DiCaprio, Design and Developing Green Cities

"Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating... Let us not take this planet for granted."

Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar everybody.

The memes can cease, the internet has been appeased. Kate Winslet is probably the proudest friend we've ever seen. But beyond the glitz and glamour and collective sigh of "at last!" it was Leo's speech, earnest and compelling, which has really resonated.

Whilst the big win was welcomed across the western world, his message to us all during his acceptance speech is one that many these days are still choosing to ignore. For those of you who (somehow) missed it, DiCaprio urged us all to think about the ways in which we treat our planet. His core message?


Are You Actively Living In A Green Way?

He's right.

We all know how to be environmentally friendly, how to limit the impact we have on the world, and by now we're all aware of the consequences if we don't get savvy about conservation. Yet, many of us are still choosing to hop in our cars for a 20min car journey, or just to nip to the shops to get some milk. It's time to stop, think, and choose a different method of travelling from A to B.

Never mind "oh I've heard it all before", so long to "This is the same old stuff we've been told for years"; this stuff is important. It's only going to get more important. That's why we need to look at ways to improve public transport, promote active travel and make better use of our streets.

Sustainable Urban Design And You

Now if you've read any of my previous articles, you'll know how much value I place on attending events and seeking out new opportunities to learn. Last week was no different.

I attended an event at the Architecture Centre in Bristol, focused on public transport and active travel around Bristol. Part of the City Ideas Studio series, promoting Bristol as last year's Green European city, the discussion saw James Durie of the West of England Initiative, Anne O'Driscoll (Director of North Bristol SusCom) and Jon Usher (West of England Programme Manager, Sustrans) address managing transport demands and how to establish the humble city of Bristol as a world leader in active travel.

As the Architecture Centre describes, one of the key ambitions is for Bristol to become "a world leading city in active travel, where 4 out of 5 journeys under five miles are made by foot, bike and public transport."

Using the recently published Good Transport Plan for Bristol, the exhibition explored key issues and projects including those by Sustrans, Playing Out, UWE and North Bristol SusCom. A large proportion of discussion centred on how we can promote more street level activity.

Interestingly, many ideas surrounding this promotion were linked to the way in which our communities and urban spaces are planned.

In an ideal world we would all walk to work, because our offices would be no more than thirty minutes away. Getting real, most of us commute up to an hour or more by car, train or bus. This is far from healthy.

Health economics at the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) found that walking or cycling to work is better for our mental health – one of many studies confirming that minimizing travel times helps to limit stress and maximise personal fulfilment.

"Research shows that if new projects such as London's proposed segregated cycle ways, or public transport schemes such as Crossrail, were to encourage commuters to walk or cycle more regularly, then there could be noticeable mental health benefits." *

The way in which we design many of our urban environments is fundamentally flawed. With such a high need for low energy lifestyles, sustainable spaces may well be the key to combating global warming and improving our mental health. Increasing the walkability of the spaces we design, and minimising the necessity for prolonged travel is one of the main aims of the Bristol Architecture Centre, and planning professionals across the world.

DiCaprio's plea is, of course, about more than walking or cycling to work. As a global community, we have a duty to work towards a sustainable future. While Bristol, and other cities, continue to develop greater active travel solutions, and encourage the use of public transport over cars, we as individuals should embrace new methods of travel.