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How can urban living be sustainable?

A sustainable city has certain characteristics that relate to its long-term future, which is ideally problem free. The environment is not damaged; the economic base is sound with resources allocated fairly and jobs secure, there is a strong sense of community, with local people involved in decisions made.

A sustainable city - an urban area where residents have a way of life that will last a long time. The environment is not damaged and the economic and social fabric,, due to local involvement, are able to stand the test of time

Seeking environmental sustainability

Conserving the historic and natural environment

The Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City provides an example of conserving an area of previous industrial use and historic commercial and cultural areas. The Loverpoolwaterfront and areas associated with its development were designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. The award recognised the importance of the area as a port and associated buildings of global significance during the heyday of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the buildings are architecturally as they were then, although their function has changed.

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The Cunard Building The Liver Building St. George's Hall

The natural environment can be conserved by reducing, or even stopping, development on the edge of the existing built-up area and by encouraging development to take place on sites that have been previously used in the inner city or other areas. Green belts exist around many large towns in England or in towns where growth is occurring. These were set up to prevent urban sprawl and to ensure that the surrounding countryside is protected from development. This often provides (and the policy intended this) recreational open space for urban residents. limiting available sites on the edge of the city means that alternative locations for development must be offered if growth is to continue. This means that building on brownfield sites is simultaneously encouraged. In addition to limiting the growth beyond the city, as sites are avilable with the current builtup areas, there are other advantages of building on brownfield sites that benefit the environment and encourage sustainability.

Adavantages of building on brownfield sites
  • makes use of sites that have already been developed
  • reduces possible waste/derelict land in cities
  • countryside is not built on
  • leads to contaminated or unsightly sites being cleaned up
  • prevents urban sprawl
  • reduces commuting and traffic congestion
  • areas on the edge of the city can be used to provide leisure opportunities

Reducing and safely disposing of waste
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By 2000, the UK was producing 330 million tonnes of waste each year - enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall in London every hour. Much of this was from mining and quarrying, but 30 million tonnes was from housholds, many of them in cities. There is a need to reduce the amount of waste produced. The government has a target of recycling 40% of household waste by 2010. This is an ambitious target as only 18% was recycled in 2004. However, 20% of household waste is garden waste, a further 18% is paper and cardboard and 17% is kitchen waste. A note of caution is needed, however, as the cost incurred in transporting and reprocessing some of the products needs to be considered.

It is important to reduce waste so that fewer plastic bags are used. Consumer pressure could reduce packaging in general - do apples need to come in plastic bags? Do red peppers need individual packaging? Packaging can be made so that it can be returned and reused, such as milk bottles and 'bag for life' carrier bags.

Even with maximum effort, some waste will still be created that needs to be disposed of. There are two main options incineration and landfill. The UK has faboured the later option (73% of household waste is dispoed of in this way), but this is not without its problmes. One significant issue os that we are running out of appropriate site, with capacity available until 2015 beofre a shortage of sites begins to occurs. Incineration only accounts for 9% of household waste disposal. This has proved an unpopular option and created a range of issues.

Providing adequate open spaces
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The presence of offical green belts of areas where local authorities chose to restrict buildings around coties offers open space for recreation purposes. In addition, many areas within cities have designated areas of open space in the form of parks, playing fields and individual gardens.

Involving local people

If people have ownership of ideas and feel involved and in control of their own destiny, they are much more likely to respond positively and care for the building and environment in which they live. Consulting people at planning stages - before decisions are made - is essential. Planners increasinglty survey opinions before putting forward plans and consult after they have been produced. Residents form associations to gove them a stronger collective voice.

Where improvements are planned, asking what residents want and providng it means that the people are happy in their homes and take better care of them. This can involve apparently minor things such as colour schemes for paint and new bathroom suites. Having meetings in local halls where people are invited to see what is planned gives people the opportunity to give their views so that they feel included, not excluded.

Providing an efficient public transport system
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The volume of cars as a means of private transport is a problem and a barrier to a city being sustainable. London has sought to make parts of the city unattractive to drivers via congestion charging, However, an alternative need to be offered. This means a public transport system that isefficient, reliable and comfortable. The mayor of London is keen to ensure the provision of a public transport system which the capital can be pround of and one that is sustainable. This inevitably means a focus on the Underground and improvements. The Tube is undergoing extensive upgrading, not just to the lines, but also to the trains and stations. London overground links will be extended to form a complete ciruit around London - the railway equivalent to the M25. Buses are being improved - bendy buses will be abandoned in the interests of safety and buses are to be more frequent to reduce overcrowding and to make them more attractive to travellers. Faster journeys and greater frequency were key factors in encouraging bus use. By the end of 2008, all buses had CCTV to increase feelings of security and bus shelters were added at bus stops. Buses have improved in quality - over 75% have low-floor access. The extension of bus lanes has led to quicker jounreys and cash fares have been frozen. Schemes such as the Oyster card, which allows for the advanced purchase of up to £90 worth of journey on a swipe card, offer journeys at reduced rates.