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New-builds and the climate emergency | Letters | Art and design


India Block makes many valuable points in her critique of the disastrous standard of accelerated development in UK cities (Who wants cities of ugly new-builds?, Journal, 5 February), but I was exasperated by her failure to mention the non-negotiable bottom line for rejection of this model, especially given the juxtaposition of her article with Steve Bell’s cartoon above it: the climate emergency.

As we know, new construction is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions, and operational building emissions account for 28%; speculative development and large-scale “urban regeneration” is complicit in the catastrophic trajectory of global heating and the collapse of ecosystems.

Architects have been developing innovative and radical approaches to address the burgeoning environmental crisis for decades – mostly ignored by unenlightened clients pleading poverty. More recently, schools of architecture in universities, and also cities across the world, are declaring a climate emergency, taking the lead where national governments and powerful corporations have failed to.

We have to completely shift our understanding of the measures that are needed to tackle the crisis we face over the next decade, among which the tired concept of “sustainability” seems scarcely serviceable.

It is time for city leadership and society as a whole to turn its back on new development as a principle of urban growth and commit to the model of the ecologically “smart” city based on husbanding and reuse of existing resources: the gold standard “world-class city”. For these new-builds are not just ugly on the surface, they are destroying the ecosystem that sustains us on this planet.
Dr Clare Melhuish
Director, UCL Urban Laboratory; principal research fellow, Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, University College London

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