Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Green City

It is easy to think that a green city can only be a pipe dream. This is not true as there are cities in the world that have led when it comes to the environment. Success in greening a city can sometimes be a mixed blessing as more and more people then want to live there which then makes it difficult to keep up the momentum.

I have just returned from seeing Frieburg in the Black Forest in Germany. It claims to be the greenest city in Germany if not in Europe. It’s a city of over 200000 people who have supported the move to green policies from well before most people had even heard of climate change. Some of the things they have done:

  • 70% of the population travel locally by walking, cycling or public transport.
  • Built up a thriving renewable energy business including, solar panels and wind farms
  • The ecologically oriented new district Vauban is a model project. The whole quarter´s construction method follows the main idea of saving energy and space.
  • City centre developed for pedestrians not cars.
  • Green party got 25% vote and voted in a green mayor.
  • Insisted on high energy efficiency in new buildings.
  • 62% of waste is recycled.

Looking at Frieburg shows what can be done if the whole community gets behind an idea. It has become a place that now attracts both people and industry because it is both go ahead and attractive to live.

Can Birmingham do the same?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Northfield Ecocentre is supporting Friends of the Earth's campaign for a 20mph speed limit in residential areas. Click here to see Joseph Chapman's video on the very good Birmingham Recycled webiste.


A quote from Chapter 7 of 'The Spirit Level' by Wilkinson & Pickett:

"Because behaviour changes are easier for people who feel in control and in a good emotional state, lessening the burdens of inequality could make an important contribution towards resolving the epidemic of obesity."

Replace the last three words with 'environmental crisis' or 'problem of climate change' and there are some interesting implications:

1) Social change (reducing inequality) is a prerequisite for significant progress on averting climate chaos.
2) People need encouragement and support rather than chastisement and criticism.
3) Building and fostering confidence, skills and resilience in our communities is an important task for the green movement.
By the way, do yourself a favour and READ THIS BOOK - it's profoundly important. Selly Oak library already has a copy and Northfield is getting one. We now have a set of books you can borrow from the Ecocentre, too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


...but fortunately not planes!
Last week Mrs Ecocenturion, the little ecocenturion and yours truly popped down to Devon for a short break. We stayed with our friends in Exeter and then youth hostelled for an extra night by the beautiful River Dart in South Hams. As we don't own a car, I researched the different travel options. From a green perspective, the comparison wasn't very encouraging at first sight...
Mrs E had picked up a free promotional family railcard, so I began by looking into train travel. The railcard reduced the price of a return ticket from Brum to Exeter for the three of us from £177 to £107 (a whopping 70 quid discount), but we needed to add around £20 in bus fares to and from the station at either end. Of course we'd have to lug our own suitcases around unless we splashed out on taxis and paid considerably more!
One-way rail travel time: Local bus: 1 hr + inter-city train: 2 hrs 30 mins + local bus: 30 mins = 4 hrs
Total return travel time: 8 hrs
Cost of return travel (Birmingham - Exeter) = £127
I next turned to coach, bringing back uncomfortable memories of tortuous National Express journeys back in my student days in the late 80s. No family railcard this time, so even an apex return would set us back £94. And things don't seem to have improved much in the last 20 years - the travel time made me wince, particularly with a stir crazy 6-year-old in tow!
One-way coach travel time: Local bus: 1 hr + inter-city coach: 4 hrs 30 mins + local bus: 30 mins = 6 hrs
Total return travel time: 12 hrs
Cost of return travel booked at least a week in advance (Birmingham - Exeter) = £114
Ruling out hitch-hiking or air travel, I finally checked out car rental, using Enterprise Car Hire in Stirchley, a firm I've rented from a few times before. They offered me a brand new Vauxhall Corsa hatchback with only 200 miles on the clock for £15 a day all inclusive. They also offered to pick me up and drop me home at the end of our trip. The only extra would be petrol. From previous hires, I factored in a price of around 10 pence per mile for the three of us plus luggage.
One-way car travel time: Car journey (160 miles door-to-door): 3 hrs
Total return travel time: 6 hrs
Cost of return travel (Birmingham - Exeter) = £75 car hire + 320 x 10p = £32 petrol = £107
Which one would you have picked? There really was no contest!
In the next post, I'll be analysing these results in more detail. What do you make of it so far?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Win-win-win! This is what Northfield Ecocentre is all about! These are all things I’ve been trying out. They may not all suit everyone, but I’m hoping at least one idea will grab you:

1) Make full use of your local library – you might as well as you’re paying for it anyway. Not just good for borrowing books but also for surfing the Internet, reading the papers, loaning CDs, maps, etc.

2) Leave the car in the garage and get on your bike – now’s the perfect time of year to repair that puncture, oil the chain and enjoy the summer weather. If you're daunted at the thought of competing with the traffic, sign up for a Bikeability course (run by the Council) to help you cycle safely and confidently.

3) Make an effort to get to know your neighbours better – they may be a big help when you need to borrow a cup of sugar…or a lawnmower. Knock on the door and say hello or, better still, invite them round for an evening drink out on the patio or organize a party.

4) Try growing your own fruit and veg. Get hold of a few seeds and a little organic compost and pop them in old yoghurt pots or margarine tubs. You may be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get results! You are cordially invited to the Ecocentre to see our very own warts-and-all urban garden.

5) Join Birmingham Freecycle (or your local equivalent) and get stuff for free instead of buying it new. You’ll be amazed at what you can find on this website!

6) Unplug the clothes dryer (which uses around 2 kilowatts of electricity per hour = 30 pence) and use your washing line - a great excuse to get outside and hear the birds singing.

7) Get rid of the car and hire one for when you really need it: that half-term camping trip to Wales or visiting old friends in deepest darkest Devon.

8) Set up a weekly box delivery of organic fruit n veg – good for the environment, good for local farmers, less shopping for you, and (surprise, surprise!) cheaper than supermarkets. I can personally recommend the delicious produce of Boxfresh Organics based in Herefordshire & Shropshire.

9) Recoup your TV license fee by ditching the telly and listening to the radio instead. Watch films on DVD, and if there’s something you or the kids really want to watch, arrange to pop round to a friend’s and enjoy their company.

10) Get composting! It’s fun, slashes the amount of rubbish you leave out for the binmen, and provides great food for the hungry new plants sitting on your windowsill. There are a few important basics but Recycle Now will tell you everything you need to know.

11) Get those endorphins coursing through your veins by taking regular exercise! Make sure it’s something you enjoy and won’t just give up after a few weeks. Yoga is great for relaxing and warming up first thing on a cold morning. Hiking gets you out into the great outdoors. I’ve already mentioned cycling. How about swimming, gardening…salsa?

Hey, that was actually eleven good ideas - but who's counting anyway? Looking back through the list, I could pretty much have summarized the whole lot in three short maxims:

1) Work with nature rather than against it (see Duncan’s last post about bees)
2) Be prepared to share, exchange & socialize with others
3) Enjoy some healthy physical exercise