In the UK, around nine in ten people live in towns and cities, drawn to their vibrant lifestyles and dynamic economies.
But cities face growing challenges, too: ageing housing stock, clogged-up transport systems, not to mention the need to “future proof” themselves against a changing climate. And all this at a time of a prolonged spending squeeze…
So how are they measuring up? Forum for the Future’s fourth annual Sustainable Cities Index, sponsored by GE, takes the pulse of Britain’s 20 largest urban centres, charting their performance against key social, economic and environmental indicators. And for the second year running, Newcastle has taken the top slot, ahead of rivals Leicester, Brighton, Bristol and London.
So what’s Toon Town getting right? For a start, it’s got ambition. It has placed itself at the centre of a growing cleantech industry, aiming to become a world class hub of science and innovation. With 580 electric vehicle charging points in the pipeline, it’s on the way to becoming the UK’s EV capital. And it’s backed the local economy right through the recession, supporting start-ups and investing in infrastructure.
Peter Madden, the Forum’s Chief Executive, wants to see others follow its lead. “Cities are having to count every penny, so it’s essential that they invest wisely for long-term success.”
London is top of the table when it comes to future-proofing, with strong plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. It also boasts the highest level of business start-ups. But it falls down on air quality and has one of the fattest ecological footprints.
So, given the variety of ingredients that go into healthy lifestyles and happy communities, what’s the best strategy for our urban leaders? The key, says Tony Gale, General Manager GE City Infrastructure, is to de-couple quality of life from high levels of consumption and waste, and that — he concludes — should be “a fantastic opportunity.”
Editor’s note: This article was written by Anna Simpson of Forum for the Future. This piece originally appeared in Green Futures, which is published by Forum for the Future and is the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable — and can be profitable, too.