Tag Archives: Green Infrastructure

Does green infrastructure represent a sound investment opportunity?

By Steve Cinderby, University of York, UK, and Sue Bagwell, London Metropolitan University, UK. 

Globally our societies are becoming increasingly urbanised with the United Nations (UN) reporting that already the majority of people live in urban settings with predictions this will rise to 66 per cent by 2050. Historically this has often meant increasingly constructed, grey, environments, however, there are increasing demands to green our cities with the introduction of more plants and trees.

Last month London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, unveiled plans to make the English capital the world’s first “National Park City” by 2019. With initial funding of £9M the intention is to increase the amount of green space including encouraging the development of more green roofs, green walls and rain gardens. This initiative connects to the UN Sustainable Development goals for cities and the calls for accessible greenspace made in the New Urban Agenda that emerged after the 2016 UN Summit on Future Cities.

Whilst some have highlighted the challenges for an existing cityscape like London of introducing more green into the urban fabric alongside demands for housing, businesses and service infrastructure recently published research indicates that the Mayor’s plan could bring not just environmental benefits (reducing surface water flooding, improving air quality, cooling urban heat islands and increasing local wildlife diversity) but also improve the mental health and well-being of Londoner’s and increase the economic vitality of the city.

Our newly published Area paper describes the impact of introducing a relatively small number of green infrastructure schemes around Victoria station in London. The findings illustrate that as well as the known environmental returns investing in urban green infrastructure within existing neighbourhoods could also make sound financial sense. The research provides new evidence that city greenery can increase customer footfall particularly for retail and leisure businesses, encouraging visitors to ‘linger-longer’ and potentially ‘spend more’ in a pleasanter environment. In our city workplaces the study found that investing in office greenspace improved staff member’s morale and work satisfaction. Greener workplace setting also seem to encourage staff to adopt more sustainable behaviours including better energy saving and recycling again potentially bringing both environmental and economic benefits.

This new evidence indicates that, alongside the London Mayoral investment, the city’s private enterprises should also consider financing the incorporation of more green infrastructure into new building schemes whilst retrofitting green walls and street trees into existing neighbourhoods where possible. These improvements could boost their economic value for retail and desirability for employers. A National Park City investments could not only make environmental sense but could bring sound financial and well-being benefits as well.

About the authors: Steve Cinderby is a Senior Researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), University of York. Sue Bagwell is Research Development Manager at the Cities Institute London Metropolitan University. 

60-world2 BBC 2017 London mayor launches bid to improve city’s green credentials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40899234 11 August 2017

books_icon Cinderby, S. and Bagwell, S. (2017), Exploring the co-benefits of urban green infrastructure improvements for businesses and workers’ wellbeing. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12361

60-world2 Sofianos G (2017) Mayor wants to make London world’s first National Park City LondonLovesBusiness http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/london-news/mayor-wants-to-make-london-worlds-first-national-park-city/17132.article 11 August 2017

60-world2 UN New Urban Agenda http://habitat3.org/

Reconciling humans and nature through ‘green infrastructure’

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

The Los Angeles River, and its iconic concrete channels, made the BBC news last week following discussions of a ‘greener’ LA River catchment by researchers at the American Geophysics Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The idea of ‘green infrastructure’ (or ‘blue-green infrastructure’) is proliferating internationally and essentially aims to reconcile humans and nature in urban and suburban settings, as opposed to employing previously favoured ‘hard engineering’ (i.e building man-made structures) strategies against flooding and other environmental threats. Green infrastructure initiatives have already begun on certain stretches of the LA River (e.g. see this National Geographic article from July 2014), however, this recent BBC article focusses on the complexities of such strategies.

The present concrete channels are vital in protecting Los Angeles from flood events by rapidly moving water away from the city and its residents, as outlined by one of the scientists interviewed in the article. This same scientist also notes that redesigning such a huge structure in the middle of a highly densely populated area is very difficult if the primary function to prevent flooding is to be maintained into the future as storms become more intense under climate change.

About a month prior to the focal news story of this article on the LA River, there was another story discussing droughts in the wider California area, with reservoirs and ground water supplies running dry as the state endures its third year of drought. This may sound like a wholly separate issue to flooding but a more integrative environmental management agenda implementing green infrastructure can contribute towards a host of environmental management foci, not just flood prevention. Indeed, one option discussed in the LA River article is to capture more water by creating a greater number of catchment basins to replenish groundwater supplies. However, this would ‘almost certainly’ necessitate moving people, homes and businesses, thus proving costly.

Here in the United Kingdom, Jones and Somper (2014) discuss integration of green infrastructure in London, highlighting the importance of collaboration between businesses, government and local communities and of making the socio-economic advantages of such infrastructure clear to investors. Jones and Somper provide examples of such collaboration, including Camden Council, who are actively encouraging the community to engage with ‘green issues’. Of course, expert opinion from geographers and others also has a large part to play alongside such collaborations. Indeed, research within the green infrastructure theme is thriving. For example, the Blue-Green Cities project emphasises the potential of such green strategies to provide resilience to flooding through adaptive management.

Overall then, green infrastructure seems to be able to offer much towards protecting people from environmental threats both now and into the future, while also encouraging a more harmonious relationship between people and nature in presently unnatural urban areas. If the known complexities of green infrastructure can be overcome to produce environmental solutions that make for a better future for both nature and humans (both practically and aesthetically), then this should surely be encouraged.

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books_icon Jones, S. & Somper, C. (2014). The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal, 180 (2), 191–196.

Climate Change Adapatation: Greening Urban Environments

by Fiona Ferbrache

IMG_1248

Examples of green infrastructure from an exhibition entitled ‘La Ville Fertile’ (Gaillac, 2012)

What happened to your Christmas tree at the end of December?  Did you recycle wrapping paper and Christmas cards?  Perhaps you experienced some flooding from the severe weather during the festive season?  This post explores environmental and climate change adaptation strategies – namely green infrastructure – but first a light-hearted piece of research with a festive theme.

In December, academics from Leeds University calculated Santa’s carbon footprint if he successfully delivered stockings to 7.7 million UK homes.  Travelling roughly 1.5 million km, Santa’s carbon footprint would be equivalent to 9 tonnes per stocking (UK annual CO2 emissions are roughly 7 tonnes per person).  Exploring less costly ways of delivering Christmas gifts, the scientists calculated that stockings arriving from China by container ship, and then to one’s home by van, would result in lower CO2 emissions at 800 grams per stocking.Xmas sack0001

We are asked to take environmental and climate change seriously, not least because without adequate adaptation, lives and landscapes may be put at risk.  This point is made by Jones and Somper in an Early View article exploring how climate change adaptations in London are being integrated into the landscape.  Their focus is on green infrastructure: “natural or semi-natural networks of green (soil-covered or vegetated) and blue (water-covered) spaces and corridors that maintain and enhance ecosystem services” (p.1), and how such spaces can be encouraged and used more effectively (e.g. the Green Roofs Scheme).  Jones and Somper present some examples of existing measures towards green infrastructure in the capital, and also make three key recommendations for policymakers, highlighting, among them, the need for stronger planning initiatives to turn ideals into standard practice.

Next time you visit London, you might observe what measures have been taken towards furthering green infrastructure, and consider whether such strategies might be successful in your own hometown.

60-world2  Greening Roofs and Walls in LondonGreater London Authority

books_icon  Jones, S. & Somper, C. 2013 The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal. DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12059

60-world2  Santa’s EmissionsUnited Bank of Carbon

60-world2  “Are We Whistling in the Wind?”, Turner, B. 2012 Geography Directions 19 October

 

“are We Whistling in the Wind?”

By Briony Turner

MEC's green roof among others by sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This was the question posed by Dr Bob Bloomfield, Head of Innovation at the Natural History Museum, whilst chairing a discussion at the IHDC 2012 conference, on designing ecosystem services into the built environment.

Our connection with nature is at times, and certain locations, tenuous to say the least.  The National Trust has documented the children of Britain’s declining connection with nature and the external environment.   Stephen Moss, who reviewed the findings, diagnosed a “Nature Deficit Disorder”.  This report, “Natural Childhood”, marked the National Trust’s launching of an inquiry to determine the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature.   The inquiry found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home. If we are to avoid creating a generation cut off from the natural world, we need to look not only at the role of parents and authorities, as recommended in the findings, but also at that the built environment practitioners can play by designing in nature to the places we call home.  This call for greater practitioner attention to nature-based assets within metropolitan boundaries is mirrored in the recently published UNEP “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” report and in research by Luca Salvati and colleagues on the link between urban planning and land degradation.

Our connectivity with nature is not just a childhood concern.  Some may recall the 2009 flood of Victoria Station that brought transport chaos to London and the greater South East.  Well it also served as a spark to rethink growth plans in the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID).  The event served as a stark reminder that economic growth of an area is vulnerable to nature, that there is work needed to improve the climatic reliance of local businesses and that nature can play a vital role in doing so.  The Landscape Institute case study explains the actions of the Victoria BID, including conducting a green infrastructure audit which identified a phenomenal 25ha suitable for green roofs capable of intercepting 80,000m3 of rain water each year.  This now ties in with the new London Plan and its All London Green Grid Supplementary Planning Guidance, which formalises consideration of design and management of green infrastructure within London.  The Mayor of London has recently teamed up with the Landscape Institute and the Garden Museum to run a High Line for London competition, which made for some interesting visions of London, and commentary in the London Evening Standard.

Whilst the rhetoric; urban greening, green infrastructure, ecosystem services make nature seem like a distant planet, manageable only by institutions and an abundance  of bureaucratic processes, this is not the case.  Any patch of ground, free of tarmac, even that hidden under decking/concrete slabs, has the potential to help intercept heavy rainfall.  The Guerrilla Gardening movement is hot on the case with their ‘pimp your pavement’ campaign and a number of water companies have teamed up with the Environment Agency and other organisations to produce a free ‘UK Rain Garden Guide’ for household action.

If we are to manipulate ecosystems to provide enhanced service to our cities, then we perhaps need to ponder the “banal violence of configuring spaces exclusively around human proclivities” (p. 580) as highlighted by Kathryn Yusoff in her paper on the “Aesthetics of loss”.  Perhaps, before we get carried away with the services and quantification rhetoric, we should ask ourselves does nature have to have a function for us to have it in our urban areas?  How depressing if the answer is yes.

Whilst some would argue that there’s an inherent tension between the built environment and nature, others might argue that urban ecosystems themselves show the wonderment of nature, its adaptability, and how many other species put us to shame.  You can make your own judgement at the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum –there’s a category for urban wildlife, defined as images that focus on nature’s occupation of the man-made environment.

Ecosystem Services Come to Town; Adapting to climate change by working with Nature,  IHDC 2012 Conference, 15 October 2012, Natural History Museum, London.

We’ll take the high road: off the streets and into the sky could be the future for London bikes, London Evening Standard, 11 October 2012

Case Study: Greening for Growth in Victoria, Landscape Institute 2012

Natural Childhood, National Trust, London

Reconnecting children with nature, National Trust, London

Pimp your Pavement, campaign from GuerrillaGardening.org

Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini, Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?Area 44, 317-325.

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, UNEP

Victoria Business Improvement District (2012)

KathrynYusoff, Aesthetics of loss:  biodiversity, banal violence and biotic subjects, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 578-592.

The Return of that Great British Institution, the Weather

By Briony Turner

Source: author

Somewhat regrettably, those scorching days admiring sporting finesse, feeling the heat of the sun against skin (and the 100% recycled polyester iconic top of a Games Maker –the not so regrettable aspect) are now a distant memory, washed out by a month’s worth of downpour in one day.

Having had the topic of weather embargoed for the summer (Games Makers were implored not to be quintessentially British and moan about the weather), the country has returned to its favourite topic of conversation, wiping even the Duchess of Cambridge off the front pages.  According to the Met Office official blog, the culprit is an ‘unusually active’ and ‘lingering’ (blame that part on the jet stream) low pressure system from the Atlantic which has had a field day moving north across the UK, picking up the cooler polar air en route, causing a deeper depression, not only meteorologically but also metaphorically in its wake.

Future climate projections suggest a rise in frequency of such extreme events.  Some geographers, Marc Tadaki and colleagues, are caught up in whether physical geography needs to exist,  and/or indulge in a ‘navel gazing and angst’ debate as to the purpose of geography (Dalby, 2012 p.270).  However, others have simply rolled up their sleeves and are conducting geographical analyses, improving the understanding of and addressing climate change and human vulnerabilities, as noted by Simon Dalby in his recent book review in The Geographical Journal.   These applications and analyses form the basis of information provided by organisations like the Environment Agency, whose website provides the latest flood alerts and enables householders to identify the extent to which, if at all, their homes are at risk of flooding. A catastrophe modelling firm, working with the European Space Agency, has recently launched a mapping tool with geo-coded ‘snapshots’ and impact assessment features to help insurers handle the aftermath of flooding.

Extensive systems and infrastructure, including governance arrangements, are in place to attempt to reduce the impact and effects of flooding.  Homeowners in the UK at risk of flooding currently benefit from the “Statement of Principles”, an agreement between Government and insurers, although it will expire on the 1st July 2013.  Defra are currently working on a replacement.  An article in The Geographical Journal, provides a timely reminder of the complexities encountered in public engagement within flood risk management (FRM) and the potential negative consequences that can result if the local micro-politics are not understood and sensitivities, particularly repercussions of shifts in local power relations, are not accounted for before application of FRM engagement.

One way of reducing the scale of flooding in urban areas is to intercept and delay rain and surface runoff by utilising and improving urban ecosystems.  Built environment industry experts are looking at innovative ways of ecologically adapting the built environment, there’s an annual conference and, this year, a public exhibition of the Integrated Habitats Design Competition’s winners and finalists in October at the Natural History Museum (a Fringe Event of the UN Convention on Biodiversity).  This just goes to show that urban ecosystems can be enhanced, have social, economic as well as ecological value and, as Robert Francis and colleagues point out in their article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, offer opportunities for innovative research.

Flooding – availability and coverage of insurance Association of British Insurers

S. Dalby, 2012, Geo 2.0: digital tools, geographical vision and a changing planet, The Geographical Journal 178 270–274

UK Climate Projections:  Briefing report (UKCP09) Defra

R. A. Francis, J. Lorimer and M. Raco, 2012, Urban ecosystems as ‘natural’ homes for biogeographical boundary crossings, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 183–190

Defra tweaking statement of principles replacement Insurance Times.co.uk

What’s bringing the stormy weather to the UK? Official blog of the Met Office news team

Satellite Flood Footprints PERILS

M. Tadaki, J. Salmond, R.  Le Heron and G. Brierley, 2012, Nature, culture, and the work of physical geography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 547–562

C-P. Tseng, and E.C. Penning-Rowsell, 2012, Micro-political and related barriers to stakeholder engagement in flood risk management, The Geographical Journal 178 253–269.

Britain gets almost a month of rain in 24 hours , The Guardian

Replanting the Streets

By Richard Gravelle

A recent report by the woodland trust has suggested that trees can play an important role in improving the quality of life in British towns and cities.  Trees have been shown to improve air quality, reduce ambient temperatures and have a positive benefit on people’s health.

It is estimated that 80% of Britons live in urban areas.  However, only 10% have access to woodland within 500 m of their homes.  This is widely attributed not only to urban expansion, but also to reduced planting schemes.  The trust aims to remedy this by planting 20 million native trees every year.  This has been supported by the coalition government, who estimate that each tree planted in central London is worth as much as £78,000 in its benefits to the surrounding area.

The report hopes to influence local planners and promote the growth of a green infrastructure which could save the UK millions of pounds in healthcare costs and improve house prices.

BBC News – Calls to green ‘concrete jungle’.  Mark Kinver, 30th June 2010.

Woodland Trust website