The Mayor’s disastrous disdain for the truth in pursuit of high rise

Marvin Rees’ administration is highly PR-driven, as everyone in Bristol’s political establishment knows. Large numbers of Facebook posts are posted in his name every day, justifying his policies. These Facebook posts are often completely misleading. Since potential critics are banned from seeing his posts, and he refuses to interact with the public in open fora, and refuses to talk to members of the press he considers “biased”, or answer questions he considers “biased”, challenging the large volume of fake news emanating from the Mayor is hard. Bristol is ruled in accordance with the Mayor’s alternative reality, with more or less misleading justifications produced for the schemes he favours.

One example is this recent post (thanks to Andrew Lynch):

The tweet that the Mayor has copied from is the purest item of “fake news” – it is completely misleading. 

The chart comes from a deep dive by the tweeter into the @UCBerkeley database which estimates the likely effectivenes of different methods of reducing carbon footprints in different Californian cities by 2030, and encourages you to run your own result. It would be good to know what the tweeter put in as the query, because if you put in “700 cities” nothing comes up. If you put in “California”, Urban Infill – i.e. building more and more densely – does come up, but well down the list in efficiency at reducing carbon footprints, and clearly labelled “California”.

An accompanying paper (Carbon Footprint Planning: Quantifying Local and State Mitigation: Opportunities for 700 California Cities, Urban Planning, Volume 3, Issue 2) states on Pages 35-51 its estimate of the mitigatory effect of Urban Infill in California if appropriate measures were taken by 2030, giving the table below. Infill only contributes 7.3 million metric tons CO2E abatement potential by 2030, out of a possible 102.7 abatement potential from all sources. So Infill contributes much less than all other leading forms of mitigation – exactly the opposite of what the Mayor claims.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Infill-as-abatement-1.jpg

As you can see, the result for Urban Infill is surprisingly small.

What appears to have happened, accidentally or more likely deliberately, is that the tweeter has deleted the query she originally put in, and super-imposed results from a query using data from another city where Infill is actually effective, claiming that the chart references California’s 700 cities. It does not.

I say that the maneouvre is likely deliberate, because the type above the charts is not the font that uses to indicate what area a result represents, but a completely different font, obviously typed in instead. The Mayor or the assistant who showed him this chart has clearly not checked the accompanying paper. Our Mayor, alas, very generally goes with whatever theory he instinctively believes in, and doesn’t bother to check – even when his hunch will have enormous negative consequences.

The Mayor is obsessed with high-rising this beautiful and historic city, for no good reason that proper empirical analysis supports. Incidentally high rise is not specifically dealt with in the paper. But it is well-established that high rise is by far the most expensive, least sustainable and adaptable, and most carbon-intensive form of infill.

If Marvin Rees wants to densify Bristol in an efficient and sustainable way, mid-rise is the way to go (as has often been explained to him) but it requires much more planning work than the present strategy of giving permission for almost anything that developers ask for, and behind the scenes encouraging developers to add substantial numbers of extra storeys to their initial applications (as in the case of the Goram Homes proposal next to Castle Park, where City Hall apparently asked for an extra 11 storeys).

Author: Matthew Montagu-Pollock

I settled in Bristol in 2011 after 23 years in Asia, of which 16 were in the Philippines, mostly working as an investigative journalist in the Euromoney group.