Workshop: How can more collaboration increase the pace of change towards a more sustainable city-region?

Workshop: How can more collaboration increase the pace of change towards a more sustainable city-region?

By Jake Barnes, ARTS Brighton Researcher

In recent years cities and their respective ‘regions’ have become intensive arenas for sustainability-related aspirations and action. Brighton and Hove is no exception. Locally, we’ve found more than 100 sustainability related initiatives from businesses, local government and civil society actors seeking to promote a prosperous low carbon society. For example the launch of the Biosphere Partnership in 2014 is the latest in a succession of ever larger umbrella initiatives seeking to support, promote and champion the green aspirations of the region.

But how can city-regions achieve bio-diverse, thriving and low carbon societies? Are some cities progressing more rapidly than others? What is the impact of shifting national governance on such progress? How do national austerity measures impact on cities? And what strategies can local businesses, government or civil society initiatives adopt to facilitate progress to a more sustainable city region?

These are some of the questions that we have been exploring as part of the ARTS project – Accelerating and Re-scaling Transitions to Sustainability. In this blog I introduce some of the motivations behind our forthcoming series of workshops and outline the agenda of the first.

Sustainability through collaboration?

Brighton and Hove City Council hopes that a new collaborative approach – between communities, businesses and local government – will reduce costs and decrease inequality. Whilst the approach is still being discussed one thing is clear: the approach could accelerate progress to a more bio-diverse, low carbon and sustainable city-region – or it could lock-in new practices that hinder this common objective.

In this series of three workshops we will examine the issues facing the city and formulate possible ways forward. We will explore shifting national and local contexts and ask what new ‘collaborative approaches’ might mean in practice. The workshops aim to facilitate collective understanding and problem-solving. Our hope is for the workshops to result in a number of collective outputs that will accelerate progress to a more sustainable future.

So far we have been privileged to work with a group of local stakeholders in designing the workshops. Vic Borrel (Brighton and Hove Food Partnership), Chris Todd (FOE, Brighton), Mita Patel (BHCC), Duncan Blinkhorn (Community Works) and Rich Howorth (Biosphere Partnership), alongside numerous others have helped us to understand the city and how the workshops can be useful to a range of activity already underway.

To kick-start the first workshop (Thursday 17th March) Emma McDermott (Head of Communities and Equalities, Brighton and Hove City Council) will outline the current challenges of local government (e.g. finances) and their proposed response, namely more collaboration. Whilst it remains unclear what this new approach might mean, we do know that it draws upon the idea of Cooperative Councils, successfully deployed elsewhere in the county. It also has the potential to represent a significant change. Indeed in the Council’s own words, “it is vital that we are not tentative about the scale of work involved, nor the significant shift in delivery this represents”.

From the ARTS research perspective these changes in governance approaches provide opportunities that can be usefully built upon to support the sustainability objectives of the city. In doing so we can potentially lock-in or embed more sustainable ways of doing, organizing and thinking across the city. Furthermore, we can support existing and new sustainability-orientated initiatives and potentially, increase their impact.

The workshop series aims to create a space in which we can all find out more about these proposals. It will create space for discussion – what do new collaborative approaches mean in the relation to common sustainability objectives? – and allow us to explore the way in which we approach and work with the Council (and each other) moving forward. In particular we aim to identify the sustainability issues that need to be addressed in this new structure and explore where and how local organisations can engage with the process.  

To investigate these issues in more detail, two focal areas will then be introduced: green spaces and major infrastructure projects.

  1. Green spaces: There are over 100 parks and green spaces in Brighton and Hove, many with associated groups. Some display good practice, others are considered test-beds for new approaches to management and use. Each has the potential to support more participatory and sustainable practices. In the first workshop Duncan Blinkhorn (Community Works) and Simon Banister (BHCC) will briefly introduce activity at William Clarke Park, aka ‘the Patch’ and Regency Square as a means to open discussion in this area.
  2. Major infrastructure projects: How potentially large and long-lasting new infrastructure projects develop is critically important to our sustainability aspirations. Circus Street, the level, the i360 and Preston Barracks are some contemporary examples in the city.

We’ve chosen the two areas for their respective entry points. The first area, green spaces, was chosen for its predominantly bottom-up and participatory form. The second area, major infrastructure projects, was chosen because of its business and potentially top-down development process. The way each area is developed is changing however and more collaboration is thought key to both. Bringing the two together has the potential, we believe, to influence the other in useful ways. It has the potential to create a useful tension between different types of approaches and spark more collaboration and debate.

As such each introduction will be followed by time to discuss and ask questions. The primary aim being to set the stage for the second workshop (14th April) where we will discuss these areas in more detail.

It is only with your help and participation that we can use the workshops for collective benefit. And for this reason I look forward to the workshops as a dynamic and participatory space in which we can explore, discuss and hopefully accelerate progress to a more sustainable city.

To sign up to the workshops please visit our Eventbrite page:

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Miriam is a student at the University of Sussex in Brighton. She can be found at @ThatMiriam on twitter.

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