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
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
- rethinking what an 'office' is and rethinking the location
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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