Speech to the Bristol Ageing Better conference on Wenesday 7th October 2015
by Liz Zeidler, Green Capital Partnership chair and Director of Happy City
I believe when we boldly state an intention, making it our ambition or our goal to be a “Green capital”, a “Happy City”, or an “Age friendly city”, it is not merely a label, an excuse for a conference, a way of getting funds…it is, I believe, a significant intervention in itself.
It begs the question, what is it all FOR? What are we aiming at? What does success look like? What are our goals? What will be different when we achieve these visions?
In my role as founding director of happy city, I’m often asking people questions about what is is all for. Why do we have governments, business, education, health services, community groups? I would argue that all these things, ultimately, are there to help people and places to thrive.
An ‘age-friendly city’ or a ‘green city’ are merely representations of this wider goal. But if you look at how we currently judge success in many of these areas, you would not always see this flourishing of people, place and planet, as the ultimate goal.
We primarily use quite simplistic measures around economic growth, using the language of “consumer confidence”, “value for money”, or “standard of living”. Everything from natural disasters, to traffic jams, to toasters that break after 6 months use, are good for GDP growth. They create jobs, use resources, and increase consumption – but none of these things help people or places to thrive.
For too long, at an individual and societal level, we have confused having more stuff with being more successful, or “standard of living” with “quality of life”. Once the essentials for sustaining life are achieved, (a significant challenge for some) the essentials for wellbeing alongside the most basic needs are largely low cost, low carbon and high community.
- Opportunities to connect, to learn, to be active
- Means to get involved, to give to each other, finding value, meaning and belonging and spaces to be, to share, to reflect.
- Clean, green and people friendly streets, that encourage and enable cross cultural, cross generational relationships
All the things that are now well proven to support happy and healthy people also support a happy and healthy planet, and are as true if you are in a pram or a wheelchair, if you are a lonely teenager or an isolated pensioner.
So I would implore us to be bold, to set ourselves high goals. A truly green capital, a truly happy city, a truly age friendly city – each of these has the same core elements, so we must work together to achieve them. This is the win win path for people or all ages and the planet.
Imagine a place where:
Streets and neighbourhoods designed for people not cars – where it’s happening around the world, it’s transforming the lives of people who live, work and play there.
Businesses that provide products and services that enhance lives and add purpose and value, providing jobs that bring meaning, hope and connection
What about the essential energy programmes we need to curb climate change? Instead of investing in renewable energy that reduces the bills for a few, we should rollout renewable energy in areas of fuel poverty and combat both at once.
Education and jobs that encourage life long learning and meaningful work which make a contribution at all stages of life.
Local services that grow dignity, participation, access and sustainable local ownership.
I’m excited about living in a city like that. About my children growing up in a city like that. About growing old in a city like that. Our green capital year has started many projects, large and small that will take us towards that vision, and Bristol Ageing Better will do so as well. Big investments have also been brought to the city by each of these bold city visions already, which will make some of these ‘big dreams’ a reality in the coming decade.
By collaborating more between these vital areas of work, recognising and celebrating our shared goals, we can achieve so, so much more.