www.livingroofs.org

www.thegreenroofcentre.co.uk