Capable Neighbourhoods

This new paper explores alternative approaches to addressing climate change and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. It is based on a neighbourhood-driven approach which enhances sustainability performance through creating local facilities, installing sustainable technologies, creating new organisational and governance structures and influencing behaviour. An abstract for the paper called ‘Capable Neighbourhood’ is below. Please get in touch if you would like the full paper.

Current programmes addressing climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals are not achieving the scale and speed of change required. Despite international commitments and national strategies, progress in achieving agreed targets has been insufficient. It is important, therefore, to understand why progress has been slow and to investigate alternative approaches. Reasons for slow progress may be as a result of a fragmented approach, uncoordinated initiatives with a narrow focus and a reluctance to initiate the radical change required. Local concerns mean that climate change and SDGs are prioritised differently across the world with some developed countries beginning to tackle climate change in earnest while developing countries place a greater emphasis on social and economic development. A narrow focus on specific issues such as energy, or water, by projects in these countries often means that other aspects such as transport and food get left behind. Similarly, a technological focus without addressing the required associated transformation in organisational structure and behaviour in these projects reduces the extent and sustainability of change. However, perhaps the biggest reason for limited progress is the tendency for climate change and sustainable development initiatives to shy away from making significant changes to lifestyles and working patterns despite an increasing consensus in the scientific field that this is now required.
This study, therefore, argues that alternative approaches are needed. These must not be restricted to a sector, or to limited interventions, but must aim squarely at making substantial changes in living and working patterns. One of the most effective ways to address climate change and sustainable development is through a holistic approach that transforms living and working environments. Pressing social and economic issues must be addressed at the same time as environmental issues and integrated, synergistic solutions sought. This ensures that limited resources and time are used to greatest effect. Embedding sustainable solutions in infrastructure and transforming working and living patterns can be used to create the level of change required and ensure this is sustained.
A key element of this approach is the focus on ‘Capable Neighbourhoods’. A holistic understanding of sustainability is used to define key built environment and neighbourhood characteristics that enable low carbon, sustainable working and living patterns. These characteristics can be understood as ‘neighbourhood capabilities’ that must be in place to enable occupants to practice lifestyles and working patterns that are sustainable. Neighbourhood capabilities are defined and structured in an assessment tool called the Built Environment Sustainability Tool, or BEST. The BEST is presented and examples of how the tool can be used to evaluate the capabilities of neighbourhoods are provided. In addition, the application of the tool to identify transformative interventions which promote low carbon, sustainable living and working patterns, are illustrated. The BEST is critically reviewed and a summary of the differences between the ‘Capable Neighbourhood’ and current carbon emission reduction approaches is provided.