Hackney has the largest expanse of green space (815 acres) within inner city London but can we take this as a symbol for how green the borough is in general? Environmental sustainability goes far beyond simply maintaining parks and woodland to encompass recycling of natural resources, reducing our carbon footprint, investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, encouraging biodiversity, promoting cleaner air and growing more eco-friendly food. The challenge of sustainable development is to meet not only the needs of the present but to also avoid compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Report, United Nations, 1987). With these principles in mind, environmental sustainability must look beyond short-term gains to the longer-term impacts of human activity on the natural world, in a holistic way.
Hackney, just one of 32 boroughs in London, offers a valuable snapshot of urban sustainability at a more local level. Too often, cities are given credit for their leadership on environmental initiatives whilst neglecting the valuable collective action taken by the many smaller communities that form the backbone of a city. In the absence of major private sector employment in Hackney, local government can often seem to dominate due to the power it wields over planning decisions and enacting local environmental policy. Fortunately, Hackney has a diverse range of other stakeholders who are also active in promoting environmental sustainability. Civil society organizations, local businesses, community arts groups, and concerned individuals are all equally represented in this exhibition.
Hackney is particularly active in growing local food using sustainable and ecologically sound practices. Enlightened residents of the borough have greater choice to look beyond supermarket prices and consider the hidden costs associated with food miles, disregard for seasonality and unsustainable consumption. Our green spaces come in many shapes and forms and collectively are best viewed as the green infrastructure essential for the health and well-being of local communities. Local volunteers are playing a pivotal role by lending their time to protect unique and valued ecosystems such as reed beds, marshes and woodland nature reserves that encourage a rich biodiversity of life.
Entrepreneurs and inventors are investing in research into cutting-edge renewable technologies, such as fuel cells, and are finding simple but elegant solutions to growing food in empty spaces, such as rooftops. Concerned and forward-thinking individuals in Hackney are then creating demand for these new technologies by becoming early adopters of electric vehicles, for instance. Hackney Council plays a pivotal role by setting strategy and enacting local policy through initiatives such as the Hackney Sustainable Community Strategy 2008-18. Local government is also taking advantage of its privileged access and large reach across communities to promote positive environmental behaviour change through initiatives such as recycling of waste. Environmental sustainability should not be viewed simply as a cost. Hackney has proven that it can be a triple-win for economic, social and ecological causes. Housing associations that reduce the carbon footprint of our social housing stock by taking advantage of feed-in tariffs, can also help to alleviate fuel poverty for the poorest in society.
The pace of change in Hackney has accelerated in recent years and certain parts of the borough are under huge pressure to continue to develop. It remains to be seen whether future development is sustainable, not just economically but also socially and environmentally, not just for today but also for tomorrow and future generations to come.
Colin Cafferty is a local resident and environmental documentary photographer interested in engaging the public on energy, sustainability and environmental issues. In 2012, he graduated with an MSc degree in Climate Change Management from the University of London and set up a website with the aim of inspiring action on climate change through photography. More at - www.climatechangecafe.com
Environmental sustainability in Hackney photo exhibition runs from 5 Feb - 23 Feb 2013 at Hackney Museum. Opening night Fri 8 Feb 6-7.30pm. Entry free. All welcome.
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