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Comparative Urban Futures: Spatial Networks for Sustainable Urban Development

A recent pilot study, as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s work in 2012, has explored how cities have pursued SUD through spatial networks in a UK (English) context. It addressed the role of spatial networks in the broad context of change of local governance in England from around 1990 until today. It addressed the present situation through the experience of five cities: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester and Newcastle. It also considered in what ways spatial networks contribute to policy transfer and learning.

Birmingham’s aspiration is to become one of the world’s leading green cities. Bristol’s innovation in networks has contributed to it winning the international award to become European Green Capital in 2015. Leeds is investing with its city-regional partners in SUD across the scale of the city-region. Leicester has been consistent in developing expertise and knowledge in SUD for well over 20 years in “seeing sustainable urban development as something that makes us distinct”. Newcastle is committed to “ensuring that they have a green thread running through their decision making” in addressing how sustainability can impact through their key priorities for the city.

Despite all the pressures that have been placed on them locally and centrally, cities, through their networks, are well placed to make an important contribution towards achieving SUD. In a context of ‘globalisation’ and the continuing ‘hollowing out’ of central government departments, Whitehall really does need strong sub-national actors to share in the governance of sustainable development and climate change

The key themes identified within the study are:

  • There are distinctive patterns (or waves) in the way that cities have pursued sustainable urban development (SUD) through spatial networks in a UK (English) context from 1990 until today.
  • Post 2010, under the Coalition government’s form of localism, an increasingly complex and diversified picture is evolving in the approaches taken by cities towards SUD.
  • It is clear that cities have an important role to play in the promotion of SUD and in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
  • However, the capacities of cities to promote SUD are established crucially on long-term investment in the ‘place qualities’ of embedded knowledge, strong institutions, effective leadership and trusting network relationships. These may only be built up and sustained over time. The processes involved need to be much better understood, not just locally but also in central government.

The second phase of this project will extend the case studies to seven UK cities to address their comparative approaches to governing SUD.

UrbF Working Paper GMLIP [PDF, 593.87kb]