Architect/Mayor's goal: a healthier Bristol for all

In November 2012, architect George Ferguson CBE PPRIBA RWA became the first independent mayor to lead a major city in Britain. He has a bold and innovative vision for his city, and a passion to make Bristol healthy and livable for all.

George Ferguson is past President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was co-founder of Ferguson Mann Architects, and the Academy of Urbanism, and founded the UK wide network of practices, Acanthus.

1. It is very unusual for an architect to become Mayor. Are you placing special emphasis on making the built environment more healthy and livable?

It is undoubtedly true that my architectural career and wide experience of cities has many advantages when it comes to running a city. However my interests are primarily about making life better for every citizen rather than being focused on buildings. However I shall take every opportunity to encourage better design, which helps make a healthier lifestyle possible.  There are limits as my role does not take in planning decisions, which is a quasi-judicial function, however I tend to encourage others and support the work of our city designers in working with developers to set higher expectations about design  

2. You are also the first Mayor of Bristol to have been elected by the citizens to a 4-year term. Does this give you a mandate to enact major improvements to Bristol’s livability?

Yes, but of course there are limits to what can be achieved in four years (actually 3.5 years first term) in terms of major regeneration projects and infrastructure changes which will encourage more sustainable development.  I’ve made it clear that I intend to stand once more, in 2016, as there’s much I’d like to see completed which is simply not possible in 3.5 years.

3. For some years, Bristol has promoted walking. Please tell us about some of your new initiatives to reclaim the streets for pedestrians in the old city and in the neighborhoods.

My 'Make Sundays Special’ initiative to create traffic free streets in the center of the city for cultural, sporting and market activity has been a huge success with many people and businesses asking for it to be more frequent. It has encouraged more walking where cars normally go, and has proved outstandingly popular with exit polls by Bristol residents and visitors showing 99% satisfaction. 

Recently I’ve put in place an experimental traffic order to close one of the streets to traffic every weekend, making it easier for people to enjoy the local shops, street markets and outdoor cafes at their leisure. If successful, my intention is that this is made permanent throughout the week and we make further experiments – a 'suck it and see' approach to planning.

4. IMCL is particularly concerned with making cities healthy and livable for children, involving children’s mobility, access to lively public places and green spaces. Do you have any initiatives in these areas?

I’m a strong supporter of play and activities for children and young people. We commission many services which run youth centers, playgrounds and provide opportunities for children to play outside but with budget cuts some of these have been threatened.  We take a lead in turning residential streets for outdoor play at end of school, an initiative started by Playing Out  (My daughter is one of the initiators) 

Another highlight is our annual ‘Play Day’, where we turn the green space outside City Hall in to a giant play area full of music, games, sports and activities.  This has been running for 10 years, attracting thousands of visitors.

On the policy side I’m making links between our public health duties, transport schemes and our parks, green spaces & leisure strategies to join all this up and create better places for the public, and especially young people, to enjoy, and to encourage safe routes to schools when considering all highway planning.

5. We understand Bristol is a Cycling City. Please tell us more about your plans to increase use of the bicycle as a mode of transport, and also for recreation.

We’ve doubled the number of regular cyclists in the city to 16,000 between 2001 and 2011, and my hope is to double it again by 2020.

This is no mean feat but is being supported by widespread investment in infrastructure.  For example the Bristol and Bath region recently won £7.7 million of government funding through their Cycling Ambition Grant, which will be topped up locally with an extra £.3.3 million.

In the center of Bristol, a major scheme will see better links along the length of the River Avon from the Avon Bridge all the way to the Temple Quay Enterprise Zone. This funding will help make cycling a better and safer option, and in particular to improve connections between the south and north of the city.  It’s a vital missing link in our strategy for transport over coming years as we aim to ease congestion, improve air quality and encourage people to live healthier lifestyles.

6. I congratulate you on plans to introduce 20 mph speed limit in large areas of the city. In some cities (e.g. Charleston, SC) this proposal met with resistance until people understood the death risk figures, particularly for children. Then they are generally persuaded. Do you have an educational/promotional campaign to bring skeptics on board?

Yes, we have just started a major advertising campaign based on safety to children and promote the scheme and its benefits as we consult, sending information to every household. I've also done a lot of work in the media to talk about its benefits. 

This will be a long-term initiative that requires strong leadership but I believe most people will become convinced once they see the long term results and benefits.

7. I understand there are plans for Bristol to become the first city in the UK to create its own energy and technology company. Please tell us more about this.

Bristol is leading the way in the UK for sustainability matters and I’ve been working with others on a step change for the delivery of the low carbon agenda.  As part of this I want to create jobs, secure warmer homes, improve health, business opportunities and economic growth via a European styled municipal energy and technology company.

I envisage an energy company that will not only supply heat and power via district heating networks, but will also carry out other energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  Furthermore, I will seek to obtain energy supply licenses for gas and electricity and use the local authority’s purchasing power through direct agreements to provide benefits for the citizens and businesses of Bristol.

All this will be reinforced by our award of European Green Capital for 2015 in which I want health and children's wellbeing to play a leading role.