Let’s do a thought experiment. Close your eyes and picture a NIMBY: a local resident adamant that an offshore wind farm should not be built in their backyard – a wind farm that could generate many thousands of megawatts of clean, green energy, and stop an equivalent amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. Now imagine that the same person is protesting against a new nuclear power station or fracking underneath their home. How does that change your feelings about them, and the validity of their arguments?
Weighing local interests against national ones is a fundamental dilemma for decision-makers, and it’s one of the themes of a research project by University College London’s Bartlett faculty, which I wrote about for the Bartlett Review 2017. The research team explored how the concerns of the public are handled in the fast-track, centralised process for approving Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). NSIPs include transport routes, power stations, offshore wind farms and, more recently, associated housing, and there have even been proposals to extend the definition to major commercial developments. But the research team chose to focus on renewable energy – an area where national policy sets a strong presumption in favour and where local people often find themselves cast as refuseniks in the face of an overwhelming public good.
Education is a booming sector, thanks to a growing global population with a thirst for knowledge. But how can today’s schools and universities prepare for a world that doesn’t yet exist? In the latest issue of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine my company Wordmule produces for WSP, I compiled this 14-page infographic feature on the many challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents to educators around the world. What should next-generation learning spaces look like, how can we pay for a transformation on this scale, and how do you teach a digital native anything when they can just Google it?
In February, I travelled to Sweden to interview Johan Edstav, a Green party councillor in Uppsala who is leading a nationwide programme to build sustainable new towns. Sweden is one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, but it’s seriously constrained by a lack of affordable housing: in 2017, 255 out of 290 municipalities reported a shortage and the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning says that it needs to build approximately 710,000 homes by 2025. Like many other countries, it is struggling to balance city prosperity with affordability, help an ageing population to downsize, and decarbonize its economy. What sets Sweden apart is that this small country of barely 10 million has welcomed more refugees per capita than any other in Europe. In 2015, at the peak of the European migrant crisis, more than 160,000 people arrived seeking asylum. Sweden’s immigration policy is justifiably a source of national pride, but it has also raised questions about how so many newcomers can be integrated – or even housed.
So the challenge for the government, and Edstav as its representative, is not only to increase a paltry rate of housebuilding, but to plan new developments to bring people together in more integrated, better functioning communities. The Nordic countries already lead the world in environmental sustainability; now Sweden is seeking to isolate the DNA of the more complex and much less explored social dimension. I asked him how in this piece for The Possible, the thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for WSP.
Longstanding client WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff wanted to raise its profile as a thought leader in its chosen fields, so the global marketing team commissioned my company, Wordmule, to produce a new client publication.
The result is “The Possible”, a 68-page print magazine about the future of buildings and cities and the innovative ideas and technologies that can help them function better. It has an initial circulation of 10,000 targeted at a senior audience of architects, developers, contractors, city planners, government agencies and institutes, and building users worldwide.
To inform the magazine’s content, and the company’s thought leadership strategy more broadly, we conducted 30+ in-depth interviews with the company’s clients and partners around the world, as well as speaking to specialists and experts among its 36,000 employees. We then planned, commissioned, wrote and edited the articles, and managed the project throughout, working with creative agency Supermassive and printer Greenshires. The first issue of The Possible was published in November 2016, and the second is due out in spring 2017.
The first issue included articles by a diverse range of global contributors, as well as in-depth features on adapting healthcare and the built environment for an ageing demographic; modular construction and encouraging creativity in the workplace, and a stunning cover illustration by Noma Bar.
Read more about the project on the Wordmule website.
Professor Heinz Wolff works in a building that bears his name, surrounded by a lifetime of his own inventions – machines for Antarctic explorers, astronauts, soldiers, divers, people with disabilities, people with arthritis. That’s where I went to meet him in August, to find out about his latest project: not a machine, but an entirely new economic system designed to solve the problem of how cash-strapped Western societies can afford to care for a much larger elderly population. Now aged 88, the father of bioengineering still comes to Brunel University in west London five days a week to continue his pioneering work. But for the first time in his long career, he doesn’t think technology can provide the answer – a shift in thinking that he has compared to a religious conversion. “I came to the conclusion that if you’re having to care for a large number of elderly people who were not necessarily in total control of their cognition, then technology wasn’t going to be an awful lot of use. What you wanted was humanity.”
Inside Housing is the most widely read magazine for the UK social housing sector. I edited a 36-page supplement to tie in with the biggest event in the housing calendar, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester. As social landlords waited anxiously to find out their fate under the new Conservative government, the supplement took an in-depth look at the apparently unstoppable shift of power from Westminster to the regions, and whether councils could ever reprise their role as major housebuilders.
The magazine also included four “sponsored chapters” – bespoke editorial produced in association with a sponsor on a particular topic. The overarching theme inevitably became “doing more with less”, as ever-deeper spending cuts force those providing public services to make some difficult choices.
Last time Britain faced a housing crisis on this scale, it was local authorities that built our way out of it. The days when council building departments threw up gargantuan estates may be long gone, but there has been a quiet renaissance over the last three years as they deliver a small but growing proportion of new homes. Whether this is a scalable part of a long-term solution or just a blip in the continuing decline of council stock will depend on the policies of the new government – and it’s already clear that it’s not going to be easy. I interviewed a man who’s really hoping it’s the former: Eamon McGoldrick, managing director of the National Federation of ALMOs – the arm’s length management organisations that are responsible for most of this housebuilding. The article appeared in Inside Housing magazine, in a supplement which I also edited.