Green Debate 2014

'London: Designed for Healthy Living?'

Debate Review

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On Tuesday 16 September Open-City held its first-ever Green Debate to launch the Greener City strand of Open House London 2014. Hosted by the London School of Economics at their very own green exemplar, the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, the expert panel was welcomed by 200+ public and professional attendees.

Julian Robertson, Director of Estates at LSE opened proceedings with the LSE’s approach to the brief of the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, the debate venue. Having asked for the "best student building in the UK" and now open for 10 months with an excellent POE report – he thinks he got jut that. Stating Ruskin’s quote that ‘We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it.’ The centre is a vibrant and lively space and thereby creates a healthy environment for its student population in the midst of the city centre.

Tackling the challenge of health in urban space the debate was then begun by chair Dan Hill, Executive Director, Future Cities, with panelists:

  • Dr Yvonne Doyle, Regional Director, London, Public Health England
  • Paul Heather, Managing Director, Skanska
  • Dan Epstein, Director, Useful Simple Projects
  • Marie Murray, Manager, Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
  • Ben Plowden, Director, Planning, Surface Transport, Transport for London

What the panel covered:

Dan Hill (who works for Catapult - an urban innovation centre, set up by InnovateUK, the UK government's innovation agency) contextualized the debate with trajectories such as:

  • We are a C19th citiy facing C21st problems
  • The Department of Health can't fix health on their own any more
  • How do we innovate when we don't know all the questions [let alone] the answers
  • Do we understand the value of 'green and blue' infrastructure?  
  • How do we invest rather than spend on health (i.e. preventive rather than curative)

Each panelist then argued their positions – each from very different backgrounds and perspectives.  

Yvonne Doyle

"We must harness the efforts of the whole of society to solve problems.  We [medical experts] don't know all the answers"

"London needs to looks at what it offers to all its residents"

"Mayor has set up London Health Commission, to be launched in 4-6 weeks"

Dan Epstein

"The Fiscal Cliff in 2019 will undermine local authorities' ability to deliver services"

"There is more money than ever in London but it's in fewer people's hands"

"How do you manage the increasing privatisation of public space?"

Paul Heather

"We could be heading for an environmental and economic disaster if we don't act now"

"Hard-hitting legislation can make a difference but tenants' demands could be just as important"

Marie Murray

"Must design in opportunities to be sociable"

"Places to feel safe, to nurture and to be nurtured"

"We need social spaces in local neighbourhoods that allow people to interact"

Ben Plowder

"We're about to spend just shy of £1bn on cycling over the next 10 years"

"Everybody's talking about placemaking"

"The pace of change when you're a campaigner is unbelievably slow.  The pace of change when you're inside a big organisation is unbelievably quick”

Opening to the floor the debate brought about many further issues and nuggets of thought:

 "In Britain about 30,000 excess deaths happen every winter " and this is more a matter of indoor temperature than air quality so we should focus on building design to alleviate this.  Older and poorer people are not as assertive as others but their needs are often greater’

 "Do we have too much green space in London?"  Is the balance between affordable housing and poor quality green spaces right?  Can we really afford to have golf courses or rarely-used school playing fields?

"How do you set up community organisations to manage green spaces?"

"we tend to separate big infrastructure from fine-grain"

"Health of the city is its core asset"

To hear a read a more indepth feature – read Dan Epstein’s perspective on Healthy Cities.

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Public Opinion Facilitates the Green Debate
In the weeks leading up to the Green Debate, Open-City launched an online public poll to get a sense what we want from our city and how healthy we think London is and could be. Read are our main result here.

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Strand Sponsor


"As a leader in green construction, we welcome the opportunity to celebrate other leaders in green. The green exemplar strand is a wonderful opportunity to promote more sustainable ways of developing and managing our capital city – through the ways that we build, but also how we interact with buildings and the built environment."

Paul Heather, Managing Director for Skanska Building, Skanska UK

Debate Host



The Green Debate is the opening and inaugural event of the new Greener City strand of Open House London 2014. Together with our strand sponsor, Skanska, the strand highlights over 50 projects that are making significant steps in creating a sustainable city. Click here to find out more.



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