By Diane Small
Given the dedication to the environment by Scandinavian countries, it’s no surprise that England is often referred to as ‘the dirty old man’ of Europe. Indeed, England is pretty far behind the likes of Austria, Sweden, Holland and other nordic countires in terms of eco-policies, especially air pollution. But a few initiatives are now underway in some of England’s cities, so what not celebrate those?
What makes a city truly green? Well, it should include the public transport system, recycling schemes and access to outdoor space. Here, we laud 5 cities in England that have all of that, and a bit more.
Long perceived as one of the most eco-friendly places in the whole UK, no-one was surprised when the city elected the first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in Parliament. The seaside means citizens here spend much time on the beach, and Brighton benefits from a blue flag [certified clean] beach and picturesque landmarks such as the Brighton Pier and the Royal Pavilion. Surrounded by countryside, residents also benefit from easy access to the great outdoors with the South Downs and its many footpaths, a short drive away. But if you prefer to stay in town, there are almost too many vintage shops, organic and vegan cafes, restaurants and markets to count.
Birmingham is a former industrial city that has evolved considerably with the times. From a land of smog and grime covered streets, the UK’s second city has evolved to launch a number of ground-breaking environmental initiatives (which focus on the reduction of air pollution, the creation of cleaner canals and the developments of less congested roads). Birmingham also has the distinction of being one of the most culturally diverse metropolises in the UK, as a host of chains and small, independent retailers take their place among cafes, bars and wonderful examples of architecture.
London may be a city that also retains a reputation as being driven by commerce and industry, but it’s also literally one of the greenest cities in the world thanks to its enormous parks, including Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park. Currently, it’s also made great strides in trying to reduce air pollution and transport problems with the adoption of more cycling lanes for rentable city bikes. Hopefully, increasing numbers of electric Uber cars on the road will force London’s polluting Black Cabs to make some changes for the greener, too.
While it may have been known mainly as a former titan of the industrial revolution, Sheffield has changed significantly over the last century and a half. The city has recently initiated the Green and Open Space strategy to recognise the importance of the city’s peat bog and moorland areas – places which are extremely rare and increasingly valuable in urban spaces. The city centre has a wonderful electric tram system incorporated into its public transport system, and has benefited from an extensive regeneration programme in the last 10 years, which has upped the amount of green space in town to now account for 61 percent of the city.
This means Sheffield now has has more trees per person than any other city in Europe; an estimated 200 million in total. What’s more, its Peace and Winter Gardens fended off tough competition from London’s South Bank to win the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Academy of Urbanism ‘Great Place’ Award in 2007. To keep citizens and visitors informed on its eco-initiatives, the city even boasts a Sheffield is My Planet website, which had the distinction of winning the Green Apple award in 2014.
Lastly there’s Leicester, which is one of the oldest cities in the UK and combines 2000 years of history with a progressive approach to sustainability in the modern age. Offering improved access to walking routes, cycling lanes and public transport, the city also optimises its vast, open spaces to drive clean air and reduced emissions.
Leicester has made huge strides in the environmental arena. Residents also benefit from an excellent city allotments scheme and a committed parks programme – over 10,000 trees have been planted since 2009. Not surprisingly given its history, Leicester’s city centre features some beautiful period architecture as well as modern gems such as the Curve Theatre and the National Space Centre. For groceries, check out Leicester Market, which in addition to being Europe’s largest, is packed with stalls selling wonderful local and organic produce. Nightlife is wonderful here too, with a lively young crowd dancing the night away in the city’s many nightclubs, and Grosvenor Casino chain dominating the city’s nightlife while offering a wide range of casino classics such as craps (learn how to play craps here).