UK engineering research could lead to lower-carbon cities

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A team of UK researchers is aiming to cut carbon emissions by changing the way we build our cities.

According to a statement, researchers at four UK universities are embarking on a low-carbon engineering project that could transform the way cities are built and the way we live in them by taking a ‘back-casting’ approach to their study.

Led by Prof Chris Rogers at Birmingham University’s School of Engineering, the study will create visions of an alternative urban future with drastically reduced CO2 emissions. The study will then aim to develop realistic engineering solutions to achieve the visions in a socially acceptable way.

Rogers said: ‘Engineering of our cities has traditionally been a “top-down” exercise, mainly because it’s so very difficult to create a ‘bottom-up’ approach: solutions are created and society must either learn to work and live with them or choose to resist them.

‘Our research is novel in that we start by imagining the future that we want for our cities — for example, what does an 80 per cent carbon-reduced Lancaster look like? We then work backwards to find out what combinations of engineering solutions, behavioural changes and technological developments are needed to make these alternative futures possible, while at the same time ensuring that the planet can still provide us with the resources we need. The ambition of our research programme is necessary to deal with the global challenges that we face.’

The researchers hope to closely link people’s social aspirations and wellbeing with the engineering of cities.

By using focus groups, case studies, city analysis methodology and other approaches in pioneering futures research, the researchers will create a roadmap that aims to drive future engineering thinking for decades to come. Its goal is to influence policy and be used by urban designers in the UK with the potential to be applied anywhere in the world.

The five-year study by Birmingham University, Lancaster University, University College London and Southampton University has been made possible by a £6m programme grant from the EPSRC.

Commercial partners include E-ON, Halcrow, Costain and Network Rail.