Bristol Climate Smart Cities finalists

Today’s blog is by Jessie Carter, Projects and Policy Lead at Bristol Housing Festival

The Bristol Climate Smart Cities Challenge has entered an exciting phase of co-creation following the announcement of 14 finalists on 20 January, after technologists, businesses, and investors were invited to enter the competition and contribute to a new model for delivering affordable, carbon-neutral homes.

This is the next phase in the international city-based open innovation competition, hosted by Nesta Challenges and UN-Habitat, in which four cities were chosen to invite innovators from around the world to help solve their challenges relating to greenhouse gas emissions. Other participating cities are Bogota, Colombia; Curitiba, Brazil; and Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda.

At an introductory webinar last week, the Bristol finalists not only heard from the project team, which included Bristol One City, Nesta Challenges, UN-Habitat, and others, but listened to each other’s elevator pitches, the beginning of what will arguably be the most crucial part of the challenge. At this stage, each finalist will need to go beyond their own proposal and form teams to collaborate to support system change, leading up to the announcement of the winning teams at the World Forum in Poland in June.

The brief was clear that the barrier to this was not just the technology itself (we have an increasing number of emerging green technology solutions), but the underpinning economic model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders that isn’t currently viable. We may be able to build beautiful carbon neutral homes but if we can’t make these affordable – and tackle the very real social inequalities that manifest themselves in housing – then we’ve stopped short of the system change the most vulnerable in our society need.

Secondly, the brief recognised that to achieve system change requires collaboration. We had a lot of questions and clarifications over the application period. That wasn’t unexpected: we knew we had put forward the wicked challenge which our city faces. As the applications rolled in, assessors and judges were looking for not just the capability of each organisation, but the extent to which they were willing to build a coalition for change with other finalists. We were excited to receive 47 applications from around the world and 14 finalists were selected, three of which are local Bristol organisations and twelve are UK based.

From Bristol, the Bristol Community Land Trust and We Can Make presented their pitches to see the community-led housing model become part of this solution, as well as Brighter Places housing association. Other finalists included housebuilders Greencore Construction, Igloo Regeneration, Ilke Homes, EDAROTH, and Innerspace Homes Group. Social enterprise Bioregional Hill are pioneering an innovative affordable housing model, while green energy schemes are offered by Microgrid Foundry and Swedish company Ecoclime, and bringing data solutions are Changebuilding and Parametric Solutions. Finally, Pyterra brings an innovative finance model. We are excited by each of these finalists, but even more so about the potential they bring together.

As the co-creation phase progresses, our hope is that the finalists will work to collectively understand the systemic challenges that Bristol City Council and other commissioners of social housing have grappled with and become ‘more than the sum of their parts’ – addressing multiple points of the system to develop an ecosystem solution and bring in city stakeholders to help them achieve this goal. This will look like considering technology solutions alongside financial and outcome led commissioning supported with data solutions (among others). Ultimately, it will mean finding a new way of delivering housing based on value (and not just cost) so we can combat the climate and ecological emergencies while never losing site of those who don’t have a secure or adequate home in which to live.  

In the next phase of the competition, the ambition of Bristol City Council and the project partners is that the winning teams will be funded to complete a system demonstrator. For us, the best outcome of this competition will be that we don’t just drive change but see affordable, carbon neutral houses built in our city.