Author Mike Grace, Birmingham City University
The thing that attracted me to the Urban Living Birmingham project was the ambition to tackle the tricky, messy problems that face urban areas and their communities – Birmingham in particular. Born and bred in the city and a frequent visitor to visit friends and family, as well as to many, many meetings for work over the years, it is a familiar place with an emotional attachment. From a professional perspective, the challenge of building solutions which properly embed the environment into future investment and management of the city is a huge draw. A nagging question though was why it needed a brand new project. After all, Birmingham is a SMART city and don’t all SMART cities claim green credentials? It also has a Green Vision, a Green Spaces Living Plan and has been innovative in developing an evidence base of natural capital and ecosystem services. Moreover, the city is actively involved with academic partners in creating tools to build natural capital into new developments. A few weeks into the project and some familiar worries about silos and barriers began to surface. Add in the major change programme the city council is embarking upon and a less than integrated national policy framework – I searched in vain for a reference to green infrastructure in the recent Housing White Paper – and I can see that there is an opportunity for Urban Living Birmingham to craft truly integrated research leading to solutions that can have positive impacts on the lives of people. We are currently grappling with how to fully share and integrate research topics across the breadth of the project; transport and connectivity with green infrastructure, health and well-being with social and economic deprivation. Birmingham wants to be a world-class city; hopefully Urban Living Birmingham can help it get there by demonstrating there are ways it really can do integrated delivery.