Londoners have learned the hard way that Boris Johnson’s boosterism will fail

Never not relevant. Image: Getty.

In many ways, Boris Johnson’s new economic strategy – “boosterism” – is the embodiment of our new Prime Minister. Like the man himself, at first glance, it’s compelling and cartoonish. It’s only when you delve deeper, that it becomes clear that it’s reckless, impulsive, and bursting at the seams with contradictions.

According to sources within Number 10, Johnson wants to put “rocket boosters” under the economy in the form of heavy infrastructure investment. He has already outlined a few initial ways he would like to do this: spending billions on new high–speed rail lines, and rolling out super–fast broadband across the country.

Yet, here in London, we are still recovering from the impact of Boris Johnson’s boosterism over the course of his eight years as Mayor.

Londoners learned the hard way how detached Johnson is from reality – watching him pour funds into hare–brained schemes like “Boris Airport” and the “Garden Bridge” that cost millions without a single brick being laid.

His array of costly vanity projects left taxpayers footing a bill of nearly £1bn, and this figure is continuing to rise three years on. What do we have to show for it? A handful of shiny monuments on the skyline that do nothing to tackle the underlying problems faced by those living in our city – growing inequality, child poverty, and a chronic lack of social housing.

This money could have been invested in schools, hospitals, housing, libraries and youth centres – reviving the lifeblood of our communities, rather than tearing them apart.


Of course, Johnson is right about one thing: that the UK is desperately in need of greater infrastructure funding after years of crippling Tory austerity. However, his fanatical approach to Brexit completely undermines this goal.

With one hand he’s offering “billions” to help stabilise our poorest regions. Yet, with the other he’s threatening to pull the rug out from beneath them with a no deal Brexit that would plunge our country into the grips of recession. We all know who would be hit hardest. It’s not our new Prime Minister or his pals.

Even if Johnson strikes a deal in Brussels, the UK will soon be cut off from critical EU funding streams that are designed to reduce inequalities. Parts of the country that have been “left behind” will face a multi–billion–pound gap in funding for housing, transport and infrastructure projects, and countless other EU schemes designed to support the most vulnerable will evaporate. This will all take place at crunch time, as UK Government ministers scrabble to set up and oversee a number of new national systems and procedures to replace the EU mechanisms that their predecessors helped to build.

Should Johnson succeed in dragging us out of the EU without a deal, the economic shock will be severe. In the short–term, we can realistically expect to experience long traffic jams at the border, disruption at airports, food and medicine shortages, a mass cull of farm animals, thousands of job losses, and research funding flooding out of the country.

Anyone who thinks that speedy broadband connections and some new trains will fix this problem is either naive or incompetent – I fear our new Prime Minister may be both.

Scott Ainslie is a Green MEP for London.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.