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While our public space suffers funding cuts, two top examples show us how they design ‘liveability’

After the recent UK election result, a bleak future for British cities and towns has dawned on many Urban Designers, Architects and Landscape Urbanists. For the past 9 years – and now the subsequent five – Britain shall continue in cutting public sector spending, while town and city councils sell off prime public space to vast private developers.

A South London library protest, Jan 2019. Courtesy of The Times

Since 2010, £2.8 billion of public assets were sold by cut-ridden councils[1], 800 libraries have been closed[2], solar power initiatives have been scrapped[3], bus service funding has been slashed by 40%[4] and almost 50% of public parks could be up for sale[5] . The attitude of austerity argues: Why maintain public green space when you can it and make money? Why fund that library, when its plot is worth £1m? The issue here, however, is our country’s own liveability is now up for sale. Continuing on this Conservative trajectory, can our UK cities strive to be ‘liveable’?

What is Liveability?

The term ‘liveability’ has been used since the 1950s to assess and address amenities providing a good quality of life in our cities – namely housing, transport, health care, education, safety and sustainability. Supported by Urban Designers Jan Gehl[6] and Donald Appleyard[7], their works expand on the design of ‘liveable’ cities, exploring the importance of public resources in creating healthy living environments. According to Gehl, liveable cities are “ones in which people can interact with one another, always stimulating because they are rich in experiences[8]”, and both Gehl and Appleyard indicate public space is paramount.

Scoring much higher than us Brits with a life satisfaction rate of 99%,[9], Norway’s liveable design and planning is reflected in quality greenspaces, transport systems, local facilities and sustainability. So how does Norway achieve this?

Oslo goes car-free and replaces 700 parking spaces with bike lanes, parks and benches. Social, public and sustainable in 2019.  Courtesy of Oslo Kommune
The World’s Most Liveable Country

As well as political support, their public spaces are economically backed by continued investment of capital back into the public trust. A main revenue for their vast public sector is their ‘Oil Fund’: Norway taxes petroleum companies a colossal 78%[10] and  reinvests this back into the public sphere. The aim, in their words, is “to ensure that as large as possible a share of the value creation accrues to the state, so that it can benefit society as a whole.” Norway’s government, much like ours, swings from right to left constantly – but taxation of oil companies ensures there is consistent funding for their citizen’s environment.

Aidan Oswall, a Senior Officer for Newcastle City Council, delivered an Urban economics lecture stressing the importance of “establishment of frameworks and processes that facilitate successful development,” and quotes City of Portland’s beliefs that cities should be “organizing a “big idea” and principles that reflect its priorities.”[11] Could Britain borrow a ‘big idea’ from a more liveable city?


The Third Most Liveable City

The third entry on EUI’s Global Liveability Ranking (2017) is BC’s largest city, Vancouver. Since its inclusion on Canada’s Pacific Rail, developers have rushed to the city to propose newer, bigger, better – with accommodation prices soaring past millions.

Finding development profits were flowing between companies without benefitting the city itself, Urban Planner Larry Beasley suggested charging a developer’s profit tax – ‘Community Amenity Contributions’ or ‘CAC’ – that would be reinvested into the urban environment. Aimed to “capture 70-80% of Vancouver’s rising land value from investments”[12], CACs encourage developers to fund public resources, transport services, green spaces, community centres, libraries, museums, sea walls, schools, housing…

False Creek Sea Wall, Vancouver; A 20km scenic cycle-and-pedestrian route paid for through CACs. Courtesy of City of Vancouver

         The real-time results are fantastic. Cycle lanes weave a vast network through the metropolitan region. Arts centres exist plentiful quantities, homeless shelters are many and well-funded, each district has at least one community centre, thriving and bustling, and large developments must ‘give back’ to the street level wherever possible – providing park space, water features, seating. This Urban Design phenomenon proved so successful it was dubbed ‘Vancouverism’[13], and makes a terrifically walkable, connected and liveable city centre.  

False Creek redevelopment in Vancouver including continuing the Sea Wall cycle route and 20 acres of parkland. Courtesy of PWL Partnership
And Britain…?

          In stark comparison, the UK falls far behind. Our community spaces here are lacking, thinly programmed, and mark the demise of British community. Our libraries become a memory, as another one closes its doors to the public. Our transport systems lag(literally) behind our European counterparts; our sustainability-conscious initiatives – virtually non-existent; arts centres, closing nationwide; quality green and public spaces, slowly sold off…

British Rail Transport is not providing an adequate service nationwide. Courtesy of Google/BBC           This negligence of our British public facilities is mainly politically driven – current parties don’t prioritise these places, so they don’t get funding – but the point here is that provision of public amenity shouldn’t be policy, but priority. Much like Norway as a country, and Vancouver as a city, our cities’ liveability should be consistently funded regardless of political swing. In the light of these two shining examples, taxing oil companies and developers to fund liveable spaces, should we begin to consider a similar system in the UK? Today, our construction sector is cascading with the cash of private developers – and a little CAC evidently goes a long way…



[1]  Google Docs. “Data: Local Authority Property Disposals and Redundancies.” Accessed December 10, 2019.
[2] “Nearly 800 Public Libraries Closed since Austerity Launched in 2010 | The Independent.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
[3] correspondent, Jillian Ambrose Energy. “Home Solar Panel Installations Fall by 94% as Subsidies Cut.” The Guardian, June 5, 2019, sec. Environment.
[4] Staton, Bethan. “Bus Funding in England Slashed by 40% in 10 Years.” Financial Times, October 24, 2019.
[5] Association, Press. “UK Parks Are near Crisis Point Because of Budget Cuts, Say Campaigners.” The Guardian, June 26, 2014, sec. Cities.
[6] Gehl, Jan.  Cities for People. Island Press, 2013.
[7] Appleyard, Donald, M. Sue Gerson, and Mark Lintell. Livable Streets. New edition edition. Place of publication not identified: University of California Press, 1982.
[8] Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space. Island Press, 2011.
[9] “OECD Better Life Index.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
[10] “The Petroleum Tax System.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
[11] “Oswall, Aidan- Economics andEffective Urban Design.Pdf.” Accessed November 31, 019. Oswall, Aidan. “Economics and
Effective Urban Design” n.d., 35.
[12] City of Vancouver. “Rezoning & Community Amenity Contributions.” City of Vancouver. Accessed December 6, 2019.
[13] Beasley, Larry. Vancouverism. Vancouver, BC: On Point Press, 2019.
“Nearly 800 Public Libraries Closed since Austerity Launched in 2010 | The Independent.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
“False Creek South Seawall Reopens with Widened Bike Lane and Pedestrian Paths | Urbanized.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
PWL Partnership. “Southeast False Creek Waterfront.” Accessed January 10, 2020.
“Railways Need ‘Radical Overhaul’, Campaigners Say.” BBC News, December 28, 2019, sec. UK. // Google Search. Accessed 10th Decemeber 2019
“2019 – Community Amenity Contributions – Through Rezoning.Pdf.” Accessed December 30, 2019.
Appleyard, Donald, M. Sue Gerson, and Mark Lintell. Livable Streets. New edition edition. Place of publication not identified: University of California Press, 1982.
Association, Press. “UK Parks Are near Crisis Point Because of Budget Cuts, Say Campaigners.” The Guardian, June 26, 2014, sec. Cities.
“CACbrochure.Pdf.” Accessed December 30, 2019.
“Community Amenity Contributions – Through Rezonings,” 2019, 16.Google Docs. “Data: Local Authority Property Disposals and Redundancies.” Accessed December 27, 2019.
“Dickinson – 2016 – Vancouverism and Its Cultural Amenities The View .Pdf.” Accessed December 30, 2019.
Dickinson, Peter. “Vancouverism and Its Cultural Amenities: The View from Here.” Canadian Theatre Review 167 (July 2016): 40–47.
Gehl, Jan.  Cities for People. Island Press, 2013.
Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space. Island Press, 2011.
“The Car-Free Livability Programme 2019.Pdf.” Accessed December 31, 2019.
UBC Press. “UBC Press | Vancouverism, By Larry Beasley.” Accessed December 27, 2019.
Vancouver, City of. “Community Amenity Contributions.” Accessed December 27, 2019.
“WhitepaperHandler.Pdf.” Accessed December 27, 2019.

One response to “British Developers should Cough Up CAC”

  1. […] Having the platform myself to write on topics I was interested in was also a great learning tool. Relating to Urban Design, I enjoyed being taught new areas given in the lecture, and taking threads from these which intrigued me to research further or else reminding me of specific experiences was positive inspiration. For example, I was particularly interested in the future potential of Smart Cities, touched upon by Sebastian Weisse – and this led to my research into the future potential of the Smart City [Read it here]. I also appreciated the possibility of linking blogs to current affairs I felt passionately about, leading to the socio-political blog on British public space & liveability. [Read it here] […]

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