High ambitions for high rise sustainable living

This post is by policy adviser Hannah Kyrke-Smith.

On Monday 25 June 2012, we brought together the residents from an inner London high rise estate and three of their local councillors to take part in the first of three workshops we’re holding in estates across the city under our Towering Ambitions project.

We are looking into the sustainable living challenges faced by people in tower blocks. Visions of a greener, cleaner future often involve people living and working happily in tall, shining towers, taking advantage of the benefits they offer of saving space, reducing waste and maximising efficiency. Sadly though, the reality of tower block life is a long way from this vision and they can be among the least green places to live. And this problem is acute in many parts of London where nearly half the population lives in high density accommodation.

Sustainable living policies often don’t take high rise living into account
Policies and services to encourage greener choices and behaviours are designed with street level houses in mind. Tower blocks are seen to present significant challenges, so are often left out of the picture, with the result that many high rise residential buildings lack even basic measures, such as recycling facilities, bike storage and sufficient insulation.

We are particularly interested in how government policy areas aimed at greening lifestyles – the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation, smart meters, waste and recycling, and the localism agenda, for example – work for tower blocks.

Residents want greener living
There was no shortage of enthusiasm in our workshop at the Petticoat Tower on the Middlesex Street estate. The residents wanted to share their views on what they like about where they live and what they’d like to change. They discussed what they could do as individuals and as a community to improve their local environment, and where help would be needed from their landlord, the Corporation of London, or other organisations to make this possible.

Some great ideas emerged, with a desire to turn Middlesex Street into a leading green inner city estate. Residents were keen to find out more from the Corporation about plans to insulate their block and whether they could have individual control of their heating, and they wanted to look into getting water-saving devices for their homes.

Beyond the tower itself, there was talk of setting up a community gardening group, creating wildlife-friendly spaces in the square below (and maybe even on the walls and roof) and growing food on their balconies. They were also interested in sustainable travel, and were keen to have sufficient safe storage space for bicycles on the estate. Residents left the workshop clearly inspired to take action, and we look forward to seeing the results.

A toolkit for change
Once all the workshops are complete, we’ll give a green living toolkit based on our findings to residents, landlords, local authorities and civil society groups across the country. It will be packed with advice for taking action and getting others involved, inspiring case studies and links to organisations that can provide further advice and support.

We’ll use the results of our workshops and our wider research into the issues to provide recommendations for local and national government on new green living policies and ways to amend existing policy for greater success. Look out for our final report to be published this autumn.

With thanks to the City Bridge Trust for supporting this project.

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