But is this innovative combination of entrepreneurship and urban planning a game changer or a lemming run when it comes to sustainable development?
So is this all too wonderful to be true?
According to UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) we need to uncouple development from resource consumption by linking economic strategies to resource flow strategies. Their analysis concludes that by 2050 the level of resources used by every person each year will need to fall to between five and six tonnes in order for us to live within our environmental limits. IRP also points out, however, that rapid urbanisation combined with technological and systematic innovation offer an historic opportunity to reduce our over-consumption. So, on the face of it, low-carbon enterprise zones would appear to be a great example of this happening in practice. And refreshingly alike is the case in Liverpool. It involves developers, economists, urban planners and environmentalists all coming together to challenge “business as usual” when it comes to prosperity that is handcuffed to carbon.
Some governance questions remain to be answered, though. In particular, are the technologies involved a genuine move toward renewable energy? (For instance, incineration of non-biological domestic waste is not.) Does it help alleviating poverty and local unemployment or do staff commute to the workplace from other wealthier areas? (For example, youth apprenticeships that are a pathway to well paid careers, with a long-term future.) Is this low-carbon trade displacing high-carbon trade? (Or is it adding to our woe of unsustainable growth in an over-populated world?)
In short, low-carbon enterprise zones should “in principle” be warmly welcomed. Particularly like those springing up in cities such as Liverpool with their strong emphasis on retraining local, unemployed youths for jobs in clean energy. This type of zoning is a process innovation that is challenging how we think about sustainable urban development. But other titans of business and city planners alike, who see this as some kind of snake-oil remedy for their economic ills, need to think very carefully about exactly who benefits from all of this, both among today’s struggling societies and tomorrow’s generation.
An article by Philip Monaghan
Philip Monaghan is a writer and strategist in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability. He is Founder & CEO of Infrangilis and the acclaimed author of the books How Local Resilience Creates Sustainable Societies (out February 2012) and Sustainability in Austerity (2010).
Sustainability in Austerity (paperback) is one of the many titles available at 40% discount as part of Greenleaf Publishing’s December sale. See the Greenleaf Publishing website for more details.