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Simon Marks
Simon Marks
City Executive Birmingham
City Executive Birmingham

In our Sustainable Cities Index 2022, Birmingham has come out top as the UK’s most affordable city to live in, however there is work to do on sustainability, evidenced by its lower scores in the environmental sustainability category. How can the city overcome the challenges it faces?


Birmingham needs continued investment to maximise its potential as the UK’s most affordable city, according to a ranking of 100 of the world’s leading cities in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022 (SCI).

Its position in the SCI places Birmingham as the UK’s most affordable city to live in, putting it in a great position to attract talent and investment for the future. However, with lower than the UK average scores for carbon emissions, congestion and green infrastructure it’s clear that the investment the city is attracting needs to be channelled into projects that will boost the overall sustainability and prosperity of the city.

Birmingham enjoys strong transport infrastructure according to the report but needs investment to improve the transition to green and active travel, particularly when it comes to bicycles and electric vehicles (EVs). Its e-commerce and ride-hailing services are both strengths, but it suffers from congestion and poor overall connectivity which ranks on a par with cities like Leeds and internationally, cities such as Riga and Bogotá, the capitals of Latvia and Colombia respectively.

Optimistic environmental performance

There’s still plenty for Birmingham to be optimistic about when it comes to environmental performance, with a healthy availability of green spaces, clean air and a very low exposure to environmental risk.

But the city’s comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions, energy usage and renewables all need investment to improve from their middling position. Its rating in that part of the study puts it on a par with Milan and Warsaw internationally.

The SCI examines cities across three pillars of sustainability: Planet, People and Profit. Though all three factors are weighted equally, the data shows that putting the planet and people first is a more reliable road to prosperity than putting profit first, as long as there is some profit to finance progress.

Birmingham is on an exciting journey

The city is on an exciting journey following the 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are at the start of the ‘Golden Decade’ and ambitious plans, such as the Our Future City Plan are set to shape the city and continue its transformation into a location for sustainable growth.

With High Speed 2 (HS2) acting as a major catalyst for growth, the city’s response in the years to come to the opportunities and challenges presented by the climate emergency, cost-of-living crisis and the digital revolution will make lasting changes to the way people live, work, play and learn.

Birmingham’s SCI ranking shows the city has good equilibrium between each of the pillars of Planet, People and Planet. While still ranking towards the lower end of the other UK and Ireland cities in the ranking, the city needs continued investment to improve its score and build on the momentum of the Commonwealth Games to become a truly global, inclusive city.

Birmingham’s first mainline terminus station in Britain since the 19th century

We are working on several key schemes to help Birmingham prepare for the future, including:

  • Providing design and engineering services on HS2 which will radically transform Birmingham’s connectivity, including designing the new HS2 Curzon Street Station, which will be the first mainline terminus station to be built in Britain since the 19th century.
  • The inclusive regeneration of Perry Barr providing nearly 1000 sustainable, affordable homes and meeting a critical housing need alongside new transport links and a focus on health and wellbeing.
  • Regeneration of Digbeth Canal corridor, working with Birmingham City Council and Homes England to create a new vision for the area. Bringing new energy and creativity to develop a thriving neighbourhood for people to live and work in.
  • We also recently re-committed to its long-term future in Birmingham, with the opening of our brand-new office. The office embraces the future of post-pandemic work, with a focus on sustainability, as well as spaces for quiet, contemplative work and flexible meeting areas. It provides a model of how work can be reimagined for the future.

Unlock of the stories of sustainable cities by downloading the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022. A version of this article was first published in BirminghamWorld (credit: National World Publishing Ltd).


Simon Marks

Simon Marks

City Executive Birmingham