What did Bristol learn in its year as European Green Capital?

All aboard the poo bus! Image: GENeco.

Bristol is a famously inspirational place: there are so many brilliant people doing exciting, transformational things, particularly when it comes to creating and developing more sustainable ways to live. In recognition of that, the European Commission awarded the city the European Green Capital title for 2015.

Today, that title gets passed on to Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. So what does Bristol have to share with the next title holder?

Plenty, in fact. One of the purposes of being the European Green Capital is to act as a role model for other cities around the world, which the city is doing through a free online toolkit called “The Bristol Method”.

The Method documents everything Bristol has learned in the lead up to and during its year as European Green Capital. The aim was to make it easy for other cities to replicate Bristol’s successes and learn from its challenges. Each of the 32 modules, which contain advice and recommendations that each reader can tailor to their own circumstances, is presented as an easy-to-digest “how to” guide on a particular topic using Bristol as the case study.

Without a doubt, the most popular topic has been sustainable transport, an area Bristol has wrestled with over the years. Despite having lower rates of commuting by car than the national average, congestion leaves Bristol with some of the slowest peak hour traffic speeds of major UK cities, and air quality fails to meet national and EU standards throughout much of the city centre. Poor transport is the number one complaint by local residents.

And, as a historic city, Bristol is faced with a problem that is common to many older places: a severe lack of space. It is simply not feasible to build more roads so the council and local community have had to be creative about how to lure people out of their cars and onto public transport or low-emission alternatives.

One module which details how civic governments can get more people walking and cycling explains how the city sought to cut car traffic during the school run. Sustrans – a national charity devoted to getting people travelling on foot, bike or public transport – ran workshops with over 77,000 Bristol school children, building their understanding of sustainable travel and exciting them about the alternatives. As a result, the number of children being driven to school has dropped 10 per cent year-on-year, and cycling and taking a scooter to school have increased.

Another project which has grabbed headlines is Bristol’s Bio-Bus. This new service, provided by First Bus, is affectionately known locally as the “poo bus”: it runs on biomethane generated entirely by human and food waste.

The Bio-Bus can seat up to 40 people and produces significantly fewer emissions than diesel engines. All the households along the route used by the Bio-Bus will, indirectly, help to fuel it since these households have their waste processed at sewage treatment works at Avonmouth. Over the course of a month it is thought that each household will contribute enough waste to fuel the Bio-Bus for 10.5km (6.5miles).

Bristol’s mayor George Ferguson faced some initial opposition when he introduced 20 mph limits across the city and, residents’ parking schemes in 15 neighbourhoods surrounding the city centre. However, local people are welcoming the changes, noticing that the streets feel safer now that the traffic is moving slower and that it has become easier to find somewhere to park. There’s some evidence that the changes have led to a significant modal shift among commuters. As a result, there are increasing requests for residents’ parking schemes in other neighbourhoods too.

While Bristol still has a way to go to fix its transport challenges, its efforts have set it on the trajectory towards becoming one of the greenest cities in Europe. The city hopes that the Bristol Method will help galvanise others to follow in its footsteps.

The Bristol Method was expected to be of most interest to people working in British and European municipalities – but to date, modules have been downloaded by people in 56 different countries, including Japan and Nigeria. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to share a culture or regulatory landscape to benefit from ideas and inspiration about how to build a greener city. An ambition to make urban living more healthy and sustainable is a cause that the whole world can get behind.

Katherine Symonds-Moore is a sustainability consultant and was project manager for the Bristol Method. 

The Bristol Method is available for free on the Bristol 2015 website.


17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.

14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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