(Y)our Sustainable City Centre
Here is the second blog from the team working to prepare Districts Regeneration Frameworks for Cowcaddens, Townhead, the Learning Quarter and the Merchant City.  Judith Sykes and Carrie Behar are from Useful Projects which is a sustainable innovation consultancy for the built environment. They specialise in climate and biodiversity emergency planning, circular economy, social value and wellbeing, and design thinking and creativity.

A global and local imperative
The climate emergency and catastrophic biodiversity loss are two of the most pressing challenges facing the world today. In the context of a rapidly urbanising global population, every city has a part to play in addressing these challenges, by supporting the transition to a more equitable society and supporting citizens in leading sustainable lifestyles.

Glasgow has a strong impetus for implementing sustainable development. It can capitalise on the co-benefits of climate change and biodiversity loss mitigation as it manages relevant budgets around health, transport and housing, and has a deep understanding of how the different policy priorities impact on each other. Sustainability has been at the core of Glasgow’s planning and development policy for many years. It underpins the latest City Development Plan (2016), and is at the heart of the draft City Centre Living Strategy Vision 2035 and the Draft City Centre Strategic Development Framework (forthcoming). Furthermore, initiatives such as Sustainable Glasgow and the Connectivity Commission are examples of how Glasgow has successfully sought to take a fresh and holistic approach to environmental, social and economic development by advocating a partnership approach to travel and public transport provision.

In 2019, the Council joined other local authorities in declaring a climate emergency and set an ambitious target to become climate neutral by 2030. The city was due to host this year’s Conference of Parties annual climate change summit (COP26), currently postponed to 2021.

An unprecedented opportunity
The unprecedented response to COVID-19 shows just how quickly we can change. During the national lockdown, we have seen a glimpse of what a future city could look like: fewer cars, cleaner, quieter and more pleasant streets, better air quality and an increase in walking and cycling. In Scotland, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already stated that the post-lockdown transition should reset agendas around sustainability.

Other international cities and organisations are joining the #buildbackbetter movement. For example, Amsterdam is applying doughnut economics as part of their planning for post-COVID recovery. Amsterdam’s vision is to be “a thriving, regenerative and inclusive city for all citizens while respecting the planetary boundaries”. Cities such as Bogota have provided emergency bikeways, and Milan is hoping to permanently reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking, as part of a radical transformation prompted by the coronavirus crisis.

Building on success in four unique neighbourhoods
The District Regeneration Frameworks (DRFs) for Cowcaddens, Townhead, the ‘Learning Quarter’ and the Merchant City neighbourhoods will need to respond to the specific challenges and opportunities inherent in the fabric and social composition of each district. Working closely with local communities, to shape the transformation of their neighbourhoods into flourishing and sustainable pieces of city will bring this about.

While the distinct characteristics of each neighbourhood will be retained and celebrated, the city centre will achieve greater social and physical coherence through the application of shared sustainability themes and objectives. These include carbon neutrality, zero waste in construction and operation, biodiversity net gain, high physical and digital connectivity, empowered communities, and active, healthy lifestyles. The DRFs provide an opportunity to improve the neighbourhoods to provide a setting for greater inclusivity and justice- through the shaping of the physical environment in a way that enables and encourages people to live healthy lifestyles and attain the best possible quality of life.

To ensure the success of the DRFs, we intend to work with communities and stakeholders to develop distinctive, local solutions that are relevant to Glasgow and can be delivered in partnership to address these global challenges. Through extensive consultation and community engagement, we are gathering diverse perspectives and moving towards developing a consensus around a shared vision of success. The outcome of this approach will be a city that puts people at its heart.

COVID-19 has shown us that we can adapt. Now is the time to pause and reflect on some of the great work that Glasgow is already doing in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. Avenues, Future City Glasgow, Circular Glasgow), before setting out a plan of action and an enabling framework that allows Glasgow to go even further in becoming a truly world-class sustainable city.

Judith Sykes and Carrie Behar
Our role on this project is to develop a sustainability framework for the DRFs, and to act as an experienced and creative ‘critical friend’ to the project team, to ensure the application of international best practice to deliver a thriving city – based on a sustainable, healthy and inclusive environment, a strong community and a resilient economy.