Arup and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have released a new guidebook highlighting the importance of neighbourhood action in tackling the climate crisis.
Ahead of international climate negotiations at COP26, the new guidebook – described as the first of its kind to offer a framework and approach for delivering net zero at the neighbourhood scale - is aimed at city authorities, developers and communities and can be applied in both new and existing neighbourhoods globally.
The authors of the guidebook urge that action at a neighbourhood level is needed to accelerate progress to net zero, warning that targets otherwise risk being missed. Rather than waiting for a top-down approach from central governments, local projects can provide an urban test bed to trial innovative approaches, including in design and construction, in the use of technology and crucially in driving the positive engagement and participation of citizens and communities.
With communities around the world increasingly witnessing the impact of heatwaves or extreme flooding, the reports argues there is a need for local strategies, policies and projects that provide opportunities for direct community participation in the fight against climate change. This – of course - needs to happen in parallel with the broader systemic change being advocated for on the international stage.
The guidebook sets out ten key approaches to deliver green and thriving neighbourhoods and help create 15-minute cities. The 15-minute city urban planning principle encourages essential amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from peoples’ homes, improving accessibility and inclusivity – which are central goals of the guidebook’s recommendations. The 15-minute city concept has taken on renewed impetus during the Covid-19 pandemic, as so many people have relied on their local community and amenities.
The approaches in the guidebook aim to focus on the end-user – residents, workers and visitors – and draw on best practice thinking and successful projects in cities across the world, such as in Paris, San Francisco, and Nanjing. The types of actions the guidebook recommends include:
- Celebrating adaptable spaces that can be used by all residents, providing a compact neighbourhood. For example, London’s Haringey Council has been using Blue House Yard site (previously vacant) to provide affordable workspaces for small businesses, together with public spaces. This project has made use of existing infrastructure to support community networks and create jobs.
- Promoting people centred streets and mobility by prioritizing active travel over the private car. For example, the Superblocks programme in Barcelona uses temporary street furniture and painted road markings to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists and to introduce mobile tree planters that green the streets and provide shade. In the first Superblock (Poblenou) the areas occupied by cars reduced by 48% and the green area increased by 91%, whilst economic activity in the area at street level increased.
- Promoting clean construction by repurposing and refurbishing infrastructure assets to avoid demolition and using low-carbon materials. For example, the Collective for Climate Project in Paris’ La Porte de Montreuil neighbourhood aims to reduce 85% of operational and embodied emissions and require all buildings to be adaptable or reversible.
- Investing in neighbourhood-wide energy infrastructure to generate, store and share clean energy for buildings in the district and beyond. For example, L’Innesto in Milan will be the first Zero Carbon “Housing Sociale” district in Italy, with the development of an innovative 4th generation neighbourhood heating system, powered by renewable sources (including an urban waste water heat-recovery system) and the design of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings.
- Using green and nature-based solutions to support biodiversity, improve air quality and foster physical and mental wellbeing. For example, the Corredores Verdes, an interconnected network of greenspace in Medellin, Colombia, has reduced the impact from urban heat, planted over 8,800 trees and facilitated 75 citizens from disadvantaged backgrounds to access training to become city gardeners.
By beginning with the easy and low-cost interventions at a neighbourhood scale, the guidebook says cities can build momentum in support of city-wide emission reduction targets and attract funding and investment for larger-scale projects.
With 55% of the world’s population already living in cities, the authors have launched a call to action to stakeholders and cities across the globe to identify suitable neighbourhoods that could embrace the green and thriving neighbourhoods model and act as a catalyst for climate action at city, national or international level.
Ben Smith, director for energy and climate change consulting at Arup, said: “With COP26 around the corner and the Race to Zero underway, we believe there are great opportunities to deliver emissions reductions in neighbourhoods around the world – both existing and new. Crucially, this scale of project can provide opportunities for innovation – in policy, in the use of technology and in community engagement and participation. We know that the next decade is critical in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions – we must act now to create green and thriving neighbourhoods around the world.”
Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities, said: “'Green and Thriving Neighbourhoods’ provide a template for the way people want to live as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, enshrining access to essential services and public luxury alike so that everyone can share in growing prosperity and, crucially, providing a framework for pollution-free neighbourhoods that will enable cities to eliminate the emissions that are causing our climate emergency. I am delighted that C40 and Arup are together leading on this exciting new vision, working with cities to revitalise and transform the places we call home.”
Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and former chair of C40 Cities said: “There is an appetite for more liveable, people- oriented cities that has been reinforced by the Covid-19 crisis, driving a surge of interest in the ‘15-minute city’. A green and thriving neighbourhood should enable residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to meet their daily needs close to home. It should support the local economy and green jobs, provides opportunities to walk, cycle and take public transport, offer better waste management solutions and cleaner energy systems and incorporate green infrastructure - all of which contribute to accelerating climate action, while benefiting other critical urban agendas, such as promoting equity, prosperity, resilience and quality of life.”