Our monthly series, Your Questions Answered, collates questions from Wicked Leeks readers and puts them to our expert team of writers and contributors. Submit your question for consideration by commenting on this article.
Do you think London can ever be sustainable?
Adam42, via wickedleeks.com
This is a colossal subject; you could easily write a book on it. In fact, many have. Authors like Carolyn Steel (see her book Hungry City) envisage futures where cities support sustainable lifestyles rather than fuelling climate change and inequality.
As they are now, cities are unsustainable: they currently consume over three quarters of the world’s resources and contribute 60 per cent of global greenhouse gases. Despite this heavy impact, cities have the potential to be a critical cog in a low carbon and sustainable future, especially with the world population set to double by 2050.
For example, Greater London has the lowest carbon emissions per capita of any region. This is down to its high population density, public transport, and lack of industry. Like public transport in London, cities offer us a framework in which citizens could live more collectively and consume fewer resources individually.
However, there is much room for improvement. Despite lower usage of private vehicles, air pollution contributes to the premature death of 9,400 Londoners every year and costs the health system between £1.7 and £3.4 billion. Multiple measures are trying to tackle this issue, including the expansion of the ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ) and a recently announced ‘rewilding fund’ as part of the city’s investment in green spaces.
As well as tackling air pollution and biodiversity, these projects are connecting Londoners with nature. In a city, it is easy to feel disconnected from the natural environment, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Urban food production could help provide a solution to this human and environmental disconnect, as well as reduce the impact that our diets have on the natural world.
A recent study suggested that urban farming, including allotments, could be as productive as conventional farms while reducing pesticides, providing habitats for wildlife, and improving mental health. Imagine the streets lined with orchards and eccentric communal allotments filling London’s nooks and crannies. Involving more citizens in food would radically alter the city’s relationship with food and nature.
However, sustainability is not just about the environment. In order to achieve an environmental and ecological transformation, we need societal transformation too. London is by far the most unequal place in the UK. This is only too clear when walking in one of London’s richest boroughs only to be confronted by the decimation of Grenfell Tower.
London might do well to look to cities like Amsterdam, Portland, and Copenhagen, which have adopted Kate Raworth’s radical new approach to economics, Doughnut Economics. The concept sits in stark contrast to GDP and measures progress based on human wellbeing and environmental boundaries, instead of pure economic output.
Might this be the answer to creating sustainable cities? As the majority of the world’s population live in cities, addressing this issue is incredibly important and complex. This is why in the New Year we’re launching a new Sustainable Cities series, shining a spotlight on how cities might be more sustainable and helping readers live more sustainably in the city. Stay tuned for more.
Jack Thompson, staff writer, Wicked Leeks