Greening Glasgow’s homes

About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future.

As the recent host of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference (COP26), Glasgow had a distinct and compelling pitch to its peers. Our city’s social and environmental challenges, we said, were anything but unique. As such, if the solutions to the urban challenges of sustainability could be secured in Glasgow, then they could be delivered across hundreds of the world’s cities.

We were, as former UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres described, “a typical city in the process of decarbonising”.

The solutions to a clean and just post-carbon city are not limited to the technical. They require smart policies to bring together social justice and climate justice. Decades since its demise as a powerhouse of the industrial age, our citizens have continued to grapple with the legacies of that past, which include health and economic inequalities as well as the look and feel of many communities.

The right to decent, affordable and energy-efficient homes is intrinsic to our social and climate justice agenda.

The Glasgow standard

What many unfamiliar with our city perhaps don’t appreciate is that Glasgow is already home to some of the UK’s, if not Europe’s, highest quality social and affordable housing. The decision over 20 years ago to transfer the City Council’s housing stock to community-based housing association triggered wholesale demolitions, rebuilds and refurbishments, transforming beyond recognition tens of thousands of homes and, indeed, entire communities.

While the City Council no longer owns homes, we are charged with directing Glasgow’s housing strategies. As such we have implemented what we call The Glasgow Standard, a requirement for new social and affordable homes to meet our objectives of attractive, high quality, places for people to live but which also address health issues and deliver on the sustainability agenda. Glasgow’s social housing now leads the way in innovation and design, driving up standards in sustainability and energy efficiency. It demands the highest sustainability standards, addressing both environmental and fuel cost concerns, wheelchair access for a percentage of all new builds and a focus on larger homes for larger families. It’s also exciting to see entire new neighbourhoods emerging on former industrial sites and meeting Passivhaus standards.

Dealing with our legacy

Yet, for all our progress, Glasgow remains a city of ingrained social challenges and inequality. Fuel poverty is endemic in many communities, impacting all too often on those in the poorest housing. On the long road to COP26 and in pursuit of those solutions capable of delivering on climate and social justice, Glasgow was early to embrace and champion the retrofitting agenda.

The energy retrofit of almost 430,000 homes across Glasgow’s metropolitan region will make a considerable contribution to Scotland’s carbon emissions reduction targets. But for many of our most socially disadvantaged citizens it will deliver warmer, more secure homes and lessen the impact of energy costs.

Partnership work across academia, social landlords and the Council is helping find solutions to retrofit Glasgow’s sandstone tenements. Around 70,000 homes are over a century old and not only help define Glasgow’s distinct look, but will be part of our housing mix for the next 100 years.

Meanwhile, high rise flats, long a symbol of poor post-War planning and design, are being rehabilitated as models of energy efficiency.

The necessary transformation of many millions of homes to not only meet our climate targets but to also address those inextricably linked social challenges is core to a Just Transition. But to be just, those who can least afford it must not carry the financial burden of that transition. Together with peers from across the UK, Glasgow is engaging with investors to develop models to support this.

But what is equally critical is to keep at the forefront of our minds that addressing the climate emergency isn’t just a moral obligation or an existential necessity, though it is certainly both of those. It’s also one of the greatest opportunities we have in the next decade and beyond to improve the well-being of our citizens– and one we’ll all experience the benefits of for generations to come.

About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.

Glasgow City Council Mayor | + posts

Susan Aitken was elected as Leader of Glasgow City Council in 2017, forming Glasgow’s first ever SNP-led City Government. She was first elected as a councillor for the Langside ward in 2012, following a career in public policy and communications. Susan was reappointed to a second term as Council Leader following the 2022 Scottish Local Government elections.

Under her leadership, Glasgow has hosted the UN Climate Summit COP26. She was awarded Scottish Local Politician of the Year in 2019 for her work to end historic gender pay discrimination and Scottish Council Leader of the Year in 2021 for her leadership on climate issues. Susan was selected as one of 40 global city leaders for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Class of 2023.