Darryl Chen, 04 09 09

This project witnesses the result of the London Borough of Sutton’s desire to form England’s first “sustainable suburb” in the outer reaches of Greater London. What was first a twinkle in a councillor’s eye led to Sutton’s local government to write a policy document safeguarding Hackbridge as a showcase of carbon-positive living at the scale of the urban district. Sped by compulsory purchases and decanting of a small handful of resistant residents, the process gained more and more momentum until the milestone formation of the Green Grass Management Trust. First functioning as a para-governmental management arm of the fledgling district, the Green Grass MT gained in stature to be a renegade local government in its own right. As more and more people signed up to live within the confines of the newly established urban Ring, the Green Grass MT became less reliant on government subsidies and eventually became untouchable as a political entity, much to the quiet chagrin of local planners and councillors. Officially a special policy area under the umbrella authority of the borough, the Ring is now in actuality independent and self-sufficient in all respects.

Statistics gathered by the Ring’s inhouse carbon-counting bureaucracy show that the overwhelming response by Londoners to sign up started to drop off after reaching the 3000 mark, indicating that enthusiasm for a genuine carbon-positive commitment was finite. Nevertheless, the vibrancy and almost obsessive nature of life within the Ring is testament not only to a fervent commitment to carbon reduction, but to a socially-reformed way of life.

The Ring’s carbon-counting bureaucrats also reveal the extent to which the Ring acts as a carbon sink for the rest of the borough. Able to offset 19,000 tonnes of CO2 and produce 68,800 MWh/year surplus heat and electricity, this productive powerhouse effectively represents 22% of the borough’s residential energy requirement, whilst also recycling and methane-harvesting the borough’s waste. Clearly the potentials of this urban configuration to replicate itself across London’s suburbs are apparent. And not surprisingly some of the greatest supporters of the Ring are the biggest polluting residents of the adjoining districts who (as it has been well documented in local press) are more than happy to give them a “reason to be there” [1]. To date there has been no civil unrest between these two extreme poles of the demographic spectrum, indeed the Ring’s border is so ingeniously constructed that little contact need be made to the outside world at all. The few concessions – the Propaganda and Visitor Centre and Recycling Dating and Recruitment Centre among them – are promotional exercises that serve the interests of the Ring itself.

With years yet before any adequate assessment can be made, debate rages as to whether the Ring belongs in the category of Visionary Pioneer or the long lineage of failed Utopian Experiments. For the time, we can only say we have been offered a glimpse of Salvation by Urbanism.

[1] Sutton Guardian, 28 May 2008.

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