It’s a small world?

I’m across the big pond as I write this. I have been in New York but now have hit a bitingly cold Toronto. I’m here on holiday for a few days with my son Jak. We’re back in New York on Wednesday and then back in the UK next weekend.


I couldn’t help but reflect on my travels in the last week. It’s not been great for the planet. Nor for my body clock!

I jotted down that in the last 7 days, so far I have travelled just over 3,400 miles…

214 miles from Nottingham to Hunstanton and back
113 miles to Watford
36 miles from Watford to central London and back
113 miles from Watford to Nottingham
128 miles from Nottingham to Heathrow
3,391 miles (approximately) from Nottingham to JFK in New York
347 miles from New York to Toronto

And as you read this my day is about to start with a 2 hour drive to Niagra Falls – and then back to Oshawa tonight for a Barenaked Ladies concert! The miles keep piling up!

I couldn’t help but wonder today what people would have thought about this 100 years ago? To give some contact to the world over 100 years ago – in Nottingham it is worth a few minutes of you time to watch this amazing video – of life in front of a tram (trolley-cars?). They would surely think that this pace of life was mad!

This week may be a bit sporadic in terms of posts – I’ll post if I find interesting things that I can add to the Nottingham plan – but otherwise, life will return to normal next week with some more great stuff about Nottingham – and the business plan….

None of the above?

I always smile at, so called, ‘surveys’ – they can pretty much say what people want them to say. 85% of people surveyed thought their new shampoo made their hair chintzy. (126 were surveyed). So 19 people didn’t? And who exactly are these 126 people. And why 126?


At the weekend in the Sunday Times magazine there was a Yougov survey about how people travel to work. As you might expect there were some pretty standard answers – 53% went by car, 15% were on foot, 12% on a bus, 7% on a train, 5% on a bike. The Tube accounted for 4% and just 1% used their motorbike.

In all surveys you then get the sweep up clause of ‘other’ – in this case they amounted to 1% – possibly they went by boat or helicopter?

Which leaves us 2%. They weren’t content with falling into the ‘other’ category – they responded ‘not sure’. This clearly is of concern. It wasn’t suggested that they spoiled their paper – it was they really had no clue as to how they got there. So this either suggests telekinesis or time travel

Or that they are like me and leave the house in a car, arrive at the office in the same car – but have no recollection of anything in between?

Time to blog?

I have been a bit quiet on the blogging front – life has been a bit hectic over the last week.


But tonight I wrote a couple of blog posts…

The reason is that I’m home and didn’t expect to be. I was supposed to go and cheer my PSL team on – who are playing at Chapel Allerton in Leeds. I was going to travel up with my son – so arranged to meet him at home for the hour and a half drive. Except that my 3 mile journey home wasn’t good – it took an hour. But that was fast at the side of his – it took him 2 hours to go from his office in town to The Park and then to try to get home. He averaged 2mph.

We gave up in the end.

I blogged here for a joke about giving up on travelling about in Nottingham – but it is no joke. Especially when you try to work, live and play in this city.

What made matters worse tonight was that in the 20 minutes it took me to travel on part of my route with a bus lane there were no buses. Just grid-locked cars. Isn’t it time that Nottingham suspended these bus lanes as they have done so in Liverpool – even if it is whilst all of this ‘infrastructure’ work goes on?


2011 – what a year!

As you get older the years seem to slip by a bit quicker?

Looking back 2011 was pretty special in many ways. Certainly from a work perspective it was challenging. I can’t help but wonder what 2012 will bring – I’ll have a go at that little conundrum tomorrow!

So, what of 2011? Well the highlight was undoubtably the Wedding. No, not that one, the one where my ‘little’ girl married and became a Smillie. It was a proud day – and, for the first time in my life I dressed up as a girl – not once but twice. I wore a kilt and took on the mantle of Anni-Frid from Abba. People told me I wasn’t too good at the lipstick…

Jak, my youngest son who passed his driving test in 2010 got his first car – so can now drive me around, which is brilliant. He has also had two jobs! Adam continues to wait for Spielberg to spot him, but in the interim has moved on from his supermarket job and is now raising money for a charity.

We managed New York twice – which was a low-count year! It still remains my favourite place and I’m expecting we’ll be back there very soon. But I also managed to squeeze in a second trip to Shanghai and also a first trip to Istanbul with The University of Nottingham. Shanghai is worth a trip if you get the opportunity – I still haven’t mastered the language! Istanbul was an amazing City – I wished we had more time to look around.

My golf hasn’t moved on – despite two trips to Scotland. It is still a great place to go if you like the game described as a good walk spoiled! My handicap is resolutely stuck at 14. If only I could play to that!

I was also in Copenhagen when they had their worst storm for 30 years. That was for our friend Alan’s 50th birthday – which he was trying to keep secret. I know someone (who you know) who will be 50 in 2012. We may be keeping that one quiet!

One of the best ‘corporate’ events of the year was my trip to Downing Street – my claim to fame is that I spoke to an audience at Number 10. And not everyone can say that. It was a great night – especially as I have been into the Houses of Parliament earlier in the day.

There were lots of other good moments too, but I figure you will soon get bored of the list!

SET conference – the lectures – part 1

Monday morning started early – 9am (7am UK time). It’s not ‘my’ time. Especially as Costa / Starbucks hasn’t caught on here. The coffee isn’t great…

The density of buildings is plain to see in Shanghai

I am at a conference with 350 people from 43 Countries. The day started with some keynote talks and a reminder about the importance of sustainable technologies. It was suggested that the top five issues facing the world in 2011 are – Energy, Water, Food, Environment and Poverty. In that order. Energy is going to become a major issue as our cities and communities grow.

The most interesting of the talks was by Prof. Peter Lund from Aalto University in Helsinki. He reminded us that whilst 50% of the population live in Cities now, by 2040 this will increase to 70%. Energy demand in Cities is currently 65% but by 2040 this climbs to 80%. This is a huge challenge to this who shape our cities. But the technical part of Peters talk was centred around the way in which the cities lose roof-space as they increase in density – losing the potential to have solar panels. The comparisons of places like Los Angeles with its urban sprawl and Shanghai with its sky-reaching towers is stark and quite logical. Places like Shanghai will rely on the outlying neighbourhoods – whereas LA can effectively produce its power locally.

It did demonstrate the downside to tall buildings and high density schemes…

There were other talks about materials used in buildings – one such talk was given by my friend at the University of Nottingham, Dr David Tetlow – he i researching ‘phase change materials’. These are clever material which alter their state when heated (or cooled) and improve a buildings thermal efficiency. I realised today that some of the work being done around us is really rather clever.

We had a formal dinner last night – held at the side of the pool – it was a spectacular setting – even if there was too much food!

PS – in case you were worried – we have overcome the language barrier – I have moved and can now see the sea!

SET Conference 2011

I can’t believe it is 12 months since I first went to Shanghai – a year ago I visited the City with Nottingham City Council and The University of Nottingham. I spent a fascinating few days with the University at a conference aimed at Sustainable Technologies. I also got to see the World Expo – which was fascinating.

One year on and we hit Istanbul. I have been invited – and this time I am speaking at the SET (Sustainable Energy Technologies) conference.

I have written a joint paper which addresses the question of whether green property attracts premium prices*. It’s not an easy question for various reasons. The paper is lengthy and can’t really be published in a blog post. You would fall asleep! I will though, after the conference ends, put it on its own ‘page’ on this site. I would welcome comments and observations. I don’t expect the findings to be popular!

I am in Istanbul this morning where the conference starts today and, assuming the technology works, I’ll do some updates on anything interesting I come across.

We also get a chance to see some of Istanbul after the conference ends – I am looking forward to this. I’m told that this is one of the most photogenic places in the World – so you may see some images… I’ll try to limit it to twenty images (which I guess will be as difficult as my attempts in Nottingham over the last few weeks – see here).

The one thing I won’t be doing is Turkish Delight – which ranks alongside Mushrooms as food of the devil in my book.

If it goes quiet, you will guess that I can’t work the Turkish wi-fi!

*PS – the answer to the question is no for commercial property and yes for residential… in Nottingham at least!

Copenhagen – part 2

As anticipated we went to Malmo in Sweden yesterday. Malmo is a 35 minute train journey from Copenhagen – you venture across the Oresund Bridge (which is like the baby version of the bridge linging Shanghai to Ningbo I went on last year).

The Turning Torso - Malmo

I especially like the Vastra Hamnen district – the harbour area. This is where you can see, actually you can’t miss, Santiago Calatrava‘s “Turning Torso” building. It stands out from miles around and is the centre-piece of this area of urban renewal. The whole place has fantastic public open spaces – water features run through the houses and shops.

What I noticed most was the massive development taking place – tower cranes and new roads are plentiful. It has really changed a lot since I was there 3 years ago. It is good to see – and the oprices of some of the hosuing stock was not as expensive as I imagined. A floating hosue boat (that description doesn’t do it justice) was £360,000?

We found an excellent coffee shop on the southern tip of the area – Espresso House – cappucino and cup cakes went down well.

The town is also really nice – an ecelctic mix of old and new – some buildings dating back to the 1500′s, other modern glass efforts. Public squares feauture too – the Eurpoeans do squares much better than us?

And that was it – we headed back across the water to Copenhagen – and an evening around the Tivoli Gardens. We started with dinner at that quintisentially Danish restaurant – The Hard Rock Cafe. We can’t be accused of not being immersed in the local culture? It took so long we ran out of time to look around Tivoli – we are hoping to go back…

Since Tivoli was a place we considered on our Sheriff of Nottingham tour a few years ago, I think we need to see it.

But, today was really about Malmo. I love the place. The Harbour area is, in my opinion, how buildings should sit in their environment. 10/10 Malmo.

The Seed Cathedral

I blogged some time ago about the fantastic UK Pavilion at the China Expo. It was lovingly known as the Seed Cathedral – and really was something the UK could be proud of (which cynically I thought made a change!)

This week I was trawling TED – which s much better than the TV most of the time! And I came across a talk by Thomas Heatherwick – the Architect who designed the Pavilion. The talk meanders around some of his other fascinating projects before explaining the theory behind the Seed Cathedral. If you have a spare 15 minutes and are interested in Architecture it is well worth a look. You can find the video here. Unfortunately TED don’t let me embed videos as Youtube do…

The (not so) Great Mall of China

If you regularly read my blog, you will know that I have been to China twice in the last 12 months – both times to Shanghai. I was amazed to see the level of development. When we went to Ningbo, I couldn’t quite understand how you could build a city – but my questions were simply lost on the City Planners. They didn’t understand why we were questioning the demand side of the equation.

When I was in Shanghai in March I drove past hundreds (I don’t exaggerate) of apartment blocks being built. The scale of development is eye watering.

This week, my friends at Nottingham University sent me this link on You Tube. It is worth watching it! It shows the side of China the officials don’t want you to see. In essence (if you haven’t got 15 minutes) there are estimated to be 64 million empty apartments. The Mall visited by the reporter is simply empty – although they have a nice web site.

This is all rather worrying! At the end of the report the question was whether there would be an uprising and civil unrest. On the face of it you would worry, but my experience of the Chinese people is that they are incredibly tolerant; the State rules with a rod of iron.

The video…

Shanghai – the facts

Shanghai is a difficult place to describe. It’s big, brash and noisy – it demands that you pay attention! I have had a couple of days to reflect on what I saw this time. And what I learned.

Although a couple of weeks ago was my second trip it takes you a while to adjust and comprehend the place. But to put some things in context:

* 21 million people live in Shanghai – 1.3 billion in China as a whole.
* GDP growth in China has been 11.2% on average for the period 2006-2010 – the Government target is 7% over the next 5 years.
* China is now the Worlds second largest economy (the US is still the largest)
* The UK imports £24bn each year but only exports £7bn – the UK Government want this to equalise.
* Inflation is running at 4.9%
* By 2015 half of the Worlds building will be taking place in Shanghai.
* 400 new Cities are being built and their average size will be the size of Birmingham!
* 15 million people are moving away from the Countryside to the Cities each year – by 2020 900m people will live in Cities.
* China was the largest producer of CO2 in the World in 2020

It is quite difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of what is going on here. I find it hard to explain in words – even looking at some of the brochures I brought back don’t really explain it. We just don’t see ‘development’ like this here in the UK. I’m not sure it is happening anywhere else in the World in this manner.

So is it good?

One of the speakers at the Conference I attended was quite damning – he raised the issues of corruption – there are four or five construction companies doing all of the work. Someone is getting very rich.

Then there is the ‘green’ aspect – and you can’t help but wonder if there is lip service being paid to the issues. On more than one occasion I heard stories about the ‘green features and standards being designed in, but not bult in. The latter simply because there is so much going on it cannot be all checked.

But my real issue is that when you peel back behind the veneer some of these buildings are not actually very good. Whilst we might develop buildings for 65-80 years, I am not convinced that the stuff being thrown up is at that standard. I wonder if they will last 20-25 years! I will return to this point again I think….