Healthier and Happier - A Tale of New Cities

Jessica Bowles, Director of Strategy at Bruntwood

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Ever fallen in love with a city? They can be hard to resist – with their fascinating mix of culture, opportunity and industry. It’s what drew me first to Bristol, then London, Manchester, Sheffield and back to Manchester, where I am now able to work across the North and Midlands. Our cities are people-magnets and they’re drawing more of us in than ever before – in fact, the United Nations estimates that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in one.

So, how do we ensure that this influx of people is sustainable – that it doesn’t cost the Earth? And how do we go one better, to nurture urban places that actually make us feel happier and healthier? It’s already happening in forward-thinking places across the globe – like Manchester and, at Bruntwood, we’re committed to helping shape green, thriving urban communities in our major conurbations. We know there’s a huge amount the property and place-making sector can do to influence positively the future wellbeing of our cities and the people that inhabit them – we just need to focus on a few key themes…

Green Spaces and Clean Air

Incorporating green space and planting into our urban centres is key to creating sustainable cities. Green spaces improve air quality, reduce the risk of flooding and support wildlife, and those are just the environmental benefits. If we look at well-being, green design scores yet more points - supporting psychological relaxation, stress reduction and enhanced physical activity (even the World Health Organisation says so). The inclusion of green space in planning and development is hugely important and its benefits are guiding our place-making at our biggest single development site, Circle Square in Manchester, a brand-new urban neighbourhood that will incorporate more than 1,000 plants, trees and bushes in a public green space.

The City of Trees project which will breathe new life into Greater Manchester’s landscape by restoring 2,000 hectares of underused, unloved woodland and planting three million trees is an initiative which we helped to establish. Green space and clean air should be priorities for us all and we’re also signed up to Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s zero carbon vision with a commitment to reducing emissions by a minimum of 5% per year for the next three years.

Get Up and Go!

Want to help tackle the obesity crisis and promote healthy living by getting people up on their feet and active? Urban development designed to lessen our dependency on cars and stimulate regular exercise is the way to go. We can encourage cycling to work, for instance, by ensuring schemes offer modern facilities for cyclists – Circle Square incorporates spaces for more than 200 bikes and all our new and refurbished schemes have changing and shower facilities. As an industry, we also need to back initiatives like ‘Beelines’, which proposes the creation of a thousand miles of interlinked bike and walking lanes across Greater Manchester and is spearheaded by the Cycling and Walking Commissioner, Chris Boardman. I was delighted to be asked to be part of his team providing a business viewpoint on how to direct investment. Property developers and place-makers are in the privileged position of being able to help create beautiful, walkable, cycle-friendly cities, but we can’t do it in isolation and it’s great to work with others to transform our spaces.

Healthy Buildings Healthy Minds

It’s not just on a city-wide scale that its people can benefit from urban greenery. Our Head of Building and Construction, Adam Tillis is tasked with creating innovative and outstanding work environments incorporating best practice in all aspects of the workplace which can involve bringing the outside inside, through the practice of biophilia. He says: “Developing sustainable city centre workspaces that improve employee health and wellbeing is an essential part of the healthy formula, incorporating natural materials such as timber and green walls, along with plants, artificial gardens and plenty of natural light can enhance mood and boost productivity. It’s something employers are increasingly aware of and Bruntwood’s design team is on hand to help. At our Neo workspace in Manchester, our customer, Hilson Moran gained the first WELL Building Standard Certified Gold rating outside of London. WELL measures how a project’s design and operations can benefit customer health and wellbeing and it’s an aspiration we share which is why we have allocated space in the building for a wellness space.”

Evolved Energy

Cutting edge technology is also enabling us to be greener than ever when it comes to powering our urban buildings. Our energy manager here at Bruntwood, Bev Taylor, is always on the look-out for the next big innovation. She says: “Keeping up with the latest advances is vital. Look at lithium-ion batteries; the cost and feasibility of implementing lithium-ion has changed in recent years, particularly when you combine it with a renewable source such as solar panels, making commercial energy storage viable. In fact, Bruntwood, as part of Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP) recently began using a Tesla Powerpack system in a bid to make MSP’s Bright Building headquarters completely energy self-sufficient. This represented the first commercial installation of the lithium-ion system in the North West and we’ll be monitoring the cost savings and CO2 reduction closely in the coming months, with a view to installing further units at other Bruntwood buildings and developments.”

Sustainable energy sources, green space, healthy building design and environmentally-friendly transport routes can help shape a positive story for our cities and everyone who lives in them. Only by creating healthy, sustainable, modern cities can we support a healthier and happier, and indeed greener and more interesting world.

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