Bristol, Voted Top UK City, is also One of its Greenest. Coincidence?
Bristol has topped the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times list as the best UK city to living in, citing its "great shopping, great scenery and great social scene".
Last autumn it won a similar survey managed by the online consumer website MoneySuperMarket for being the most "liveable" city in Britain, followed by Edinburgh, Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, London and Belfast.
Bristol also happens to be one of the greenest cities in the UK and next year will be the European Green Capital; is that a coincidence? I don't think so.
Bristol is the place where the mayor (right) is paid in "Bristol pounds" an alternative currency. George Ferguson is a visionary environmentalist and urbanist, an architect and founding member of the British sustainable transport charity Sustrans.
He is also a pioneer of regeneration, known for regenerating the Bedminster area of South Bristol in the 1990s centred around his purchase and conversion of the old, disused Imperial Tobacco building, now renowned as the Tobacco Factory (below right), a mixed-use project that includes a theatre, cafe, restaurant and creative industry hub which has been a focus for the regeneration of the entire area.
He repeated this success with the Bristol Beer Factory, which he revived and turned into a thriving beer brewing business that has won numerous national awards. It now includes a theatre and a bakery.
Elected mayor in November 2012 running as an independent Ferguson almost immediately ran a city wide election for the youth community to elect two youth mayors to make young people feel connected to local government.
Ferguson understands modern cities and how regeneration of high streets must happen alongside the move to online shopping habits, buy keeping it local and using sustainable transport. Business rates must be set in alignment with these policies.
Two months ago he and the leaders of the three neighbouring authorities that form the West of England signed a 'City Deal' with central Government allowing Bristol to retain income from business rates and decide how the money should be spent. (Previously the Government retained business rates and distributed them nationally.
He uses the intelligence of Bristol crowds to devise policies that will work. A year after winning office he launched 'George's Ideas Lab', a website that asks Bristol citizens to submit ideas for improving the city.
Bristol has also long been the home of the UK's Environment Agency and a Centre for Sustainable Energy, which gives it a green-minded skills base. As an administration, the city has an eco-management and audit scheme in place to ensure its environmental performance. In 2012, the Council won the EU EMAS Award for water management.
Its energy policy commits it to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020 and source renewable energy for 20% of its power needs by that date. This will rise to 60% by 2050. It is sponsoring numerous projects to improve the energy efficiency of its building stock, to source renewable electricity, and to implement district heating schemes using combined heat and power.
It hosts a community-owned energy cooperative. One of the consultants advising the council on greening the city is Herbert Girardet, author of numerous books on sustainable cities.
Of course, Bristol benefits from a fine location: it's in the south west and so receives good sunshine, it is near to the sea and the Severn estuary, as well as near to wealthy areas such as the Cotswolds and by the gateway to south Wales.
But it faces problems of social inequality as well: it's not long since the inner-city riots, and housing can be very expensive. It also expects, because of its popularity, to grow rapidly in the next 20 years and the systems being put in place now will have to accommodate this projected growth.
Unsurprisingly, then, it has a Smart City Program. Connecting Bristol - the city's digital partnership - was established in 2006 and leads the city's work on next generation broadband infrastructure, smart city, open data, green ICT, and digital inclusion.
The Program is benefiting from a European Commission grant of over £300,000 for two projects, and a Green Digital Charter Award to its Futures Team, (which includes members of the City Council, the city's universities, businesses and community partners). The team plans to use smart technologies to develop the city's digital infrastructure to meet the city's target to reduce CO2 emissions as well as wider social and economic targets.
The city is also one of four UK Future City Demonstrators and benefits from further funding from the UK Government's Technology Strategy Board, which fosters technological innovation.
This is all part of Bristol's aim to be in the top 20 European cities by 2020 by creating a world-class and inclusive green-digital economy.
The City Council itself owns and manages a £9 million city fibre network. Through 'Gigabit Bristol', which received £11 million UK Super Connected Cities funding, they are deploying a high-speed broadband test-bed, citywide Wi-Fi network and experimental radio frequency network.
So, all of this is going on behind the scenes. This is what it takes to become a great city. And what can the Sunday Time say about it? "Great shopping, great scenery and great social scene".
That's the tip of the iceberg. That's what journalists and the general public or visitor might see. The vision and hard work it takes to create this reality, I hope you can now see, is about embracing and uniting green capitalism with urbanism, sustainability, democracy, social inclusion, localism and technology.
Bristol every bit deserves its leadership role and its recognition. To support it in the privileged role of being the 2015 European Green Capital it is to receive £7 million of additional funding from the HM Government Treasury. Money well spent, I'd say.