Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An introduction to green Bristol

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Copy of article just drafted for Suit Yourself magazine, comments welcomed:

Bristol has 450 parks and green spaces totalling over 1300 hectares. Millions visit these each year. Loads of events take place in them. Green spaces are one of the city’s most valued features; one of the most obvious ways you can argue it is, in a relative sense, green. No other city in England has as much green space.

There’s plenty of green space just outside the city boundaries, within easy reach, eg Ashton Court. As in many parts of the country green spaces are threatened by development. Bristol City Council has agreed a strategy to sell off of 2.4% of city green space. The future of green space is a key ongoing issue when there are plans to build many thousands of houses both within and around the city as well as a ring road around South Bristol. Bristol is a very popular place to live. Its population is currently forecast to rise by over 30% by 2031, exerting very significant additional social and environmental pressure at a time we need to cut it.

Bristol is also relatively green as a city as it gained its first Green Councillor, Charlie Bolton, in Southville, a few years ago. About time many would say, given the large number of organisations promoting respect and care for the environment that have for years been Bristol-based (CREATE Centre; City Farms; Transition Bristol; Farmers Market; Slow Food Market; local food advocates like the Better Food Company; Community Recycling Network; City Car Club…). What better example than the BBC Natural History Unit in Clifton, one key organisation behind June’s Festival of Nature and October’s Wildscreen the world's largest and most prestigious international wildlife and environmental film festival. The unit is responsible for world class television like Blue Planet and Planet Earth…playing a huge part in raising green awareness (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/).

Leading sustainable transport charity Sustrans, has, from its central Bristol HQ, been closely involved in some of the most discussed and controversial local issues this year. Bristol City Council had planned to build a bus rapid transit route over the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, the UK’s most popular cycle path, also used by a large variety of local walkers, until a 10,000 signature petition and a motion to the council from Green Councillor Charlie Bolton helped to cause a rethink. Going ahead with the plan might well have messed up the council’s bid to become the UK’s first ‘Cycling City’, which was ultimately successful. The council will have tens of millions to spend, wisely one hopes, on cycling.

Sustrans and other local greens, such as those at the Bristol Cycling Campaign or Bristol Friends of the Earth will continue activity on cycling but also on Bristol’s many transport problems. One of the major ways in which Bristol is very far from being green is the poor quality public transport (bus and train firm Firstbus are hardly fondly regarded locally!). Partly as a result Bristol’s air quality and noise levels can be poor at times and the city contribution to climate change needs to be cut by a factor of ten over the coming decades to approach sustainable levels! One small success of late is the rail service improvement on the ‘Severn Beach’ line – it’s a quick, efficient way to get around certain parts of the city, such as from Montpelier or Stapleton Road to Clifton.

There is ongoing scrutiny of how green Bristol actually is in a relative and absolute sense, eg whether or not it decides to mass incinerate much of its waste . The Bristol Partnership, the council working together with businesses, voluntary and community groups, has ambitions for the city to become a green capital ‘a low carbon city with balanced and sustainable communities enjoying a high quality of life’.

The eleven green objectives are commendable; leading Bristol-based organic food charity the Soil Association a leading light behind the September’s Organic Food Festival, is no doubt pleased to see the objective seven ‘healthier, locally produced food’ but the tension between green objectives and the Bristol Partnership’s other ambitions are great, in particular its economic thinking, which is still based on economic growth and a consumer society when environmental resources are finite. Bristol’s major current development is the huge new shopping area Cabot Circus. Green economics guru EF Schumacher, whose work is celebrated here every October at the Schumacher Lectures is probably turning in his grave.