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Sustainable Cities The role of business

Urban action S

To have a sustainable future, businesses need to be city makers, not just city takers. Lynne Ceeney explains how collaboration, sharing and retrofitting are key to meeting the challenges ahead

hould businesses be at the forefront of sustainable cities; can they afford to ignore the challenges our cities and

towns now face?

While the detail surrounding Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans has yet to emerge, businesses have a role in helping to shape the location and form of new developments, and in cooperating with citizens and the public sector to debate and determine the changes needed in our cities and towns.

The growing challenges for business con- tinuity, the workforce, customers and future growth are substantial. It is no longer enough for businesses to focus only within their physical boundaries or to leave these matters to the public sector. Sustainable cities must be collaborative cities, where a shared approach to climate change adaptation, land use and asset value maximisation will benefit all. But more importantly, businesses working together have a major role to play – possibly even a social responsibility – to help retrofit towns or cities as a whole through their exist-

ing buildings. There is a need for impetus from city and town centre management groups, business associations and local businesses to work together. They must take practical actions to address some of the challenges that face our urban areas. To have a sustainable future, businesses need to be city makers as they have been in the past, not just city takers.

The historic role of businesses Business has always played a key role in development of our settlements. When coal became the main source of industrial power (around 1780), towns and cities sprang up on the coalfields in response to business needs. Some older settlements disappeared as they were unsuitable for new challenges. People migrated to follow jobs and settlements near coalfields, on navigable water or on ports – and later those on railways. These areas adapted and grew rapidly because they ena- bled commerce and trade.

This growth was neither planned nor regu-

lated and the problems of overcrowding often resulted in miserable living conditions and

4 | Sustainable Business | Sustainable Cities | February 2011

poor health for much of the urban popula- tion. Although legislation began to enable local government to manage some of the worst problems from the late 1850s, some industrial- ists had already begun to address these con- cerns by creating new settlements with better housing and physical/social infrastructure for their employees. Bournville, Saltaire and Port Sunlight are some of the best known examples of this approach.

However, in the 20th century the state and local government took over responsibility for urban issues. New Towns, and a collection of new planning, building and environmental legislation set out to address urban issues. Businesses became place ‘takers’ rather than place ‘makers’.

But in the 1980s, businesses became involved again, this time as a result of social problems, culminating in widespread UK inner-city unrest in the early 1980s. A number of major companies helped form Business in the Community, recognising that “healthy back streets make healthy high streets”. Like their predecessors of the 1880s, they took

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