Category Archives: Environment

The Truth About Property

I came across this article this week in the Independent about the tricks of the estate agent trade:  things that estate agents say or do to help sell a property.  This tied in quite nicely with the imagery around a new block of apartments rising up at the top of my street.

Here is the pretty image in the house builder’s marketing materials.  Notice the abundance of trees and in particular the bit of grassy green space at the bottom left hand corner.  The image positions this shiny new development on a day with the clearest of blue skies.

The development isn’t yet complete of course, but here is what it looks like at the moment.  The pleasant neighbourhood is instead a setting where cars exit the A12 motorway and is very built up and unkept rather than open and leafy.

Here is a close up of that grassy green patch depicted in the glossy brochure.  There is a wonderfully big tree which someone has *decorated* with what looks like plastic sheeting, but with the concrete border and fencing, it isn’t exactly the neighbourhood parkette one might imagine.  This is one of the nicer photos I took – in the others, the *park* is obscured by cars whizzing past as they come off the motorway exit ramp.  Nice.

What you get when you mix design, with maps, with great music

A friend sent me this link ages ago and I only experienced it today.  A fantastic combination of great music, design techniques, technology *and* interacting with the built environment.  It’s an interactive video made by Chris Milk using Google Chrome technology set to Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait”.  The experience is called “The Wilderness Downtown”.  Experience your neighbourhoods like you’ve never experienced before.  Experience it for yourself and share.

Dongtan: the “east beach” eco-town that never was

Dongtan is a highly planned eco-town in China, to deal with the challenges of significant population growth and rapid urbanisation. It is situated on the island of Chongming in the Yangtze Delta.  It features as a case study on the Homes & Communities Agency’s website.  The focus is on low consumption, low-energy connectivity (car-free, emphasis on pedestrian paths, cycling, public transport, and vehicles powered by renewable energy sources), renewable energy, reduced waste to landfill, biodiversity, and ecological management (to protect wetlands, natural landscapes, and existing ecologies. The aim was to create a thriving, sustainable city providing local employment opportunities (thereby avoiding the creation of a “dormitory city”) and local agriculture within the city boundaries.

The Chinese government appointed engineering consultancy ARUP to design and manage the project.

However, nothing has happened with respect to the project. Significant concern had been raised over destruction of the wetlands and threats to endangered species. The site was cleared, farmers and local residents were moved off the land. The bridge between the island and Shanghai is nearing completion. A podcast on Ethical Corporation’s website notes that subsequent presentations of the project stated that cars would be allowed on the land. It has the sense of being a property play – the sustainability credentials having been touted to encourage investment and support from local communities in order to push existing residents of the land and freeing it for unfettered commercial development. This is a case study not for sustainable communities best practice, but rather the opposite.


In five years, practically nothing constructive has happened. The site has been cleared, the farmers and peasants moved off the land, and large areas prepared – but, as one observer puts it, ‘no construction has occurred there – indeed it’s gone backwards, as a visitor centre previously built is now shut’. All references to it have been removed from both the Shanghai Expo’s website as well as Arup’s.

Admittedly, a multi-million dollar bridge from the island to Shanghai is nearing completion, which ought to open up the Dongtan region for development, but fingers are being pointed at a range of suspects for the collapse of the overall project: the corruption of local politicians, the use of challenging technologies, lapsed planning permissions, or the greed of major international consultancies that were riding in on the Chinese urban goldrush with little regard for practical niceties.

Nothing in Life is Free

The London Evening Standard was distributed for free for the first time officially yesterday.  Today, instead of walking past the usual Evening Standard newspaper stand, I walked past a man handing them out for free.  Whereas I would normally be somewhat annoyed for being harrassed by the distributors of the free cheapsheets, I was inclined to accept the offer.  The first thought that came to mind was the number of Evening Standard street vendors that would be made redundant (although reports note that the Evening Standard denied there would be any immediate redundancies – the key word being ‘immediate’).  The second thought was about the amount of waste that results when things are offered for free.

Thelondonpaper was introduced in 2006 by News International as an afternoon free sheet to rival the Evening Standard, Associated Newspaper’s afternoon stalwart.  Associated Newspaper responded with the Standard Lite later renamed London Lite, a trimmed down version both in number of pages and quality of the news reporting.  For three years, Londoners were accosted regularly by free sheet distributors on every street corner, outside every tube station entrance and London streets and tube carriages became littered with them.  The amount of paper strewn everywhere was disgraceful, given the derth of convenient recycling outposts in the city.  In January 2009, a 75.1% controlling interest in the loss-making Evening Standard was sold to Alexander Lebedev for £1 and Associated Newspapers retained a minority ownership.  By June 2009, over 400,000 copies of London Lite were distributed each weekday and almost 500,000 of Thelondonpaper (Source: Guardian) compared to approximately 250,000 copies of the Evening Standard.  But News International surprised the market and media analysts when it announced in August this year that it would be closing Thelondonpaper, the primary motivation reportedly being NI’s goal of increasing revenues through paid-for content.  The loss-making free paper ceased publication on 18 September 2009.  This should have heralded an end, finally, to the war of the free sheets between Associated and NI.  It should have rid London streets of the environmental nightmare of wasted paper and annoying street distributors.  Instead what followed was the Evening Standard’s move to drop the 50 pence cover price and increase its distribution to 600,000 per weekday.

I only rarely ever found an abandoned copy of the Evening Standard on a London Underground train.  People seem to take more care with something that they have paid for and whilst they might not have recycled it as they should have, at least they departed with it somewhere sensible, most likely at their home.  I don’t believe there will be a reprieve from the litter and wastefulness as one free paper has simply now been replaced by another.  It comes at a cost.  The negative environmental impact of increased use of printed paper continues, the future jobs of vendors are now at risk, and the Evening Standard is hoping that the revenue will come out of your pocket in some other way – through consumer spending having been lured by the advertising that appears on its free sheets.