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London: How To Write Low-Carbon Policies

Hana Loftus, WorldChanging
Innovation without adoption is ineffective, and sometimes in order to get people to adopt new innovations, you have to use policy to get the ball rolling.

The Mayor of London is definitely pushing the bounds on this front, with ambitious targets for energy reduction and sustainable development (and not without some pretty scared faces within the property development industry). His 2004 London Plan set the tone, insisting that all ‘major’ developments generate 10% of their energy needs on-site through renewables, as well as requiring other green performance improvements. Since then a whole suite of other guidelines, initiatives and regulations have come out, including the first London-wide energy strategy.

There’s still the question of how to practically implement this on the local level within each borough. The boroughs are the local planning authorities who have to conduct the intense negotiation with developers about what goes on each site. To give them back-up, the Mayor just released a tremendously useful document that would be well worth reading for any other authority looking to encourage similar things.

It has bits of policy that you can cut and paste into your own policy documents: the dummy’s guide to all the different renewable technologies that might be used and what kind of projects they are most suited to, case studies of successful implementation, a checklist of good arguments to put to developers to encourage innovation, suggestions for practical phasing, ‘lessons and pitfalls’ to learn from, how to identify community and business partners to help achieve goals, and a great glossary.

All in all, the kind of thing that might make all the wishful thinking come true on the ground, and a great model for anyone looking to make a policy framework that works. It’s still early days to see finished developments that have been affected by the new London policies – but check back for updates.
(5 Aug 2006)
The document recommended by WorldChanging is Towards Zero Carbon Developments: Supportive Information for Boroughs (108-page PDF).

Jane Jacobs, Reconsidered

Sandy Zip, In These Times
When Jane Jacobs died this past spring, the flood of obituaries carried with them a litany of praise. Jacobs, they said, had faced down the great, infamous builder Robert Moses, ended neighborhood-killing urban renewal policies, and transformed urban planning with her lyrical evocation of Greenwich Village’s “intricate sidewalk ballet” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

And yet, these sorts of tributes to a “legend”—while not undeserved—gloss over political and historical context, and drown questions of Jacobs’ larger significance for postwar history in a readymade bath of piety and awe. So it is welcome that, after a fitting period of mourning and tribute, the first book-length treatment of Jacobs’ life and work, Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary, should appear this summer.
(25 July 2006)

Letter from Stockholm: Goodbye, for Now, to a Successful Traffic Congestion Tax

Alan AtKisson, WorldChanging
Here in this country of nature-lovers, berry-pickers, and climate-change activist weathermen, you would think that the introduction of a modest toll imposed on cars driving into the capitol city — enacted with the intention of reducing rush-hour traffic, improving air quality and health, increasing use of public transportation and multiple other benefits — would experience political smooth sailing. Especially after a similar initiative in London has worked beautifully, while charging more than twice the proposed toll at rush hour.

Not so. Or at least, not at first.

Last year, the politics around the planned “congestion tax/environmental fee” got so heated that Stockholm’s normally calm radio channels began to sound more like America’s whiniest call-in shows. Friendships strained under the divide between the “Ja” and “Nej” side of the equation, and many commentators predicted that Stockholm’s currently left-leaning city government would experience a crushing defeat on the strength of its support for this issue.

There were even open calls for civil disobedience from car-owner support groups, who made it possible for members to purchase special license-plate “protectors,” plastic covers that would foil the cameras designed to snap a picture of your car’s license plate and ding you for the toll.

All that is behind us now. Because the toll works. And the people like it.

And it has been discontinued.

Discontinuing the toll was actually the plan all along. The backstory of why that was (as I understand it) goes like this: the original idea was promoted by the Swedish Green Party, which meant that it was automatically opposed (or at least, less than enthusiastically supported) by nearly everyone else. Unfortunately, Green support is often the political kiss of death here, even for ideas that everyone agrees are quite good. The political compromise that got the idea through (it was actually forced on the city by the national parliament, not the city council) involved framing it as an experiment, the “Stockholm Trial” in official talk. Stockholm would try it for seven months, and look at the data, and then the people of Stockholm would vote about whether to turn the system back on, or dismantle it. …
(4 Aug 2006)