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Green infrastructure needs to be ‘more influential in planning cities’

Words: Laura Edgar

A recent report suggests that 'city ecosystems' can contribute to safer and healthier cities.

Cities Alive, by Arup and Landscape Architecture, aims to show how the creation of a linked ‘city ecosystem’ that encompasses parks and open spaces, urban trees, streets, woodland and waterways can contribute to healthier and safer cities.

The report discusses the global challenges facing cities, including population growth, climate change, resources depletion and urbanisation, stating that as “we move towards a more sustainable future it is critical that cities adapt to and address these contemporary challenges”.

Additionally, it looks at the Natural Environment White Paper 2011 (NEWP).

In an urban context, the report highlights that the NEWP advocates that green infrastructure is “one of the most effective tools available to us in managing environmental risks such as flooding and heatwaves”.

Therefore, Cities Alive proposes a design approach for urban environments, promoting nature as a key driver and embracing national government policy.

The approach, says the report, “seeks to create healthier, more socially cohesive and biodiverse urban environments and a connected city ecosystem for people and wildlife that also builds in resilience measures against climate change in the form of storm, flood, heat, droughts and pollution protection”.

Cities Alive recommends five key requirements for the future design of cities:

1. ‘Urban green’ needs to be recognised as more than an aesthetic consideration because it is a fundamental part of an urban ecosystem, which “improves social interaction and physical and mental health”.

2. Landscapes must work harder to improve climate change resilience, which would be achieved through a multi-functional design approach.

3. To achieve a green city ecosystem, design needs to be creative – from both “city-wide strategic projects down to more imaginative uses of space within the layers of a city”.

4. Capitalising on advances in technology to measure the value that nature delivers through ecosystem services, the planning and design of urban space can be optimised to meet future demands.

5. An integrated approach to delivery that better connects policy to “transgress ‘silo-driven’ cultures and achieve long-term benefits” is needed.

Going forward, Cities Alive explains the “significant contribution that a green infrastructure-led approach can make towards addressing social, environmental and economic issues in our urban environments” as well as contributing to resilience against climate change.

If these benefits are to be achieved, “it is critical that green infrastructure is given a more influential role in the integrated planning and design of our future cities”.