Just how environmentally sustainable is Hackney?

Hackney has the largest expanse of green space (815 acres) within inner city London but can we take this as a symbol for how green the borough is in general? I’m a local Hackney resident and environmental documentary photographer. I try to tell stories through a series of images that encourage people to think more deeply about issues such as energy, sustainability and climate change. Recently, I turned my attention and focused my camera lens on Hackney to document environmental initiatives by civil society organizations, local businesses, local government, community arts groups, and concerned individuals across the borough. In the past, I’ve always found it tempting to cover stories in far-flung corners of the globe, thriving on the sense of adventure as I explore the unknown. The epic landscapes, the intriguing characters and the outrageous stories seem larger than life, more exciting, and certainly more worthy of reporting than those in our own backyard. But I also happen to believe that Hackney is a microcosm of the wider world in many ways (ok, but without the epic landscapes!). I’m always amazed that despite living in Hackney for a number of years, it can still pleasantly surprise me over and over again. In attempting to answer my opening question, I decided to concentrate on the positive stories in the borough. In some ways, it would have been easier to take on a photo project that looked at discarded waste on streets, mindless consumerism, inefficiently insulated buildings, gas-guzzling cars etc. There’s any amount of suitable material out there after all. However, I believe that it is equally as important to show the progress that local people and communities are making to “green” Hackney. Not so that we can become complacent and pat ourselves on the back about how great we are doing, but to show what we can achieve and then use this as a blueprint to make Hackney even more environmentally sustainable. Walking around Hackney with a camera forces you to open your eyes wider and view the streets in a new light. The set of images I came away with are solely my interpretation of what I saw. They tell a story of entrepreneurs investing in cutting-edge renewable technology and ingenious ways of growing food more sustainably. They show housing associations and developers incorporating solar panels and green walls into buildings. They depict protected woodland and extensive reed banks rich in wildlife and biodiversity. Perhaps you think I’m looking through rose-tinted glasses at some mythical green paradise that clearly does not exist. But it’s just one man’s story and just maybe it will make you want to tell your own version as seen through your eyes. “Environmental sustainability in Hackney”  exhibition shows in Hackney Museum 5 – 23 Feb 2013. Opening night 8 Feb 6-7.30pm. Entry free. (Photographs by Colin Cafferty) More information at – www.climatechangecafe.com http://www.hackney.gov.uk/museum-exhibitions.htm

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