UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Paradigms for a prosperous London: inspiration from co-creation

21 April 2015

Sustain Talks, Jan Hoffmann, Lensational

By Maria Evangelina (Eva) Filippi

What can entrepreneurial courage, urban communities’ participation and sustainability endeavours bring about together? A great number of benefits to the social, economic and environmental agendas that put pressure on London, as an RCA discussion group showed.

The leaders of EcoMotive, LeapAD and Repowering London were brought together last Wednesday as part of the RCA Sustain Talks cycle. These initiatives are dealing with different contemporary urban challenges, from affordable housing provision to sustainable food waste management and energy generation. They all share a common denominator, namely: the understanding of these urban challenges as a real opportunity for innovation and change that transcends ‘normal’ ways of tackling every-day problems.

EcoMotive, a Bristol-based social enterprise, facilitates custom-build and self-build projects as a new housing paradigm. LeapAD is a cross-sector partnership developing small-scale urban anaerobic digestion (AD) pilot projects that aim to turn food waste into clean renewable energy, reducing carbon and methane emissions and supporting local food growing. Repowering London is an organisation seeding solar energy co-ops across Brixton, Hackney and Vauxhall, with the ultimate goal of building energy resilient empowered communities.

Besides the evident benefits in terms of environmental sustainability and resource-use efficiency, these projects advocate for more radical changes towards social justice – concentrating on tackling youth unemployment, supporting social diversity, and empowering disadvantaged minorities – and a new economic system that underpins social-natural relations: the creation of an organic circular economy from the ground up, for example.

The event was rounded up with a Q&A session, which resulted in a lively discussion with the audience about the main barriers to these kinds of projects. The administrative bureaucracy of City Councils with its costly and lengthy procedures combined with citizens’ apathy (that is, a generalized feeling that many residents want change but without taking part of that change) sat at the top of the list of priority changes.

A consideration of the quintessentially local nature of community-based projects also highlighted the question of scale. How might a great initiative in one neighbourhood translate to another, or be scaled up?

As an urban lab, London is catalysing original bottom-up approaches for localizing the planning and management of socio-ecological resources. The extent to which these projects can turned into something more than piecemeal endeavours depends on us. RCA Sustain Talks are precisely set out to provoke big ideas and networked initiatives.

Join the next talk on Designing Regenerative Agriculture on 15 April.

Image credit: Jan Hoffmann, Lensational