Thoughts: Eric in Nottingham

Eric Haas reflects on a trip to Nottingham for the “Resilient and Sustainable Cities Symposium’ and to visit the Trent Basin.


Mid December 2016 I embarked on a mission to the rebellious city of Nottingham in the midlands of England. Purpose was twofold: attending a conference organized by the University of Nottingham (organized by the great Lucelia Rodrigues and her colleagues) and to visit some network partners to investigate potential (future) projects and co-operation.

It had been long ago that I had crossed the channel. However quite contrary to my expectations I got used quickly to the local rules, was not overrun by cars coming from the wrong or right direction and managed to keep my budget of pound sterling under control, probably mainly due to local laws urging bars to close down at 11pm.

The conference focused on “resilient and sustainable cities”. A wide range of experts from both academic world as well as businesses presented their findings and accomplishments through research and field work. The conference proved a great condensed update on the state of the art; application of community energy programs, circular economy, and application of theoretical insights (like risk modelling) into reality.

I concluded that throughout the world, cities and local communities are increasingly taking action and responsibility to improve the quality of their living environment by working together, by setting and committing to common goals and by building better or improving existing eco-systems. Often the challenge is to have a good vision that really set people (a bit) on fire, make things practical and visible, involve stakeholders including owners and (local) governments. It proves quite a challenge to have owners and commercial parties (like developers) really involved in the bigger picture as they tend to (often) maximize on a more specific (financial) interest.

However it is my belief that successful projects will find a profitable business model, where all partners and stakeholders benefit. It only means that all partners must accept the possibility of giving up some short term benefits in order to gain (as a group) in the long run…

A good example of a commercial development company that follows this rather new and uncommon path is UK based real estate developer Igloo*/Blueprint*.
The morning after the symposium – I walked down to the industrial and business area alongside the River Trent to visit Blueprint’s CEO, Nick Ebbs and colleague Ashley Walters. Igloo is a front runner in sustainable real estate development and they have also taken leadership in revitalizing and converting the current grim looking industrial area (with lots of vacancy) for mixed uses. The core of the area is formed by the trent basin, a cargo depot constructed in the early 1920´s.

Over the years Blueprint has bought out existing owners to (partly) relocate their business and has commenced by building the first blocks of houses and apartments. Already a couple of early birds have purchased their new homes, and the majority will follow in 2017. The trent basin site not only is memorable for it´s location near the river (beautiful and peaceful view over the river) but also for a quite revolutionary focus on sustainability at many levels. One of the aims to have the site energy neutral. For that aim houses will be build with the latest state of the art techniques, but also will be installed with solar and hot water panels, common solar energy facilities and a huge electricity storage through a 1 MWh battery. Except for the battery, the site will have a community energy hub, a thermal heat storage. The goal is to have established a commercial ESCO (energy services company) by the year 2018! For this project Igloo/Blueprint works closely together with the University of Nottingham, led by Mark Gillot.

So how could OSMOS fit in?  It became apparent that the site is located far from the cultural centre of the city (physically and emotionally), and building the social capital to create a vibrant and lively place is on the cards. This could be seen as challenge or an opportunity.  The question is how to bring the site more closely into the hearts and minds of Nottingham’s existing residents? Other opportunities include finding an outstanding creative use of the site’s main asset: the Trent Basin.  A final question is the available empty space which could be an exciting chance for place-making through entrepreneurship and facilitating (temporary) functions?

We hope to remain connected to the place in 2017 and see if we can add some good creative osmotic value in the spirit of Robin Hood to the project!