Future Imperfect or Positive Change?

Partisan hosts Eighty Twenty, a fortnightly roundtable event. This is where we invite business leaders connected with the built environment to join us for breakfast to discuss the issues that are close to them.

This week, we looked at whether people working in the built environment are properly prepared for the future, and what questions they should be asking themselves, and others, to improve their readiness.

Meeting the Rapidity of Change

Technology is accelerating change. On the one hand, this is a good thing, as it is an enabler of improved infrastructure and new building design processes. On the other, the rapidity of this change means designers and developers no longer have the luxury of time on their side.

In this context, those designing the built environment for the future must consider how technology has an impact, including its potentially negative as well as positive aspects.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) observes that the construction industry has developed over time in a very fragmented manner and has been slow to adapt wholesale to change. But without better adaptation in this sector, there cannot be a wholly adequate response to the demands of technology on the built environment.

Currently, the built environment is directly responsible for over 20% of the UK’s carbon footprint, including transport emissions. Furthermore, the construction industry is one of the largest consumers of materials, while producing more waste than any other sector.

The Need to Ask New Questions

Is there a danger that we are asking the same questions about the built environment that we were 30 years ago, despite the impact of technology?

There are issues of improving where people live, ensuring there is a sense of community driving development, and that developments are appropriate to an area.

With hindsight, it becomes clear that some developments have not worked, or have turned out to be the wrong kind of development for the way the surrounding area has subsequently changed. One example of this is the Central Retail Park on Great Ancoats Street.

Change promises to be far more rapid this time around, which will make the impact of getting it wrong far more immediate, and their consequences costly.

Positive Change for the Built Environment

The issue of how the built environment leaves such a large carbon footprint should be driving how buildings are designed and built, and also the infrastructure supporting them.

Greater Manchester has a five-year environment plan, setting out a long-term environmental vision to make the region carbon-neutral by 2038.

Along with addressing issues such as waste and resources, clean air and energy efficiency, the plan also includes a plan for homes, jobs and the environment.

This looks at providing the right homes in the region, along with job creation and improving infrastructure.

For those closely involved in the built environment, the challenge to make the future work has already begun.

Planning and Using Cities

One significant issue, however, is around changing behaviours. Even the best designed urban spaces will fail if the people using them do not do so in such a way as to maximise the potential for change.

For example, no infrastructure, even with visionary environmentally-friendly improvements, can adequately support a growing population which still feels they must commute to and from work within defined timeframes.

Just as technology is impacting on how we design, plan and, eventually, construct buildings, so it can also change how we choose to use the cities we live in.

This needs to include changing work patterns, but must also encompass and reinforce the idea of the community as a mutually supportive aspect of urban living.

Otherwise, the danger is that people in urban spaces become increasingly atomised, disconnected from the notion of being part of something bigger than themselves.

Positive change, therefore, comes not just from building and infrastructure design and innovation, but also how people choose to live, and how the built environment enables them to live differently.

Our Guests This Time

Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:

Murray Graham, Iceni
Richard Jones, WSP
Andrew McNaghten, Walker Sime
Stephen Morgan-Hyland, Maddox
Adam Smith, Vectos
Lewis Stonehouse, Hydrock

Upcoming Events

Eighty Twenty is a once a month invite only event for business leaders within the built environment - hosted by Partisan

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