Tackling Sustainability Challenges with Urban Green Projects
The UN states that more than half of the global population will live in cities by the end of 2050. As urban centers become more populous their environmental issues become more urgent; city planners will have to rethink the environmental impact of use of space, public transport and systems that make cities function.
Cities around the world have begun working towards a more sustainable future, with more eco-friendly practices and trends emerging. Planners aim to be featured on sustainable lists and often do so by developing more urban green spaces.
Urban green spaces not only have a positive influence on tackling global warming, they’re also very important for improving the lifestyle and wellbeing of city dwellers. These spaces offer more opportunity for recreational activities, such as organized sport or group exercise, as well as a break from over-stimulation that goes hand-in-hand with urban living. The combination of the two leads to decreased levels of stress and lowers the risk of depression.1
What are urban green spaces?
Urban green spaces are areas reserved for green spaces – which the WHO defines green spaces as “all urban land covered by vegetation of any kind”2 – such as parks, plant life, water features and other kinds of natural environments.
Examples of Urban Green Projects
1. Miniature urban forests
A miniature forest – a community forest the size of a basketball court – is a popular greening solution in big cities. These tiny forests can make a big difference, attracting wildlife, providing shade and storing a bit of carbon. The forests can be converted from disused urban spaces, such as old parking lots.
2. 20-minute neighborhoods
The concept of a 20-minute neighborhood is to allow residents to have access to everything they need for a happy and healthy lifestyle to be found within a 20-minute public transport trip, walk, or a bike ride from home.
These neighborhoods aim for residents to be within easy reach of business services, education, health and leisure facilities. To achieve this local densities need to be increased and improvements made in local public transport services. A great example of such urban planning is Melbourne – the city set this out in its Plan Melbourne 2017 – 2050.
3. Vertical forests
Densely populated urban areas are often short on space to develop new green projects, and have to look upwards for green innovation. The Vertical Forest – a prototype for many future urban green projects – are towers that include trees, plants and shrubs that would cover three and a half football pitches if planted on the ground.
The green features of the building include a plant-based shield that does not reflect or magnify the sun’s rays, unlike facades made of glass or stone, “but filters them thereby creating a welcoming internal microclimate without harmful effects on the environment. At the same time, the green curtain “regulates” humidity, produces oxygen and absorbs CO2 and microparticles”. 3
The concept has become so popular that similar projects have been commissioned in European cities, such as Lausanne in Switzerland and Utrecht in the Netherlands, as well as in the Chinese cities of Nanjing and Liuzhou.
4. Greener commuting
A better transport system would mean that people aren’t as reliant on cars – which generate a large amount of carbon – to commute to work and for leisure activities. A better transport tracking system, which helps commuters calculate the most efficient journey by traffic, location, destination and other factors, such as road works, would make public transport more reliable and efficient.
5. Sponge cities
Global warming is increasing the likelihood of adverse weather effects, such as flooding. Interlacing neighborhoods with green spaces, such as parks and miniature urban forests, allows water to be naturally detained and filtered by the soil – hence the name, sponge cities.
A great example of a sponge city development is China’s recent project to create 16 such cities – an eco alternative to the grey urban centers of China. Each will receive 400 million RMB ($63m) annually, for three years to implement the project, which will involve improving drainage systems and other infrastructure to facilitate absorption of rainwater.
- “Mental health benefits of neighborhood green space are stronger among physically active adults in middle-to-older age: Evidence from 260,061 Australians”. Preventive Medicine. 57 (5): 601–606. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.08.017. PMID 23994648.
- Urban green spaces: a brief for action. UN City, Denmark: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe. 2017.