Urban Update 22 February 2024

  • Low fare public transport success in Bonn
  • Highway environment influences who gets blamed in pedestrian crashes
  • Welsh 20mph limit leads to 4mph average speed reduction - equates to 25 percent reduction in kinetic energy and the potential to cause damage, injury and death
  • 15 (or XX) Minute Cities - understanding people's concerns, tackling misinformation and enabling local decision-making
  • Polycentric urban development with lots of dispersed green spaces best for cooling
  • Understanding the role of sound in the city
  • Making cities mental health friendly for adolescents and young adults
  • Pioneering Phoenix Development wins planning approval - aspires to be UK's most sustainable development
  • Al Zaatari Refugee Camp - case study of how people will remodel their dwellings, streets and neighbourhoods to meet their own needs.



Built Environment 

Swindon: The History of a Railway Town >>>>
Historic England give an account of the development of Swindon from the 1830s following on from the construction of Brunel’s  London to Bristol railway.
Lewes: Plans for 685-home Phoenix development approved - BBC NEWS
Features structural wood construction, on-site recycling, SuDS, transport hub... 
full plans on Lewes District Council planning portal
Al Zaatari – Design and Use of Space in Refugee Camps  >>>>
A fascinating insight by Husam Al Waer (et al) into how Syrian refugees changed the layout of a UNHCR camp initially formed of a grid of streets and equally spaced emergency shelters, so that the layout of clusters of shelters reflected family life, structure and culture, and the wider streets reflected social and economic structure.


Humans, Health, Society

What is the role of activism in air pollution politics? Understanding policy change in Poland - Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space
This paper finds that local-level air pollutions groups had more impact on national awareness and local policy changes than in shaping local-level awareness of the problem of air pollution.
The paper nevertheless emphasises that “it is clear that many of Poland’s most important policy reforms in that area of air pollution have taken place at the local level, and that air pollution civil society organisations worked actively and successfully with local officials to bring about changes that have improved air quality in many Polish cities and regions”.

Victorian Photos Show the Plight of Scotland’s Poor 150 Years Ago >>>>

‘Hidden stories’: Historic England funds 56 projects on working-class heritage >>>>

Making cities mental health friendly for adolescents and young adults - Nature
This survey-based global study identifies key characteristics of a mental health-friendly city for young people.
These were then grouped across 6 domains and ranked according to feasibility and desirability:

  • Personal - e.g. providing opportunities for personal development.
  • Interpersonal relationships - e.g. respect for young people and intergenerational relationships.
  • Community - e.g. access to safe spaces.
  • Organizational - e.g. employment opportunities and education.
  • Policy -  e.g. designing and planning of cities with youth input and promoting democratic co-operation.
  • Environmental - e.g. Addressing adverse social determinants of health for young  people and normalizing youth seeking mental health care and  addressing service gaps.

City sounds matter! Studying urban life through sound, not just sight or text…
Voices from Shanghai, Berlin and London - Urban Studies

Researchers are increasingly paying attention to sound in different disciplines, a trend called the "sonic turn". In city studies, people are starting to explore how sound shapes relationships, identities, belonging, and even how communities exclude others.

This paper examines a specific approach: sonic urban ethnography. Instead of relying mainly on text and visuals, this method actively listens to and analyzes sounds to understand cities differently. By focusing on sound, we can discover new ways of knowing and experiencing urban life.

The paper uses four examples from Shanghai, Berlin, and London to show how sound can be powerful in cities. These cases highlight three key lessons for doing sonic urban ethnography:

  1. Listen attentively: Pay close attention to the specific sounds, their sources, and how people react to them.
  2. Consider context: Analyze sounds within their social, cultural, and historical context.
  3. Reflect on your listening: Be aware of your own biases and how your background shapes your experience of sound.

By incorporating sound and listening into urban research, we can gain richer and more nuanced understandings of cities and the people who live there.




Natural Environment 

When it comes to cooling cities, polycentric development with lots of dispersed green spaces works best >>>>
This Cornell University study investigated how urban design affects heat mitigation in cities. Researchers compared two scenarios:
1. Monocentric: A single, dominant city centre with sprawl of impervious surfaces (e.g., concrete) absorbing heat.
2. Polycentric: Multiple, smaller city centres with dispersed green spaces throughout the urban area.

The findings showed that polycentric development with dispersed green spaces cools cities down more effectively than monocentric development due to several factors:

  • Reduced heat absorption: Smaller, dispersed green spaces break up large swathes of heat-absorbing surfaces, offering more cooling throughout the city.
  • Improved air circulation: Multiple city centres allow for better air flow, preventing heat from getting trapped.

This effect is particularly beneficial for larger metropolitan areas, highlighting the importance of coordinated regional planning for heat mitigation strategies. While denser urban development has other sustainability benefits, it's crucial to integrate green spaces and avoid sprawling heat traps.
The study suggests that regional-level planning can:

  • Promote polycentric development: Create multiple, smaller city centres instead of a single, dominant one.
  • Coordinate green space patterns: Ensure green spaces are dispersed throughout the region, not just concentrated in one area.
  • Increase density in suburban nodes: Make existing suburban areas more compact and walkable, reducing reliance on cars and heat-generating sprawl.

These strategies, beyond mitigating the urban heat island effect, offer additional benefits like limiting sprawl, promoting public transit use, and increasing affordable housing.

Urban Green Space Changes in China (1990-2018) >>>>

  • Decreasing green space (1990-2005): National average of forest vegetation cover fell due to urban expansion and construction. Megacities saw the steepest decline.
  • Reversal and increase (2005-2018): All city sizes experienced a 27.31% rise in forest vegetation cover, likely due to urban growth and greening policies. Megacities again had the highest increase.
  • New vs. old urban areas: New areas have higher forest vegetation cover than old ones, indicating better eco-planning in new developments. Examples from different cities support this trend.
  • Correlations with other factors: Higher forest vegetation cover is associated with GDP, temperature, wind speed, and urban construction land, but negatively with precipitation.
  • Main drivers: For large/medium cities, GDP, population, and temperature influence forest vegetation cover most. In arid/semi-arid regions, climate (e.g., precipitation) plays a larger role.

A Century of Change in a Mature Urban Forest in New York >>>>
The study looks at the change in species, the maintenance of a canopy and natural regeneration.

Has the ecosystem of the Loch Neagh, the UK’s largest lake and source of 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s water supply collapsed? >>>>

Politics, Philosophy, Economics

Pathways to 15-Minute City adoption: Can our understanding of climate policies' acceptability explain the backlash towards x-minute city programs? - Cities
This paper looks at the diverse origins of both the legitimate and the unjustified critiques of the 15-min city overlooked by academic research on climate policy approval and ways to address them. These are summarized to be:

  • Social Engineering Fears e.g.
    • Fear of restrictive climate policies
    • Fear of loss of individual freedom
  • Distrust of Centralized Urban Planning e.g.
    • Suspicion towards government-led initiatives
    • Distrust of Urban lifestyle
    • Issues of “geographical distributive justice”  (whether resources are distributed fairly)
  • Automotive Freedom Concerns e.g.
    • Automobile dependence
    • Perceived threat to car-oriented lifestyles
  • Environmental and Gentrification risks e.g.
    • Social exclusion
    • Housing and real estate inequalities
    • Urban homogenisation

The study emphasises that opposition is not always simply ideological but may result from some groups of people feeling disregarded, or where individuals feel ignored by urban-centric initiatives.  Opposition may also reflect an urban-rural divide.  

Other critiques centre on the concept’s potential to “promote segregation by compartmentalizing amenities and limiting interaction between different neighbourhoods”, potentially excluding “essential workers and lower-income residents”.

Conclusions are:

1. Fight Misinformation: Concerns about "climate lockdowns" and social engineering need a comprehensive response:

  • Public education
  • Myth debunking
  • Policy clarification & safeguards
  • Community engagement for transparency
  • Addressing diverse anxieties directly

2. Make it Fair for Everyone: Localized decisions can increase perceived fairness and acceptance.  Solutions include:

  • Consider different needs in different neighbourhoods.
  • Work with local communities to design solutions that work for them.
  • Make sure everyone has access to the things they need, like groceries and healthcare.

3. Show People How it Works: Start small and let people see the benefits first hand. This could mean:

  • Creating car-free zones with more trees and cafes.
  • Improving public transportation and walking paths.
  • Showing people how these changes make their lives easier and healthier.

Creating Local “Citizen's Governance Spaces” in Austerity Contexts : Food Recuperation and Urban Gardening in Montréal (Canada) as Ways to Pragmatically Invent Alternatives - Urban Affairs Review
This study examines citizen-led initiatives and how these interact with local institutions and third sector organizations and themselves become institutionalized.

Entrepreneurship on the periphery: between precarious work and the search for a meaningful life"
This paper looks at low-income communities in São Paulo's suburbs cope with economic hardship by exploring entrepreneurship as a survival strategy.
There are two main categories: people who operate within the “informal economy” and people who register with the state as “micro-entrepreneurs”.
Motivations identified included:

  • Men (50+): "Worker's ethic" (opposed to crime), "getting-by ethic" (making do), and "provider's ethic" (being the breadwinner).
  • Women: "Carer's ethic" (prioritizing child care) and "getting-by ethic."
  • Younger generation (30s): "Getting-by ethic" combined with seeking "professional fulfilment" and escaping workplace dissatisfaction.

England: Right to Buy must reform, council bosses warn >>>>


Welsh 20mph speed limit is a success, claims government >>>>
Average speeds on the 20mph roads studied fell from 28.9mph before the rollout to 24.8mph.   This change means a 25 percent reduction in the kinetic energy of vehicles. 

Highway Environment plays a major role in influencing who gets blamed when pedestrians are hit by vehicles  USA Study >>>>
A study of 2,757 pedestrian crashes in the Franklin county, Ohio between 2015 and 2019. In slightly more than half the crashes (54%), the driver was found at fault, and in 36%, the pedestrian was blamed. No fault was found in the remaining crashes.  Conclusions:

  • Location matters: Pedestrians were more likely blamed in areas with few crosswalks and busy, high-speed roads.
  • Downtown vs. neighbourhoods: Downtown's pedestrian-friendly design led to more driver fault, while neighbourhoods with fewer crosswalks saw more pedestrian fault.
  • Police reports miss context: Current forms lack information on built environment, potentially misinterpreting pedestrian choices.

Was the low-fare public transport in Bonn a success? An evaluation of the climate ticket users and lessons for transportation companies - Case Studies on Transport Policy
This paper reports on an analysis of travel changes after a “climate ticket” was introduced in 2019 whereby consumers could purchase an annual €365  ticket for all local public transport in the city of Bonn.  Findings include:

  • Low-cost ticket reduces air pollution and car use.
  • Users prefer it over standard fares, similar to Vienna's successful model.
  • Frequent public transport users and women rate it higher.


Energy and Climate Change

A Century of Reforestation Reduced Anthropogenic Warming in the Eastern United States - Earth’s Future
Major desalination plant proposed to support water supplies for the Algarve, Portugal >>>>