iLab 1: Low Carbon Neighbourhoods
As part of Hounslow’s Green Recovery, we held our first Innovation Lab (iLab) on 16 July 2020 to explore creating low carbon neighbourhoods in our borough.
The framework we used to discuss stimulating low carbon neighbourhoods in Hounslow is the ‘15-minute city,’ a concept utilised in other global cities such as Paris and Melbourne. At its core, it is about bringing the amenities people need – like retail, green spaces, health, sports and education facilities, and even work - as close to where people live as possible.
This exciting vision is about how we can live locally, building upon our experiences throughout the pandemic where our locality has been increasingly important to how we live our lives. But also, how we can use this to deliver against our ambition to be a net carbon zero Borough and respond to the climate emergency.
The i-Lab discussed the art of the possible for Hounslow to deliver against our ambition to create our own 15-minute low carbon neighbourhoods.
A Just Recovery
These are not our concrete plans – but these ideas will certainly inspire us when we begin to set out plans later in the process.
The iLab explored what a 15-minute low carbon neighbourhood can mean in different contexts: for our different communities, those in different households and businesses, our different generations, our different geographies and those who use Hounslow in different ways and for different purposes.
The iLab covered a broad range of ideas and discussions including:
- Hounslow will need to develop its own version of the 15-minute low carbon neighbourhood that is socially inclusive and that works for all our residents. It must confront inequality and not exacerbate it and consider the specific challenges to our different residents and communities.
- Defining the Hounslow 15-minute low carbon neighbourhood that understands what is needed to create strong and resilient neighbourhoods that support our ambition for low carbon. This presents opportunities in Hounslow to stimulate their existence and design them for the future.
- University of Westminster Master students will be exploring 15-minute cities and its application to Hounslow. The creativity of students could help us to visualise what our neighbourhoods could look like. Creating a 15-minute city model out of ‘augmented reality’ was also raised.
- Retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency that also led residents to take more pride in their homes and communities, reductions in anti-social behaviour and neighbours speaking to each other again.
- The value of green spaces and how these spaces can be developed through conversations with the communities e.g. by facilitating a conversation about ‘natural play’ in green spaces and how the space could be both green and a fun space for children at the same time.
- The role of low traffic neighbourhoods as part of the definition of a low carbon neighbourhood. Planning our low-carbon neighbourhoods can build on this work.
- The experiences of lockdown and the impact this has had on people’s sense of community and locality, particularly a model of working at home or closer to home. This led to thoughts about whether part of delivering low carbon neighbourhoods could be about addressing digital barriers, perhaps bringing spaces for digital access outside but near people’s homes. Could we work with businesses to deliver this?
- We discussed how the language we use to describe green projects can often be a barrier to communicating its vision. Therefore, residents will be at the heart of planning and delivering our low-carbon neighbourhoods. The right language for this collective endeavour will come from the collaborative work we do with residents in our Community Reference Groups and through our Innovation Hub.
- We think a lot about how we ‘do change’ and how to fund it. Are there innovative ideas that can reduce the finance barrier of expensive technology? We heard about an exciting proposal to use smart electricity grids to subsidise the use of electric cars. An income could be generated by exporting electricity from local battery storage, including the batteries in electric cars when they are not in use.
We are also clear, through our iLab, we want to demonstrate practical action and we discussed some ideas to bring this to life.
- The iLab spoke about a plan by Places for People to retrofit an estate of 300 homes in West Hounslow as part of efforts to decarbonise its housing stock. Through collaboration with others, there is the potential to create a living, breathing national demonstration of a low carbon neighbourhood – can we create a demonstrator for a wider neighbourhood also? So, how can we stimulate both amenities within a 15-minute radius, support our net zero carbon ambitions and help collaborate to transform a housing estate?
- The iLab discussed what the possibilities could be for digital mapping of the neighbourhood to understand how it is used by its residents. Can young people living on the estate be involved with surveying the community to give them a sense of ownership about its future? What options were there for retrofit? For increasing skills development and employment opportunities? To increase the green infrastructure? To create green spaces and support urban growing?
- The discussion made clear that measuring the social impact of our work will be essential for its success. We need to map which interventions will deliver the biggest low-carbon behavioural changes and measure the social and ecological impacts together. This evidence base can help demonstrate that Green Recovery is as much about a healthier and happier Hounslow as it is about reducing carbon.
The Green Recovery Fund
We were pleased to announce our first concrete initiative at the iLab. A £250,000 innovation fund has been established to test and prototype new ideas from the Green Recovery Board. We hope the ability to innovate and test new ideas here in Hounslow will mean we can replicate success across the borough, and we hope it will have implications beyond the borough as well.
We will be meeting with residents via our Community Reference Groups on the 28 July. Members of this group will also help us refine and prioritise new ideas and solutions at our next session on low carbon neighbourhoods on the 5 August. We’ll go back to residents again, and in our final session on the 18th August we’ll set out our concrete projects for delivering low carbon neighbourhoods.
We would like to thank all the fantastic contributors from our first iLab:
Steve Turner, Arup; Simon Child, Child Graddon Lewis Architects; Rebecca Eligon, Collaborate CIC; James Close, London Waste and Recycling Board; Paul Vick, Paul Vick Architects; Julie Alexander, Places for People; Dr David Greenfield, Soenecs; Dr Krystallia Kamvasinou, University of Westminster; Peter Day, WSP; Councillor Guy Lambert; Councillor Hanif Khan; Councillor Katherine Dunne and Councillor Samia Chaudhary.
This work is being led by Victoria Lawson, Executive Director of Environment, Culture and Customer Services and Wayne Stephenson, Assistant Director of Environment and Culture.