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Achieving Smart Economic Growth

How can we integrate sustainability principles and smarter ways of working
into economic growth ? 


How can economic growth become smarter? Apart from voices on the edges of the environmental movement, it is accepted that economic growth is desirable.  If we want higher standards of living, better schools and hospitals, then the economy needs to keep growing.  At the same time, the natural environment must be better protected and principles of sustainability be incorporated into economic growth.

Smart organisations, smarter use of buildings, and smarter land use are key to achieving economic growth at less environmental cost, and with a more positive impact on quality of life.  These are the key ingredients of 'Smart Economic growth'.

Readers of Flexibility will be familiar with the approach to smart organisations.  Having a smart organisation involves:

  • working business premises harder
  • making more efficient and effective use of resources
  • using technology to overcome distance, eliminating unnecessary travel
  • rethinking what an 'office' is and rethinking the location of work
  • enabling staff to have a better work-life balance.

Smart organisations look to the 'triple bottom line' - to achieve win-win-win situations in terms of business, personal and environmental benefits.

But can this approach be translated to the economy as a whole?

The need for a new approach

The context of economic development is changing fast.  Businesses, developers and government agencies promoting economic development face:

  • the challenges of globalisation
  • the imperative to respond to climate change
  • new demographic pressures in an ageing society
  • changes in the nature of the workforce
  • the need to extend work opportunities to groups excluded or becoming marginalised in the workforce
  • the problems of congestion and managing mobility more effectively
  • the question of how to grow the economy in prosperous areas where there is limited space for growth.

The traditional economic development approaches of large-scale inward investment, or the 'build it and they will come' approach to business parks are no longer appropriate, and can create or exacerbate social and environmental problems.

The current approaches to 'greening' businesses and business sites are not sufficient.  Running a bus to a business park or recycling the rain water may be good in themselves, but such measures only deal with the symptoms of poor planning. They do not deal with the causes of why economic development in its traditional forms is unsustainable.

The need for smart developers and planners

The new context and new forms of work organisation also present challenges to the ways in which we go about allocating land and providing accommodation for business.  How do you turn concepts such as 'the office is the network' into planning for business space?  When your goal is to bring more people over 50 back into work, how do you provide space for their development of 'sunset start-ups'?  When land values on industrial are much lower than residential values, how can you ensure there is sufficient space retained for job growth? What can be done to make older business parks carbon neutral and centres for smarter growth? How do developers need to adapt to the new context?  How does planning policy need to adapt?

The Smart Economic Growth project brought together partner organisations from the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to look at the spatial and organisational aspects of achieving smarter economic growth.  .

 

The most important question of our time?

In this article Andy Lake looks at the issues involved in a European funded project that is bringing together public sector bodies from across Northwest Europe to look at the planning and development issues around achieving smarter economic growth.

Andy is an attached expert on this project, focusing on the role of smarter organisations.  The views expressed are his own, and are not necessarily indicative of the partners or the project as a whole.

Further information on the project can be found on the SEG Project website.

 

 

'Smart economic growth' (SEG) is a model designed to optimise the potential of people, space and technology, while at the same time protecting and enhancing the environment

 

 

 

 

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