Simon Birkett is on a mission to reduce the toxic levels of air pollution in his beloved London. A former HSBC banker, Simon was inspired to take on the cause full-time after his early retirement in 2009. You could say that he loves his city too much to give up on it.
“I had one vision,” he says. “To make my neighbourhood an exemplar for healthy air in London.” Beyond his immediate neighbourhood of Knightsbridge, he hopes to get all of London to fully comply with the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.
“That is still the mission,” he says. “But now I have a bigger vision: London and the rest of the world.”
One day in 2015, eight years after he had started his Clean Air in London campaign, Simon was invited to join the steering group for the UN’s Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process – a series of expert meetings that result in reports to inform the UN’s work to protect the environment. He was hooked by the discussions and engagement with environment experts from a variety of disciplines and geographies, all with one goal – a more sustainable future for the planet.
Around the same time, Simon was setting up the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum, which had the opportunity to produce the first neighbourhood plan in central London under new legislation. A major challenge in that work, Simon says, is that the vitally important climate targets set for 2030 or 2050 seemed “unreal and unrealistic”. What he sought, and found in September 2015, were concrete targets and a framework around which he could organize the local plan: the newly agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Some have called the Knightsbridge neighbourhood plan ambitious. But, he says, “it is achievable. We had five themes, ten objectives and 42 policies. And every single policy can contribute to one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
He had made the connection, he said, between the lofty global goals agreed to by every nation on the planet, and the meaningful impact of these goals at the local level.
“I never would have thought of the SDGs unless I had been involved in the GEO process. Through this, I have learned a lot. Now things all fit together to achieve meaningful outcomes.”
Simon says he is now a true believer in the SDGs, especially at the city level. “We need to get people working towards them, as well as getting the data. We need people signed up.”
Simon says he will not rest until he has achieved his objective: turning London into one of the world’s cleanest and most innovative sustainable cities. Lobbying the British Parliament, the Mayor’s Office, the European Union and the World Health Organization have all been part of that strategy.
At a briefing session over breakfast with London’s deputy mayor on environment and energy, Simon said, the deputy mayor asked if there were any questions. He saw his opportunity.
“Have the Sustainable Development Goals been embedded in the mayor’s plan?” he asked. There was silence. Simon smiled at the memory.
“The deputy mayor said, ‘Can you do that?’” And I said, “‘Hey, we’ve done it in a neighbourhood plan. You can do it in the London Plan!’”
Simon expects the alignment of the final London plan to the SDGs “to cause massive change. This could have a seismic effect… all European cities will want to keep up with London.”
Simon wants London to develop a model that can inspire New York, São Paolo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Johannesburg, and Nairobi – as well as other cities in Europe. He says Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Deputy Mayor will lead the way.
Having a global framework with the SDGs allowed him to speak a global language. But he insists that the real work has to be happen at the neighbourhood and city level. GEO6 is already articulating the need for urgent, sustainable and equitable action.
“You have to combine political leadership with technology and lifestyle changes,” he says. “Then, you can crack this problem.” Meanwhile, in his spare time, Birkett has drafted the legalisation for a new ‘Clean Air Act’ that would make clean air a human right in the United Kingdom.
Creating Smart Cities for Innovative Tourism Experiences
The UNWTO Conference on City Breaks: Creating Innovative Tourism Experiences (15-16 October 2018) concluded today in Valladolid, Spain, with a call for cities to become smart tourism destinations, where tourism governance and the digital economy mesh together to offer travellers diverse and authentic experiences.
The conference brought together tourism leaders from the public and private sectors to analyse how to respond to the growing trend of city breaks as leisure experiences. They concluded that public-private partnerships, the inclusion of local communities and the creation of smart destinations are crucial for urban destinations to gain the knowledge and define the policies they need in order to respond to the new demands of hyper-connected and hyper-informed tourists.
“We must understand the evolution of tourists towards greater sustainability and inclusiveness, using new technological tools,” said Jaime Cabal, Deputy Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). “Creativity and innovation are needed when designing the experiences they are increasingly demanding.”
The Councillor for Culture and Tourism of Valladolid, Ana Maria Redondo, echoed this call, adding: “We need a better understanding of the fundamentals behind the current demand for city break experiences. Smart destination tools are our means to obtain this knowledge.”
The Deputy Director-General for Tourism Development and Sustainability of the Ministry of Tourism of Spain, Ruben Lopez Pulido, suggested that cities and all destinations change their models of tourism development to respond not only the most demanding tourists, but also to the rise of the digital and knowledge economy. “Being a smart destination is not just a label, but a process towards the comprehensive transformation of destinations, while always aiming at the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
Speakers at the conference included Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, President of European Cities Marketing and CEO of the Graz Tourism Office in Austria, who described what he considered key challenges for the growth of city breaks: transportation issues, seasonality, and the dispersion of tourism demand within a city and over time. “Our main challenge is to attract visitors to come right at this moment. To overcome it destination managers should focus on parts of the tourism offer that are ‘temporary’,” he concluded.
The main conclusions of the conference referred to urban tourism governance models. Participants highlighted that, with the growth of high-speed, low-cost transportation links that provide more and more visitors with access to city breaks, city destinations must respond by prioritizing investments that benefit residents and tourists alike.
They also concluded that with the technological advances that allow the creation of smart destinations, destination management organizations must shift their focus from only promoting the experiences available for tourists in cities, to managing urban tourism in all its complexity. For their part, tourism policy makers should use smart destination tools to study the impact of tourism on the profitability and sustainability of a city, and place the destination at the centre of policy changes. These conclusions will be taken into account in the UNWTO work plan on urban tourism.
Melaka a model green city
In the last five years, Melaka has made great strides toward building a sustainable, green city.
By 2020, the government-run 7248ha Melaka World Solar Valley aims to power most of the daily activities of manufacturers, housing developers, farmers and other stakeholders.
Recently, a public-private partnership installed 100,000 LED street lamps along the Alor-Gajah-Melaka Tengah-Jasin Highway, which will improve road safety and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The urban landscape has also changed. Walkable neighbourhoods with mixed-use development have increased foot traffic and reduced car use.
The Melaka River, long a polluted backyard drainage canal, is now a popular gathering place and tourist attraction.
Melaka’s transformation is the result of meticulous planning, a comprehensive approach supported by government policies and projects, private sector engagement and citizen initiatives.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is proud to have worked with Melaka to develop its roadmap, the Green City Action Plan.
In addition to a technical assistance grant to underwrite the plan, which was completed in 2014, ADB also helped Melaka implement it, including by structuring bankable projects for solar energy and street lighting, setting up a database to track indicators in environment and economic growth, and conducting training in urban development, environment planning and knowledge sharing.
The Melaka projects are the first to be implemented under the Green Cities Initiative of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), an ADB-supported sub-regional cooperation programme focused on the development of 32 provinces in these three countries.
It aims to help states and provinces discover and use their relative comparative advantages to work together in the sub-region.
So far, four other cities – Songkhla and Hat Yai in Thailand; Medan and Batam in Indonesia – have developed similar plans.
A “green” city means an area that is resilient and inclusive, manages its natural resources well, promotes low carbon growth to remain competitive and improves the livelihoods of all citizens.
With each green city plan, countries are moving away from business-as-usual economic growth models to forge a clear, concise vision for a city’s future based on factors such as comprehensive analysis and consensus among key stakeholders.
These plans present a paradigm shift, where cities pursue integrated urban development and environmental planning as they make a transition to a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future.
The initiative is very relevant, because cities are the primary drivers of economic growth across countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), producing about 70% of the region’s gross domestic product.
Almost 300 million people in Asean already live in cities, and another 90 million people are expected to move in by 2030, pushing up the urban share of the population to nearly 45%.
Urbanisation is placing a growing environmental strain on cities, such as air, water and noise pollution, traffic congestion and inadequate solid waste management.
Tackling these challenges will require city governments to integrate social and environmental considerations into locally customised economic development plans.
It will require innovation, testing and application of new ideas, learning and sharing of lessons, and development of new approaches to emerging challenges.
The Green Cities Conference, to be held on Oct 1 in Melaka, will bring city leaders together to collaborate on green growth strategies.
It also seeks to continue to support the Green Cities Network established under the IMT-GT and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area.
ADB strongly supports the network of Asean green cities, which serves as a platform for knowledge sharing.
Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of IMT-GT, the conference also provides a window for action following Melaka’s success in transforming into a green city.
It’s time now for policy makers to make their own Green City Action plans a reality. The implementation process requires strong coordination between multiple government agencies, the private sector and communities.
It will also require a management approach easily adaptable to project monitoring, data analysis and citizen feedback.
ADB stands ready to provide knowledge and financial support to further develop competitive, inclusive and green cities across Asean.
Urban Tourism: We Need to Build Cities for Residents and Visitors
At the 7th UNWTO Global Summit on Urban Tourism in Seoul, Republic of Korea (16-19 September), the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Zurab Pololikashvili, laid out a vision looking to 2030 for urban tourism that contributes to sustainable and inclusive cities.
“A vision of urban tourism for 2030 needs to be inclusive, resilient, innovative and smart”, Mr. Pololikashvili said at the conference, which was held in partnership with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and engaged 900 participants from 50 countries in how to build cities for both residents and tourists.
Key amongst the conference conclusions was that technology and innovation will play a key role in this vision, but only if cities invest in the right infrastructure and skills, set an enabling regulatory framework and break the silos that exist among data sources. Speakers also stressed the role that tourists themselves play in respecting the local communities, traditions and values of cities.
The conference was opened by Park Wonsoon, Mayor of Seoul, who stressed that “Seoul has improved its tourism because we have been able to predict changes in tourism, technology, society and environment to follow trends and react appropriately to challenges”.
Do Jonghwan, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, commended the summit for producing “an array of suggestions on cities’ function and role in tourism, the value and significance of cities to be shared with travellers, and how tourism can bring financial benefits with added values for residents.”
Memorable experiences were discussed at length as a major shift in motivation for tourists. “Tourism is a top sector in the experience economy, which is now becoming the transformational economy – cities, to be competitive, need to be authentic and provide transformational experiences,” said the conference’s keynote speaker B. Joseph Pine II, author of the best-seller ‘The Experience Economy’.
The conference stressed that tourism can and should contribute to the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 11 on safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities.
For that, participants called for tourism to be included in urban governance; led by cooperation among public, private sector and civil society; planned and managed considering local community needs and benefits; and smart in using technology and innovation to promote authentic experiences, monitor tourism impact and promote dispersal policies to spread benefits to the whole city and manage congestion. These four key areas of action will be taken forward to the 8th UNWTO Urban Tourism Summit, to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2019.
On the occasion UNWTO released the report ‘‘Overtourism’? Understanding and managing urban tourism growth beyond perceptions’, produced in collaboration with the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality (CELTH), Breda University of Applied Sciences, and the European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI) of NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. The report proposes eleven strategies and 68 measures to help understand and manage visitor growth in cities.
The 7th UNWTO Global Summit on Urban Tourism was organized by UNWTO and the Seoul Metropolitan Government with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, the Korea Tourism Organization and the Seoul Tourism Organization.
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