Monthly Archives: February 2013

Smart Cities – technologies at the service of people

Today’s magazine section of the BBC News website contains a thoughful article on smart cities. Called, ‘How will our future cities look?’ by Jane Wakefield, a BBC technology reporter, she explores the possible limits of technical solutions to social issues. And for my money, anyone who quotes Jane Jacobs approach to social issues within cities, as she does here, is a serious commentator.
While we cannot say that technology has no solutions to deep-seated problems in urban areas – consider the massive social improvements when city engineers pumped clean water into the Victorian slums – there is a sense that sometimes being ‘smart’ just becomes an urban technology arms race.
For example, there are lots of smart technology proposals to better manage urban traffic jams and parking space shortages. But the benefits seem to flow to the richest drivers with the latest gadgets, meanwhile the council is asked to fund sensors at every junction or even every parking space. A root-cause analysis might look instead at methods to dampen long-distance commuting while improving the transport choices and the street environment of poorer inner-city areas through which the commuter highways can gash.
Smart cities will need to use technologies to improve sustainability by reducing demand; whereas only trying to improve supply (of empty roads or whatever) risks becoming a resource-intensive chase towards a mirage. Many of the so-called urban renewals of the 1960s in the USA, and parts of the UK, promised that multi-lane urban highways and motorways would reduce congestion and cause cities to prosper. In fact the opposite occured and the inner areas declined even faster, as Jane Jacobs observed at the time in New York and elsewhere. More recently cities such as Boston have removed or buried those 1960s highways to replace them with linear parks, especially near down town waterfronts.
My sense is that the smartest cities will be those that harness certain technologies that best enable people living in the city to improve its sustainability and quality of life. Clean water was one. Local newspapers are another. Link:

Social Care for Elderly People: the ‘future proofing’ of communities with sustainable Lifetime and HAPPI Homes

I’ve written here previously on some city centre appartment blocks and how they could be more attractive for elderly and retired occupiers. This piece looks at the construction details of houses and flats to better meet the housing and care needs of older people, on the ‘invest capital to save revenue’ model.
In the last week the UK government has announced its plans for funding some social care costs for elderly people, following the Dilnot report, and will set a £75,000 lifetime limit on social care costs from 2017, excluding any board and lodging component costs.
By announcing the limit, the government hopes that people of working age will now save or invest in financial products, similar to pensions, to cover their bills in later life up to the announced limit.
However, there are also some smart decisions people could make when younger which will lower or eliminate some of these costs in retirement. One such smart choice is to help ensure that any social care support in the future is delivered at home (ie in the community) instead of having to sell up and move into a residential or ‘care home’ with the extra costs associated with that upheaval. The means choosing a home if at all possible that has been made ‘future proof’.
First in the 1990s some housing experts together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Habinteg published a set of 16 design criteria, called Lifetime Homes. It was for new homes and provided a menu of low-cost and no-cost features which meant that the home could be readily adapted in future years to meet the changing needs of the occupants as they grew old, enabled to carry on living in their own home and keeping vital contact with neighbours and friends in their neighbourhood.
There were local examples of good practice prior to Lifetimes Homes, such as un the 1980s the Greater Manchester Housing and Disability Group where Irwell Valley Housing Association played a strong enabling role.
More recently, Age UK with the Town and Country Planning Association plus Habinteg have together taken forward the previous version and in November 2011 published an updated Lifetime Homes Design Guide on the 16 design criteria. This guide includes some basic recommendations such as, have the bathroom door swing outwards, put sockets at a height that people can reach without stretching, and don’t bury services within the wall that separates the bathroom from the nearest bedroom, so that a connecting doorway can be easily fitted later on.
These features follow the principle of Inclusive Design, which asks designers to think of everyone and not just a theoretical ‘average’ user, and to do so without compromising on quality.
Similarly, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has since 2009 been promoting the HAPPI Homes – Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation – with material such as 24 case studies from across the UK and wider Europe, and in 2012 reporting to an All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Lord Best.
The Lifetime Homes standard would save money for occupiers and for local and central government starting now and continuing for years to come.
It is a shame, therefore, that 20 years on from the original publication this approach to inclusive and future-proof homes, so few of its innovations have evidently been adopted and promoted by many mainstream housebuilders and providers. Links:

How a future Airport of a Sustainable City might be: a discussion

I was listening last December to a thoughtful presentation by a senior engineer from the Ove Arup consultancy at the New Economy offices in Manchester speaking about sustainable cities, and afterwards we got talking about what kind of airport a sustainable city would have. Doing some research afterwards, plus some further helpful discussions in the city, it seems to me that not enough has yet been written directly on this topic.
Of course, there is quite a lot said on airport design and operational details, for example, why runways are given catchy names like “26/08 L”. Economists have their data on jobs, business growth, local income and tourism flows. Transport planners have details on promoting good public transport connections. And, some environment campaigners sincerely believe that there is no place for air travel in a sustainable future.
My basic starting point is a belief: that international human and cultural contacts across continents are essential for inculcating peace and reducing xenophobia and racism. Of course, more short-haul travel should be done instead by rail and sea but there is still for me an irreducible social and political need for some air travel; along with the usual economics of trade. We need to remember, globally, that the 20th Century was very violent and deadly; and we need to craft a better future. ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace’ would be just as fitting a message as the ‘Above us only sky’ actual strapline at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. So then, given this belief, can it be sustainably achieved or not?
Firstly, if it can be achieved then it will not be through ‘shallow’ changes such as carbon offsetting or biofuels. These are just comfort blankets, and the more you look into their details the more problems they contain, for example in reducing both biodiversity and the amount of land available for food crops.
Secondly, in sparsely populated areas and spread-out settlements, the carbon footprint of air travel can be less than a network of major roads or rail lines, for example in ‘deep rural’ Australia and Africa. It would be interesting to see which USA city-to-city air routes would be lower carbon overall if replaced by high speed rail. Boston – New York – Washington by rail is already in place. For deep rural operations, propeller-driven small aircraft can be more fuel efficient than jets or helicopters, still travel fast over long distances, and land on a grass strip of less than 400m.
Thirdly, the ‘groundside’ aspects of a sustainable airport would maximise its connections with public transport, including high speed rail (such as is proposed with HS2 and Manchester Airport); and would maximise the energy efficiency of its buildings and processes, such as combined heat and power (CHP) from onsite small power stations. Car parking can be a groundside tension, because it is an income stream for the airport, its tenants and other businesses nearby, yet it is also being discouraged. Interestingly, a study by Manchester Airport showed that there were high proportions of car-to-airport journeys from nearby affluent parts of Cheshire, with public transport users mostly coming from further away as well as from less affluent areas.
Fourthly, and moving airside now: making cement and concrete globally is calculated to be creating more CO2 emissions than is air travel. Therefore there is no intrinsic reason for needing to achieve zero air travel; though of course the failure of international regulation makes tradeoffs between cement and aviation, for example, harder to achieve and impossible currently. The only coherent argument for zero aviation is one which says that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are now already so high that there is no acceptable lower limit for CO2 emissions from now on.
Fifthly, also airside: if there is someday soon an internationally agreed quota limit for CO2 emissions from aviation, what might some of its features be like? I would suggest that one key feature would be cooperation replacing competition. Some flights already include code-sharing between different airlines, so that one flight X actually carries passengers who have booked with one of two or more different operators. This could be extended, using smart allocations of aircraft size and crews to flexibly match different demand patterns day by day. The Competition Authorities would have a giddy fit; but someone has to pluck up the courage and tell them they are not always right. Competition is an imperfect science, not a religion. They might just listen to the World Trade Organisation. Next, airports are roughly divided into hubs and feeders. The hubs are more efficient and offer the volumes and range of destinations such that the smart efficiencies above could pay the highest dividends. Frankly, some smaller feeder airports may have to think instead about becoming a better rail connection to their nearest hub, and some larger feeder airports behaving more like hubs, to make the most from the quota of international flying hours available.
Sixthly, the details of what a sustainable city airport would look and feel like in the future would probably depend most on how any quota allocations were cascaded down to individual prospective passengers. For example, would the allocation be based on price alone as now, or by using new personal carbon credits, or mixed with institutional allocations such as to schools and universities, or by cashing in credits gained as a reward for previously having made other journeys by rail or sea?
Does any of this support Boris’s plan for a sixth airport for London? No, the solution to capacity constraints in and around London is for more cooperation to better use what is already there, pending the arrival of international limits.

City-States: are they on the rise again?

When the two co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs wrote in The Times on Thursday (14 Feb 2013) about why leaving the EU would be bad for business, the case they advanced was really about why leaving would be bad for financial businesses in Canary Wharf and in the square mile in the City of London.
Maybe it even got some right-wing MPs dreaming: if only ‘the City’ could stay in the EU but the rest of the UK could leave…?
And this may yet become the way of things, as I would suggest that city-states are on the rise again, with nation-states having a gently declining influence.
Some history: ‘City-states first appeared in Mesopotamia around 3200-3000 BC, and faded with the unification of the German and Italian city-states in the middle of the eighteenth century.’ (Badcock, 2002 p43). So city-states could be the ‘natural order’ of things.
And cities are rising in political influence again, and this is not just about finding Boris in the papers yet again pleading for more money for London. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the USA has been led politically by many American cities, especially between 2000 and 2008 during the GW Bush presidencies when there was high levels of federal hostility concerning actions for less climate change.
We now have an increasing number of ‘world cities’ including London, Mumbai, New York and Tokyo: cities each of a scale and diversity that exceed that of many countries sitting in the United Nations. In terms of realpolitik these world cities already behave like small-to-medium size countries, even though they cannot sign treaties or raise an army.
However, the question also has to asked for places such as the UK: what is the impact of sharing your country with a world-city? How much does the gravitational pull of London add to or suck away from other UK cities? Some parts of the UK essentially see London as another country, an export market, a place where one hopes to sell products, a place to which people ’emigrate’ to find work, a place that may look to outsource some teleworking locally. Currently there seems room for only one world-city on each continent, so Paris and Berlin never mind a UK city have their work cut out in trying to out-bid London. But Winchester was once a major city, and not so much these days, so long-term change is possible.
In effect London already has powers denied to any other UK city, both hard power in laws such as regulating transport, and soft power in terms of gaining major investments and resources for its grand projets.
City-regions in the UK such as Greater Manchester are exploring how much they can increase their self-control with the new legal arrangement of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the new softer powers within the City Deal agreements with the UK government to better manage some central functions locally.
However, the removal of many millions of pounds from the income of city councils in the UK, with thousands of jobs lost and services cut entirely, could set back the power of city-regions by decades. As President Obama said this week in his State of the Union speech, ‘we cannot cut our way to prosperity’. Exactly. Book:
Blair Badcock (2002), Making Sense of Cities, London: Arnold/Hodder.

Investment in Green Infrastructure will promote sustainable growth: a lesson for the Budget on 20 March

Green Infrastructure describes all the forests, woods, parks, bridleways, commons, gardens and generally planted land that is not built on. All urban areas include some green infrastructure, which is essential to urban functioning and wellbeing but also has (economically) intangible benefits such as protecting biodiversity. The more progressive urban authorities are those that pro-actively plan and develop their green infrastructure, for example by connecting their areas together like a necklace so that wildlife can more easily move from one area to the next, in effect making and protecting green corridors. Closely related is blue infrastructure: the structures of and the connections between rivers, canals, lakes, ponds and similar water structures.
With the UK government due to announce its 2013/14 budget on 20 March 2013, there has been some significant press coverage about the need to increase capital spending on infrastructure. This is said to be needed to help create jobs, sustainable growth, and to help improve economic performance, and rightly so.
A significant amount of much-needed infrastructure will relate to the built environment – we need working sewers with clean water outflows; improved rail transport; flood defences; as well as delightful public plazas and squares. However, green infrastructure also creates jobs, also creates lasting public and community assets, as well as improving the sustainability of localities and the planet. There are also other economic benefits, the so-called Eco-System Services, which flow from a well-functioning natural environment. An example is where more street trees help with natural city summer cooling meaning in turn that less use of high-energy air conditioning equipment is needed. Green infrastructure also has a wider intrinsic value beyond the Eco-System Services calculation of proximate economic gains.
So, it is to be hoped that any UK improvement in infrastructure spending in the UK government budget for 2013 onwards includes the green as well as the grey. For jobs, communities and planet.

Photographs of campaigning disabled people, 1920-1970

Covering the 1920s to the 1970s in England, some recent research of mine uncovered images of disabled people marching for jobs and rights in the 1920s and 1930s, including marches to London at the same time as the better-known Jarrow March. This radical tradition has been continued up to the present day with disabled people demonstrating for full civil rights. The research includes case studies of:
NLBD – the National League for Blind and Disabled People from 1920s; DDA – the Disabled Drivers Association from 1940s; and
MDA – Manchester Disabled Athletes, a sports club from 1970s.
For me, this reseach was a labour of love. I hope it helps to dispel the assumption that radical campaigning by disabled people for civil rights did not start until sometime in the 1960s or the 1970s. The struggle has a much longer history, even though the historical record of such campaigns is fragile and sometimes hard to uncover.


Unacknowledged Traces: exploring through photographic records the self-organisation of disabled people in England from the 1920s to the 1970s. ISBN 978-0-9572606-2-7 (2012) 168pp.

Unacknowledged Traces – Tony Baldwinson (2012)

Based on an MPhil thesis, University of Sunderland
Free as pdf and via preview at Google Books.

Measuring Local Impact: a method for evaluating the LPI (Local Performance Indicator) for projects, programmes and contracts.

Previous discussions here have discussed how EU procurement laws allows for the requirement and measurement of ‘local performance’, subject to safeguards about not discriminating against firms from anywhere in the EU. The example often given is where the successful firm must have or create a local office.
But how can we establish and measure a Local Performance Indicator (LPI), so that we can evaluate just ‘how local is project X’?
There are some existing methods such as Local Multiplier 3 (LM3) which measures how much of the currency spent locally stays in local circulation and how much leaves the area. A difficulty with the LM3 method is that it is necessary to measure the local spending performance details of the workforce and of the contractors’ suppliers as well as the project or contracted activity itself.
Therefore, an alternative method is suggested here which is more self-contained and therefore operationally easier to implement.

Formula 1. LPI(x) = [sum {payroll(x), suppliers(x), taxes(x)} / total expenditure] where x is the distance from the project centre.

Formula 2. Suppliers(x) = [goods, services, leases, interest payments, fees and charges, franchise and IP use charges, head office remittances](x)

The LPI is therefore expressed as a % of total expenditure that is made within distance x of the project centre, based on invoice addresses and staff home addresses, not temporary accommodation.

For ease of making standard comparisons and also for ease of calculations the following six distance bandings are suggested:

Formula 3.
LPI-3 <= 3km
LPI-10 <= 10km
LPI-50 <= 50km
LPI-R <= Region, Province, Nation (NUTS 1)
LPI-S <= State
LPI-U <= Union (USA, EU, etc)
Note 1: LPI-W which would be for World would always be 100% Note 2: NUTS is the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics

A strength of these formulae is that they can be fully answered by an entity’s payroll and accounting system plus GIS software for distances between two postcodes, zip codes, etc. The use of absolute distances also has the advantage over using administrative boundaries that trans-national comparisons are easily made. For example, the State level comparisson alone could refer to all of Germany or all of Luxembourg, but the two are very different.
A criticism of this formula could be that it does not measure the Keynesian local multiplier, that is how much of that local expenditure (eg <=3km) continues to be retained and re-spent within the locality. However this is resolved by the suppliers to Project X also measuring their LPI. Further, this LPI allows for direct comparisons with other projects, contracts etc because the radius of locality is defined by the bandings rather than ad-hoc.
Thus we might expect a public body in advertising a tender to, for example, ask applicants to state their LPI-3 figures for similar and recent contracts already underway; or to make some performance payments based on results for each year where the contract’s LPI-50 exceeds a stated %.
We may also see private sector clients wanting to include an LPI as part of their supply chain criteria for awarding their contracts, being part of their self-adopted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting requirements.

(c) 2013 all rights reserved.
Use by social enterprises allowed pro bono if with prior permission, attribution and this same rights notice.

EU Regional Policy: will the new budget be sufficient to counter the growing regional inequalities?

The proposed EU budget for payments during 2014-2020 to be €908bn has yet to be agreed by the European Parliament, and MEPs have already signalled their disagreement with the figure agreed between governments last week. Some in parliament are threatening to hold the ballot in secret to reduce the impact of pressure from each government on ‘their’ MEPs. The European Commission, who wanted over €1tn to be agreed, are none too happy either. Is there a decent case for a higher budget?
To provide some context, in just six weeks in 2008 the USA spent $1.1tn towards saving the banks: this equivalent EU budget has to last over 60 times longer; yet deal with the real-world aftermath of the banking crisis across Europe’s regions as well as usual business.
There was a strong case for EU regional policy even before the global banking crisis in 2008 and the Eurozone crisis from 2011. Writing in 2007, Harvey Armstrong notes that imbalance in wealth between the richest and poorest EU region was by a factor of over 12 and in unemployment rates it was by a factor of 10. The recent economic recession will have made these imbalances worse, especially in terms of youth unemployment.
The classic economic approach to regional imbalances between different countries is a choice between (a) currency exchange rate movements, usually a devaluation to make the region more competitive, and (b) transfers of funds from richer regions through public spending on benefits, services, infrastructure and subsidy.
In right-wing politics there is also a third approoach: (c) to require incomes in the poorer regions to drop in order to attract companies to relocate from richer regions on cost grounds. The three problems with this more-low-income approach are that: the markets for the sales made by companies remains mostly in the richer regions so there are higher transport costs; the richer regions have clusters of supply chains and skills which companies rely on and cannot be moved; and that people in the poorer regions, especially those with high skills, will leave in large numbers to work in richer regions, leaving the poorer region even more dependent on money transfers, both private and public.
So, going back to the two choices of exchange rate devaluation or transfer funding, the problem for countries with poor regions which are within the eurozone is that devaluation is currently not an option. However, if the transfer funding to assist regional development is insufficient, then the pressure for countries with the poorest regions to take a radical step and leave the eurozone may become unstoppable.
Another radical approach would be to concentrate the EU regional funds on the very poorest areas, similarly to the existing Cohesion Fund, and to argue that countries elsewhere (‘the north EU’ in crude terms) must deal with their regional imbalances themselves. For the UK this would increase our net contribution and for poorer regions in the UK it would leave them to rely on funds from Westminster alone.
Throughout the EU, not just in northern countries, public opinion is moving away from supporting the EU project. If the choice is between staying in a job and staying in the euro, we should not be surprised to see growing public pressure in poor regions to leave and devalue.
Finally, there is the distant option of modifying value added tax. VAT is known to be itself regressive, taking proportionately more funds from poorer regions than richer ones. Poorer regions could pay less or zero VAT, similar to existing EU arrangements for the ‘outermost regions’, however this would alter the net contributions of richer countries, itself a strong political issue. Book:
Harvey Armstrong, (2007) Regional Policy, (in) Ali M. Agraa, The European Union: Economics and Policies, 8th Edition, Chapter 22 pp421-440.

New EU Budget 2014-2020 contains a 40% increase in funding for Research and Innovation

The total reported EU Budget was agreed last week by the summit of heads of government and state at €960bn for commitments and €908bn for payments, plus a further €37bn for off-budget items such as disaster zones emergency relief. This proposed settlement now has to be agreed by the European Parliament.

One new budget item that was reduced late in the negotiations, called Connecting Europe, is down from a proposed €40bn, cut by €11bn to €29bn. This is to fund transnational high speed rail and broadband. However, other infrastructure budgets, including some rail and technology, have been reportedly increased.

The Financial Times, 9/10 February, has reported that the budget areas for research and innovation have increased by nearly 40%.

Regional development funds are also reported as increased by the BBC and Financial Times.

In terms of the wider politics, the member state that most closely achieved its stated position in the negotiations was Germany, holding the EU Budget to within 1% of the total Gross National Income of all EU members.

The UK remains a net contributor at €4.7bn/year at 2011 prices, after a rebate of €3.6bn/year, set to decrease over the period 2014-2020.

The EU Budget has two key types of expenditure: payments and commitments. The second has a higher ceiling and allows for spending commitments to be made above the payments budget (‘over-programming’) to allow for phased payments, continuity between budget periods, delays and withdrawals.

Interestingly, by some reports it is possible to compare the budgets for prior and future commitments and show that the EU budget would continue to grow over the next seven years, although this is not also true for payments.

(updated 12 February 2013)

Engineering and Infrastructure

A campaign by engineers is being launched this week for more UK infrastructure spending. The cost of government borrowing by issuing bonds is at its lowest rate in modern times. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that infrastructure spending since 2010 remains too low, with estimates that the coalition government cut its capital spending over £8billion further than Labour had planned.
“The Government is missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in big construction projects and risks letting national infrastructure wither through underspending, one of Britain’s foremost industrialists has warned. Sir John Parker, the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, is also calling for a resurection of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a short-lived innovation of the previous Labour administration that was scrapped by the coalition. Next week Sir John … will launch the institution’s campaign to get the Government to put engineering at the heart of its growth strategy.” The Times, 9 February 2013, p67.
There can be a class snobbishness about engineers – not quite the same grade as, say, a doctor or architect; and worse than that, a vocational career which is still sometimes seen as second-best, as coming from a lack, a deficit. So let’s hear it for engineers and for engineering.
There should be more women engineers, more recruits from Black and ethnic minority communities, and including more disabled people and people from the LGBT community. Perhaps it needs a celebrity engineering professor on television to provide a role model to encourage more young new entrants. Brunel was good, but he is getting a bit old now.
The German system of a respected ladder of qualifications for vocational trades including engineering underpins their success in manufacturing and construction. We should take a similar approach to engineering and construction skills in the UK.