Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

The Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform

Cities are incredibly old. The first cities grew out of the need for trade, transport, natural resources and people to come together to share their knowledge, skills and infrastructure. Global population growth is estimated to peak around 2080, with around 9 billion people inhabiting Earth. Two thirds of all these people will live in cities. The world we now live in is urban. Cities are sources of challenge and problems; inspiration and innovation. Love them or loathe them, cities are on the rise and the challenge of creating sustainable cities is one that must concern us all.

The urbanization of the world brings with it a series of far-reaching challenges. Future cities need to be dynamic and just to deliver quality of life to all urban citizens. They also need to be efficient and robust to overcome resource scarcity, environmental degradation and global risks such as climate change.

In the 1980s, a group of world leaders defined sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. World organisations have gone on to state that sustainability involves thinking about how the economy, society, environment and culture all relate to each other.

Agreeing on the principles is not easy. Many have been critical of how useful the term ‘sustainability’ is. Some think it just means ‘business as usual’ rather than any fundamental change in how we think, work and live. Yet putting ideas into practice at an urban level is even harder. Whose needs are we talking about? Who decides whose needs come first? Complex urban problems that require joined-up thinking can fall between the cracks.

Addressing the Challenge

Mistra Urban Futures is an international centre for sustainable urban futures, with headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. Mistra Urban Futures was set up because academics and local stakeholders in Gothenburg recognized that new ways of addressing urban challenges were needed if cities were to become truly sustainable. In 2010 the Mistra Urban Futures centre was born with a vision “to increase capacities to transform current, unsustainable urban development pathways to more sustainable urban futures in the global South and North”.

A key principle for the Centre is co-production – simply put, the idea that we need to combine, integrate and share knowledge better if more sustainable urban futures are to be achieved. Sustainability is a complex term. For Mistra Urban Futures, it is about the creation of Fair, Green and Dense cities. 

But how can this be done? Mistra Urban Futures believes the answer lies in Local Interaction Platforms – or LIPs. Mistra Urban Futures has set up interaction platforms in five cities – Cape Town (South Africa), Gothenburg (Sweden), Greater Manchester (England), Kisumu (Kenya) and Shanghai (China).  All of the LIPs are co-funded and made up of local partnerships between different public, private and voluntary organizations.

The Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform

The Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform (GM LIP) is hosted by the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) at the University of Salford in Greater Manchester.  The University of Salford has supported the development of the GMLIP in the first stages, reflecting its commitment to contributing to sustainability across the city-region.

SURF has been working on a whole range of projects in Greater Manchester and other UK and international cities for over 10 years: from evaluating regeneration in Hulme, looking at the links between Liverpool and Manchester, exploring how universities contribute to their urban environments or seeing how fit for purpose the city’s critical infrastructure for today. Other current projects look at urban retrofit in Manchester and Cardiff and the links between urban communities and the creative city in Greater Manchester and Birmingham.

The GM LIP aims to improve the relationship between research and practice in creating a sustainable Greater Manchester. We want to enable a more systematic, integrated and inclusive urban transition.  We will be working with a broad range of bodies across Greater Manchester on a range of research, practice and capacity-building activities to address two central questions:

• What is happening to the sustainable cities agenda in the context of the economic, political, social and ecological crises of the 21st Century?
• In this context, how can the knowledge and skills of different stakeholders and communities be brought together to support a more sustainable urban transition in Greater Manchester?

A Global – Local Approach

Each of the cities involved in Mistra Urban Futures has developed different approaches to their local interaction platforms. 21st century Britain’s mix of Coalition government, financial recession, banking crisis, riots, climate change, socio-economic inequality, new technological developments (the list goes on) affects all cities. But place matters - these pressures do not affect all cities and towns equally. Change, flux, uncertainty and experimentation are characteristics of our modern age, against a rapidly shifting reorientation of traditional roles between state, market, public and citizen. How these issues manifest in Greater Manchester is of interest not only to those within, but also outside the city-region.

In 2012 the GM LIP carried out a large pilot project called the ‘Mapping the Urban Knowledge Arena’ project. Under this banner a series of pilot activities were carried out engaging with policy, academic, business, community and cultural groups.

Where next?

The GM LIP programme of work is continuing into 2013 with projects on how Greater Manchester is governed and organized and how sustainable development policies are or should be made. Case studies are being developed of alternative ways of thinking about the material fabric of the city and how sustainability can be addressed more creatively. Importantly, through a research-practice zone called the O-Zone the GM LIP is working with partners including the Low Carbon Hub, Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations and Creative Concern to trial approaches and seed responses to the issues that arise in the course of the research.