Looking Global: Greener cities – What can Croydon learn from Europe?

By - Thursday 29th August, 2013

In the first of a three-part series looking at how Croydon can be inspired by global cities, Tom Lickley researches sustainable ideas from Europe, and asks what can realistically be brought to Croydon

Clean and Green – Croydon can aspire to Budapest’s spotless streets. Photo by Moyan Brenn. Image used under Creative Commons License.

With over half of the world’s population now living in urban areas, yet creating over 80% of the world’s greenhouse gases, sustainability in urban areas is one of the most pressing issues on the green agenda. At the recent Live Croydon Housing Seminar, Croydon was described as having ‘a European feel’ with particular reference to the tram service. With this in mind, rather than looking inwards, what can Croydon learn by looking at our European neighbours?

The Siemens Green City Index highlights a number of sustainable solutions to environmental harm, through both low-tech and high-tech methods, and through both man and machine. The index ranks cities on environmental performance on a number of factors – including CO2 emissions, use of public transport, and water quality. Let’s be frank – the statistics aren’t available for Croydon, but it’s highly unlikely Croydon has the same performance as the top cities, which include the likes of Copenhagen, Stockholm and Vienna.

This is not to say Croydon cannot seek inspiration from the greenest European cities. Note Paris, for instance; the city’s airports authority has recently launched an intra-company car-sharing network, which will save the city 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions if just 5% of employees take part. Is car-sharing possible in Croydon? Yes. Or look at Budapest, which has brought a fun side to sustainability – a ‘Clever Commuting Race’ was held which participants demonstrated the efficiency of public transport by ‘racing’ to the city centre. Possible in Croydon? Yes. What about Vienna, which has created the Vienna Repair Network – a group of over 50 repair shops which people are encouraged to visit rather than throw away broken goods, and then leads to a discount scheme for loyal customers. Highly possible. These aren’t bank breaking, revolutionary ideas. They are simple measures which could create an enormous effect if implemented by a large number of the populace.

We should be proud as citizens that our town maintains a competitive edge in terms of green issues

Perhaps with the investment of Westfield and Hammerson into the town centre, and the greater demand that will be placed  on Croydon’s roads – and hence sustainability – these measures become all the more pertinent. Yet we should not totally decry the investment as a dagger to Croydon’s green aims. The index also identified that there is a clear link between wealth and environmental performance. Hammerfield has the great potential to add wealth to the town centre – both by creating jobs, and by attracting young professionals to some of the new residential developments at the heart of Croydon. The higher an urban area’s GDP tends to be, the better the environmental performance. The Croydon Partnership could have a positive impact on GDP in the town – and hence at least offset the increased pressure it puts on the town’s environment.

There are other clear links too – for instance, a smaller population and higher levels of voluntary participation in green initiatives leads to better environmental performance. An obvious statement you may think – but it highlights the challenge Croydon faces, with the biggest population of any London borough.

Whilst Croydon is not yet in a position to pursue more fanciful ideas, such as those of Prague, which is part of a €1 billion Czech scheme to retrofit buildings, or of Tallinn, which is fitting buses with electronic equipment to alert traffic lights to their approach, giving them a quicker ride through junctions, we should be proud as citizens that our town does maintain a competitive edge in terms of green issues. Trams, recycling and a fairtrade network all highlight the good work Croydon is doing. Whilst there won’t be an appearance in the index soon (although you may include it as part of London, which is 11th in the index) – unless the town uproots to the clean Scandinavian air, the cities of which dominate the top of the list – there should be a sense that other British and European cities can also learn from us.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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