Environment, Climate and Urban Living

Environmental concerns in general, and climate change in particular, are longer-term issues. These issues match well with the orientation of planning and housing development, but less well with the preoccupations of politicians who face elections every 3-5 years, and for whom ‘the economy, stupid’ is very often the most pressing issue. Yet as the 2015 Intergovernmental Panel Report (IPCC 2015) reminds us, there is less doubt and more urgency than ever about action to tackle and limit climate change, as well as adapting to it. Climate change and CO2 emissions will be central to any definition of ‘sustainable development’, and that term itself is now increasingly embedded in planning law and practice (DCLG 2014).

This is a challenge for housing, first and foremost, because housing is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions, through its domestic energy consumption. Ambitious commitments to regulate new building up to low or zero carbon standards in the near future have been argued to threaten the viability of many planned developments and may initially hamper recovery of construction activity. However, in the longer term one would anticipate that with greater experience and economies of scale the new standards will become more affordable. It is also a challenge, secondly, because of wider environmental, and to some extent social and economic, aspects of sustainability and what they imply about the location and form of new housing development. As outlined in Chap. 1, a strong strand of planning thinking since 1990 has favoured urban containment in the form of ‘compact cities’, ‘smart urban growth’, ‘urban renaissance’ and similar mantras, motivated primarily by seeking to reduce carbon emissions and other forms of pollution associated with high car dependence in more traditional suburban or exurban developments, but bolstered by arguments about social and economic sustainability

(Jenks et al. 1996; Adams and Watkins 2002; Jenks and Jones 2010). There was in fact a significant policy shift towards more compact, urban brownfield development in the 1990s and 2000s, in the UK, the USA, Australia and a number of other countries as outlined in Section 2, but whether this can be sustained in the post-recession drive to increase numbers is questionable, and there is certainly a strong resistance to intensification (e.g. ‘garden-grabbing’) in many quarters.

Approaches to location, urban form and design of new housing are influenced by this line of argument about sustainable transport, but also by other aspects of environmental, social and economic sustainability (Jenks and Jones 2010), posing significant challenges for urban design, particularly in an economic climate where demand and viability are somewhat uncertain. How to produce new housing neighbourhoods which are at the same time sociable yet equitable, safe yet vibrant, open not gated, attractive but affordable; that is a good design challenge! As noted in Chap. 2, the new urbanism movement which emphasises mixed land uses, walkability and neotraditional forms of urban design, struggles to deliver against objectives for affordable housing and social diversity (Talen 2010). Similarly, how to get existing communities to agree to a redevelopment, intensification or extension of an existing community is an equally big challenge for planners working within a political i deology of localism and consultation (Adams and Watkins 2002; Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones 2007).

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