In the middle of July I made a break in my holidays to attend a summer school with the theme “Energy in the city”. The summer school was organised by the DEMAND centre in the UK and hosted by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds.
The three-day programme included a mix of talks, discussions, field work and other activities (e.g. an outdoor version of floorball/innebandy with around 10 people in each team). Employees of the DEMAND centre, and some invited guests, gave talks on topics such as infrastructure and practices, food supply systems, consumption in cities, shopping practices, and the futures of work spaces. There is a nice summary of highlights from the event here.
We also did some more practical work in the form of fieldwork mini-projects that were supposed to be used for input for Leeds City Council. We were divided into groups and given a specific place in Leeds to explore from an energy perspective. My group got the legal district with the court and old town hall. The area also included a small business block with a very manicured and tidy park (with an excessive number of bins) surrounded by old, but well-managed, office buildings occupied mainly by solicitors and surgeons. From the empty bike racks and full street parking we drew the conclusion that it was not a place where people bike to work.
In contrast to the elegant front of the buildings, the back revealed more of a mess with air conditioning units attached to ensure the occupants’ comfort despite dressing up in suits also on a sunny summer day. During our three-hour work session we did not come to any conclusions or solutions, but we found the contrast between “the tidy front” and “the messy back” interesting and we thought that the desire to keep up appearances (both of the buildings and the people working there) could be relevant to further explore in relation to energy use.
The next day we continued discussing the fieldwork but not in the original groups. Everyone selected another group’s project and in the new groups we formulated a research proposal for a small project that the City Council could take on. I chose a project with observations from a large (private) workplace in the city centre that, despite its central location, seemed to have a very strong car culture. The workplace was located next to a huge parking lot and close to the entrance were parking spaces marked with “gold cones” where the “employees of the month” got to park their cars. We thought it might be a good idea look into both how car cultures are reinforced and can be challenged in workplaces, and the City Council liked the idea. And I’m sure there are better ways of rewarding excellent employees than by depriving them of daily exercise while at the same time contributing to climate change and air pollution…