Our Green City: Global Challenges, Bristol Solutions
23rd April 2015
“The European Green Capital Award for 2015 provides an opportunity for Bristol to consolidate its reputation as a leading green hub for the UK, attract investment and celebrate the work of many active groups, communities and enterprises. Whilst the great strides that the city has taken were instrumental in gaining this accolade, a key question remains for those involved in curating and leading the year: how can this vision and practice can be shared and drive a lasting legacy that genuinely changes behaviour and attitudes beyond 2015?
This legacy is important for one key reason: our cities are in trouble. We consume more than we generate, we are over reliant on fossil fuels and the key life support systems such as food, water and energy are increasingly imported rather than obtained from their hinterland as they once were.
Whilst we may not fully understand the details of this, most of us have some appreciation that things are not quite right. And whilst we wait for our political leaders to take action and drive change, we look for leadership in the wrong places, only adding to our sense of confusion and disappointment.
This is further entrenched by the disconnect that living in a city gives us from the life support systems that sustain us; we take for granted that food, water and breathable air will always be there without considering that the expansion of cities harms their production and deepens the requirement to continue importing goods and other essential services into our cities, both over distance and by unsustainable methods.
A legacy that is based on changing attitudes and behaviour can be complex and messy to achieve but at least most could agree that a general insight is to start by shifting individual choices to practices and decisions that are taken within a social and cultural context. Shifts in behaviour also need to be easy, rewarding and normal. This at the minimum requires access to information but also for our understandings and actions to be appraised and reflected upon with others.
Our project, Our Green City: Global Challenges, Bristol Solutions aims to support such a legacy for Bristol 2015. Launching in September 2015 and running over six weeks, Our Green City is delivered as a free, online learning experience that anyone can access and aims to celebrate and disseminate the practice of Bristol 2015, or ‘The Bristol Method’ as many refer. Whilst there is a calendar of great events throughout the year online is simple to engage with. Our learners will engage with video presentations, blogs, quizzes and tasks in their own time, from a place that is convenient to them.
We have taken the themes of food, nature, energy, transport and resources and added a further theme – leadership to our programme to ensure that our learners receive exposure to a range of areas that underpin the sustainable city. To take our strapline literally, our approach is to triangulate the experience and knowledge of three key actors: academic contributors, Bristol based organisations, and the participants who come to our project to learn.
Across each theme UWE academics will contribute to the discussions around cities pasts and cities futures, setting out the global challenges faced by cities and signposting learners to research and examples from across the globe, our approach will be inherently accessible and engaging; we want to inspire and engage rather than lose our audience in theory.
Learning from Leadership and Local Action
Whilst theory is important, it does not carry meaning without practice; these are our Bristol Solutions. We have engaged with a range of groups and individuals from the Bristol Green Capital Partnership who will talk about their projects and initiates from across the five themes; Resource Futures, Avon Wildlife Trust, Happy City, Centre for Sustainable Energy, The Trinity Arts centre and many others have been instrumental in supporting us to develop this learning experience. The opportunity to showcase and celebrate the work of these organisations has been a centre piece of this project and will provide our learners with the understanding and examples of how others have developed projects.
Our participants will also be central to creating a high quality learning experience. Modern and current approaches to learning emphasise how we learn and mediate understanding through social networks and connections to others, rather than focus on the ‘expert’. We no longer encourage people to develop new knowledge and understandings by passively consuming information; the learning experience has to create networks and communities that will share their experiences and thoughts of Bristol 2015 and challenges within their own locality.
Whilst there are a myriad of highly evangelical people engaged in campaigning about the importance of living a more sustainable life, these people are already on board and can seem distant from those we seek to influence. For many it is seeing the basic trade-offs and modifications as beneficial, proven, risk free but more importantly part of what those around them are also doing; they are in other words, transactional.
It is through this process of learning that we aim to build the capability of our learners to take action. Featuring the work of organisations in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership enables us to show that leadership and action develops from the grassroots of our communities and in the work of local and national organisations. It enables us to demonstrate that others have already done the hard work of proving their concepts and through our learning materials and projects we can ask our participants to think about their locality and community in a different way.
Our opening call that cities are in trouble should not lead people to despair because an unsustainable future for cities is not inevitable, but is the product of choices that we make. The leadership we need is to be found much closer to home than we perhaps imagine. We hope that members of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership will get behind Our Green City and promote the project across the city. We can create a lasting legacy for Bristol 2015 by creating more projects and Bristol solutions to our Global Challenges.”
This article was written by Simon Bates. Simon is the Project Manager for Our Green City and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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