Sustainable Community at Open Cambridge

This Open Cambridge event took place at the very north-west edge of the city so it was quite far away from the city center. We attended a one-hour conference aiming to present the layouts for the development of the north west district of the city to the Cambridge residents (and curious people like us). The challenge would be to create a sustainable way of life in the whole area. Here is a report of this conference.

Cambridge is one of the best university cities in the world. The fact that the school is ranked amongst the top universities makes it an attractive place for world renowned researchers, top class students and other staffs. The North West Cambridge development team works closely with the City Council and the university in order to develop both a sustainable and attractive area. The challenge is high as they have to create houses, green spaces, facilities, transportations while maintaining the historic aspect of the city.

The main problem of Cambridge is that while being a city with many PhDs and people with a high level of education within its population – not always very wealthy – a lot of people with high salaries and wealth want to live in Cambridge. This creates a housing problem that the City Council needs to solve. Because of these wealthy people, housing market skyrocketed making housing at an affordable price very hard to get for people with a lower level of income.

To solve this problem, the city of Cambridge decided to create a new district to relieve housing congestion while enhancing the City and the University. The North West of Cambridge is the only remaining area near the center yet to be developed. By creating research buildings and facilities for the university near the soon-to-be houses, the City Council expects a boost to attract and retain the best international staff and students.

Concerning the architectural and urban design, they want it to be the same as what we can currently find in the city. Creating big public open spaces, a few student accommodations as well as ensuring the feeling of a natural environment are a few conditions for the project to be developed.

They aim to develop a lot of community facilities to make sure people will not have to use motor transport – as the city road traffic is already very dense. The above mentioned facilities include: Community center, Primary School, Local center, University Housing, Storey’s Field, Ridgeway, Brook Leys, Family low density housing, post-graduate accommodation, academic & commercial research facilities.

overhead-viewThe everyday life is supposed to be covered by retails, leisure and community places, including a market square, shops, restaurants, hostels, a health center and a school. Overall, they expect to create a total of three thousand homes (with half being “affordable”) incorporating last technologies for energy consumptions – as for example solar panels on almost all roofs.

Amongst other topics, the word sustainability seems to count a lot for the local authorities. They aim to create an exemplary and inspirational place (all homes are expected to be at least level 5[1]). Features of the site include: a district heating system, an underground waste storage, a “Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems” (SuDS), cycle paths and other ecological measures.

To ensure the success of the place’s development, the project is following 5 life pledges.

  • The first one is to develop a greater awareness about sustainable living. Real changes are made through changes in people behavior.
  • Second is that sustainability will follow much more complex regulations than the norms, those drastic moves are intended to affirm Cambridge’s new approach to transportation, energy use and generation, food and waste management.
  • Third pledge is about sustainable and environmental materials employed in construction. They have to be from high quality and their manufacture must require minimal energy consumption (as well as their transportation and their assembly).
  • The fourth one concerns the reduction of car use and plans to include substantial investments in carbon alternatives to private cars.
  • The last one concerns the environmental performance which will be supervised by the University.

Latter phases will build on the sense of place and community spirit established through the first phase.

[1] Of the Code for Sustainable Homes and non-residential buildings to BREEAM excellent.

(By Cyril Carponcin, David Cheneviere and Lucas Delon)

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