Sustainable Cities Index: analysis for the West Midlands

Cover of Sustainable Cities Index 2009

Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton are the three cities from the West Midlands included in the Sustainable Cities Index (pdf, 4.3mb) published recently by Forum for the Future.

This is the third year that the index has been published, which tracks sustainability progress achieved in Britain’s 20 largest cities. The index is designed to give a snapshot of sustainability in each city, aiming to encourage healthy competition, stimulating discussion and suggesting new ways of thinking about cities.

This post provides a short analysis of findings for the West Midlands cities and also highlights the similarities that this work has with our State of the Region dialogue on sustainable communities.

What topics are included in the index?

The index is structured around the three key areas and 13 indicators:

  1. Environmental performance: air quality, biodiversity, waste collected per head and ecological footprint
  2. Quality of life: employment, transport, education, health and green space
  3. Future-proofing: climate change, food, economy and recycling

Overall results

This chart shows the overall results in the sustainable index for the cities in the West Midlands since 2007:

Chart: ranking of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhmapton in Sustainable Cities Index 2007-2009
View full size chart (png, 62kb)

First, the good news:

  • Coventry improved from 17th place in 2007 to 11th place in 2009
  • Birmingham improved 2 places in 2009

The not so good news:

  • Wolverhampton fell 2 places, from 16th in 2007 to 18th in 2009
  • The three cities are positioned in the bottom half of the table, with Birmingham and Wolverhampton positioned in the bottom 5 of the ranking

When analysing an index, it’s ‘relative performance’ that matters.

It’s not how good your performance is, but how good your performance is compared to other cities. Achieving a certain place one year doesn’t guarantee the same result the following year. To keep your place you have to keep improving; doing nothing is not an option.

An improvement in the ranking means that your performance is relatively better than the rest of the cities.

On the other hand, a fall in the ranking doesn’t necessarily mean going backwards, but instead that your performance was not enough to catch up with other cities.

Results by theme

This chart shows the rankings  by theme (environment, quality of life, future-proofing) for 2009:

Chart ranking Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton in 2009 by Sustainable Cities Index' themes of environment, quality of life and future-proofing
View full size chart (png, 52kb)

Balance across themes is crucial in sustainability. Coventry consistently achieved the best results on the three themes, therefore it’s no surprise Coventry has the best overall ranking.

These results show evidence of disparities issues within our region. Geographically, these cities are not far from each other.

However, Birmingham and Coventry’s environmental performance is considerably ahead of Wolverhampton’s.

The difference between them represents the opportunity to be in 5th place or at the bottom of the ranking.

In the same way, Wolverhampton is 7 places ahead of Birmingham when analysing the ‘quality of life’ theme.

Results by indicator

The charts below show results achieved for each indicator, with 1 being the worst and 20 the best. A city will be more sustainable the closer it gets to 20 across all indicators. Download a slide showing all three indicators (png, 85kb).

Environmental quality (2009)

Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton performance on environmental quality indicators (2009) according to Sustainable Cities Index

Quality of life (2009)

Chart shows Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton ranked by quality of life indicators (2009) according to Sustainable Cities Index

Future proofing (2009)Chart shows Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton ranked by future proofing indicators (2009) according to Sustainable Cities Index

These charts above present the strengths and weaknesses that each city is facing. For example, ecological footprint is relatively strong in the three cities while air quality is a potential area for improvement across all three cities.

The opportunity to analyse the results by indicator is a useful way to identify priorities that can boost the sustainability of the city.

It also provides an easy way to identify good practice examples from other cities. For example, Birmingham is stronger in ecologial footprint, Coventry stronger in food and Wolverhampton is stronger in climate change.

Links to the Observatory’s work

Cover of report 'What Makes a Community Sustainable'The Observatory recently published What makes a community sustainable? (pdf, 457kb) as part of our dialogue on sustainable communities.

The report focuses on identifying the factors which make communities sustainable and proposes a set of indicators that will enable us to objectively measure the level of sustainability across communities.

While producing this analysis I identified the following similarities across the Sustainable Cities Index and What makes a community sustainable?’ reports:

1. Themes and indicators

Sustainability is not one indicator; it compounds a wide range of topics influencing and shaping localities.

The Sustainable Cities Index groups them in three broad themes and 13 indicators. Our dialogue identified six broad themes and proposes a set of 36 indicators.

2. Balance across themes

Acting on themes or indicators individually will not deliver sustainability. Interventions need to be coordinated across all of them.

3. Sources

Both publications include indicators from publicly available sources. 

Related links

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