Category: Uncategorized

New evaluation tools for biodiversity and sustainable drainage system assessment.

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) could be improved for biodiversity and local people with the help of two new evaluation methods presented by a recent study. The methods, which assess the value of SuDS sites for wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation and education, are described by the study’s authors as cost-effective, quick and reliable, and could help designers plan and retrofit SuDS that are wildlife-friendly and socially inclusive.

Source: Mak, C., Scholz, M., & James, P. (2016). Sustainable drainage system site assessment method using urban ecosystem services. Urban Ecosystems. DOI:10.1007/s11252-016-0593-6. This study is free to view at:


SuDS mimic nature to manage and treat storm water. There are various forms of SuDS which help prevent flooding and clean up contaminants; these include ponds, green roofs, artificial wetlands and absorbent pavements. The green infrastructure provided by SuDS is seen as an important way of helping EU Member States achieve good surface water status under the Water Framework Directive.


Fig 1. Rural conditions – impacts of urbanisation on a catchment. (Ciria)

In the UK, where this study was conducted, the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) has recently updated its influential SuDS manual (1), which provides guidance on the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of SuDS. This latest version promotes the design of SuDS design that provides a range of ecosystem services.

The evaluation methods presented by this study are intended to support this ecosystems-services approach (2). They can help designers understand and improve the value of a SuDS site. They also give designers a better understanding of which features (2) of a SuDS site provide which ecosystem services, to help guide new developments.


The first method considers which features provide biodiversity-related services, specifically habitat for wildlife and carbon sequestration. It is adapted from an existing method (3) and based on evidence that diverse vegetation, at various heights, is best for providing habitat. The method involves assessing which broad types of vegetation are present, such as trees and grasses, at which heights (e.g., upper canopy of a tree, low bush, long grass, cropped grass), and if there are any plants in water.

Designers can then give a SuDS site a score to indicate its potential for providing habitat and carbon ecosystem services. In general, points are given for every layer of vegetation (including aquatic plant species, if present). However, the method considers ecosystem disservices as well as services, and the scoring system deducts points for some layers; for example, cropped grass, which is unbeneficial for carbon sequestration. The presence of any built and impermeable layers at a site (e.g. concrete surface) also leads to points being deducted.

The second method considers which features contribute to recreational and educational ecosystem services. It assesses public accessibility to a site (both legal and physical), evidence of the site being used for educational purposes by community groups, educational signs, the distance to the nearest educational establishment, and recreational infrastructure (e.g. benches and footpaths). Again, ecosystem disservices are considered, so the presence of litter and dog faeces is also assessed, as well as bins, which help reduce these two problems. Each feature is scored on a scale of 0 to 3. Scores for recreational features and scores for educational features are combined separately to produce two total scores.

The researchers tested the two methods on 49 sites in and around the city of Manchester, UK. This revealed that large sites (over 5 500 m2) with permanent aquatic features such as ponds tended to be more capable of providing habitat and carbon sequestration services. Scores for habitat and scores for recreation were positively linked to each other. The researchers acknowledge that there is some subjectivity to the evaluation methods, but say that they provide the right balance of reliability, speed and cost-effectiveness.



  2. Scholz, M., Uzomah, V., Almuktar, S., Radet-Taligot, J. (2013). Selecting sustainable drainage structures based on ecosystem service variables estimated by different stakeholder groups. Water, 5:1741–1759. DOI:10.3390/w5041741.
  3. Tzoulas, K., James, P. (2009). Making biodiversity measures accessible to non-specialists: an innovative method for rapid assessment of urban biodiversity. Urban Ecosystems, 13: 113–127. DOI:10.1007/s11252-009-0107-x.

Green walls may help cut noise levels entering buildings.

Green walls, designed so they are covered in vegetation, could help cut the amount of noise that enters buildings, a new study has found. In laboratory tests, researchers found that a modular green wall system reduced sound levels by 15 decibels (dB). This may be a promising sound reduction device that could improve quality-of-life for city residents.

Source:  Azkorra, Z., Pérez, G., Coma, J. et al. (2015). Evaluation of green walls as a passive acoustic insulation system for buildings. Applied Acoustics 89: 46–56. DOI:10.1016/j.apacoust.2014.09.010.

Green walls and green roofs can provide ecosystem services in urban areas. Their benefits include: lower energy use in buildings, support for biodiversity and storm-water control. Studies have also shown that they reduce noise levels. However, most studies have focused on green roofs’ ability to insulate buildings from external sound, and very little research has looked specifically at green walls.

This Spanish study, carried out under the EU-funded SILENTVEG project (1), conducted laboratory tests on green walls’ acoustic properties. Its aim was to help predict their sound insulation performance in the real world. The design of green walls can affect their sound insulation properties with the type of plant grown having a big effect. In this case, the study focused on a modular green wall system, which is composed of compartments or boxes attached to a vertical frame and is the most widely used system.

The boxes in this study were made of recycled plastic and filled with coconut fibre, acting as ‘soil’. They were all planted with Helichrysum thianschanicum, a popular shrub for gardening in the Mediterranean region, with an average height of 40 cm. The researchers placed 10 of the boxes, totalling 2.4 m2 in area, onto a wall which separated two rooms. They emitted noise in one room at frequencies ranging between 100 hertz (Hz) and 5 000 Hz, and then measured the reduction in noise levels in the neighbouring room caused by the green wall.

The green wall reduced noise levels in the neighbouring room by an average of 15 dB. The researchers note that this reduction is quite low compared with other solutions; thermal double-glazing can reduce noise by 30 dB, for example. A sound barrier made from two layers of plasterboard, separated by a wool-filled cavity, can reduce noise by 70 dB.

Nonetheless, they believe it still has good potential to help cut noise levels in urban buildings and could be used effectively in public places, such as hotels and restaurants. Furthermore, if its design was improved by sealing the joints between the boxes, then it could reduce noise by an extra 3 dB. The other benefits of green walls, such as increased biodiversity, visual attractiveness, air purification or climate regulation, also make them an attractive option.

This experiment considered noise that is transmitted directly through a wall, but in a realistic situation noise bounces off different surfaces and can be transmitted indirectly through a number of routes. Therefore the logical next step in this research would be to test the green wall on actual building façades, the study’s authors say.

To further improve their understanding of the wall’s basic acoustic properties, the researchers also investigated how much sound a green wall can absorb. In this experiment, they placed the green wall (this time 10 m2 in area) on the floor of a room in which sound was emitted, again at frequencies of 100–5 000 Hz. The wall was calculated to have a ‘sound absorption coefficient’ of 0.40, i.e. it absorbed 40% of the sound.

  1. SILENTVEG: Barreras vegetales autónomas y sostenibles para la mitigación acústica y compensación del CO2 en vías de transporte, con seguimiento telemático, was supported by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund. See: (in Spanish)

This study is free to view at:


Assessing effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

A new framework has been developed to assess how effective Flood Emergency Management Systems (FEMS) are in Europe. Examining FEMS in five European countries, this study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems and makes recommendations for improving their effectiveness, particularly in relation to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery.

Source: Gilissen, H. K., Alexander, M., Matczak, P., Pettersson, M. & Bruzzone, S. (2016). A framework for evaluating the effectiveness of flood emergency management systems in Europe. Ecology and Society, 21(4):27. DOI: 10.5751/ES-08723-210427. This study is free to view at:

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of floods and society must be able to respond to this evolving threat. To achieve this, FEMS, which are designed to ensure that emergency professionals are prepared for floods, should include assessments of risk to underscore flood-specific emergency planning, promote inter-agency working, professional training, facilitate community preparedness and support immediate recovery activities, such as restoring essential services and supplies. Whilst FEMS are embedded within broader legal and policy frameworks for integrated emergency management and civil contingencies, the pressing challenges posed by floods provide a strong case for examining FEMS in isolation.

This study, partly conducted under the EU STAR–FLOOD [see reference below] project, presents a new framework to assess and monitor the effectiveness of FEMS in European countries from legal and public-administration perspectives. To build the framework, the researchers conducted an appraisal of existing international academic and grey literature published since 1970, relating to emergency and disaster-management systems for any type of hazard at international, national and subnational levels. This informed the identification of seven key indicators that could be used to evaluate the performance of processes and actions in emergency flood management:

  1. Planning: development of an emergency plan to establish priorities, actions and decision-making in the event of a flood emergency;
  2. Institutional learning: procedures to be in place to promote learning at frequent intervals (e.g. post-event reviews and inquiries, opportunities for knowledge exchange across responding agencies);
  3. Exercising emergency arrangements: planning and operational procedures should be tested at multiple scales;
  4. Joined-up working: distribution of responsibilities within and between emergency actors must be clearly defined, effectively coordinated and collaborative;
  5. Community preparedness: should be supported by emergency professionals (e.g. raising risk awareness and direction on what to do when a flood occurs);
  6. Provision of resources: (financial, human resources, equipment, and decision-support tools) needs to be ensured and arrangements need to be established for sourcing and allocating additional resources as required;
  7. Recovery-based activities: arrangements should be in place to support evacuation, for temporary housing, restoration of essential services, help for businesses to function, dealing with physical damage and management of environmental impacts, such as pollution and contamination.

To put this framework into use, the researchers outlined key benchmarks against which a country’s performance can be scored; for this, they used a scale of one to five (absent/minimal, emerging, moderate, significant and outstanding).

The researchers then collected information from a variety of sources to evaluate the extent to which benchmarks are achieved in five European countries: France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK (specifically England). The information was drawn from the analysis of emergency-management policy documents and legislation, as well as stakeholder interviews and workshops with key practitioners and policymakers involved in emergency management and flood-risk management more broadly (for example, government departments, municipal and local authorities, and emergency responders).

National Flood Emergency Framework

The National Flood Emergency Framework for England (December 2014) sets out the government’s strategic approach to achieving the aims set out below and is intended for use by all those involved in planning for and responding to flooding from:

  • the sea
  • rivers
  • surface water
  • groundwater and
  • reservoirs

The concept of a National Flood Emergency Framework was promoted by Sir Michael Pitt in his report on the summer 2007 floods. Its purpose is to provide a forward looking policy framework for flood emergency planning and response. It brings together information, guidance and key policies and is a resource for all involved in flood emergency planning at national, regional and local levels. It is a common and strategic reference point for flood planning and response for all tiers of government and for responder organisations.

More precisely, the purpose of the Framework is to:

  • ensure delivery bodies understand their respective roles and responsibilities
  • give all players in an emergency flooding situation a common point of reference – bringing together information, guidance and key policies in a single planning document
  • establish clear thresholds for emergency response arrangements
  • place proper emphasis on the multi-agency approach to managing flooding events
  • provide clarity on the means of improving resilience and minimising the impact of flooding events
  • provide a basis for individual responders to develop and review their own plans and
  • be a long-term asset that will provide the basis for continuous improvement in flood emergency management

Responding to floods in Europe: new framework assesses effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

Of the five countries, England’s FEMS were found to be the most effective, with all seven indicators achieving significant or outstanding ratings. In the absence of statutory rights to flood protection, a diversified approach to FEMS has existed for over 65 years in England; thus, flood emergency management has served as a crucial strategy for minimising the consequences of flood events. Dedicated policy for flood emergency management is seen, with multi-agency flood plans as a standard component of common practice. Moreover, formal legal mechanisms underpin effective integrated working between emergency responders (e.g. duties to cooperate, and formation of Local Resilience Forums) and certain responders are actively involved in activities to enhance community preparedness for floods.

In Sweden, given the low distribution of flood risk, flood protection management is organised at the local or municipal level on a relatively ad hoc basis by those municipalities affected by flooding, rather than being established at the national scale. Whilst this is considered to be an efficient strategy and provides the necessary flexibility for municipalities to adapt to local risks, there is a risk that some areas may be neglected. Moreover, the lack of national arrangements and supportive mechanisms may make it difficult for certain municipalities to mobilise the necessary resources, according to the researchers.

In France, emergency management has evolved over the past few decades and has been integrated into local disaster-management planning and policies, in line with broader initiatives towards decentralised governance. ‘Professionalisation’ of the public is one of the major aims of the French FEMS, where voluntary fire brigades play a key role. Municipalities can optionally call in voluntary civil-protection reserves to assist in response activities. Efforts to enhance community preparedness are becoming nationally more consistent. However, recovery guidance and regulation varies regionally and this is an area for improvement identified by the researchers.

In the Netherlands, historically, there has been a strong tradition of flood defence and protection, with a statutory right to be protected by the state from floods. Nonetheless, recent efforts have sought to diversify the range of strategies implemented, in order to manage flood risk more holistically and address the country’s increased vulnerability to flooding under climate change. However, certain aspects of flood emergency management (i.e., institutional learning, community engagement, and recovery) are less well developed. Moreover, the organisational structure requires some improvement, the researchers say.

In contrast to the other countries, the FEMS in Poland is still emerging in several aspects, particularly with regard to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery-based activities. The occurrence of significant flood events (1997) has prompted establishment of the crisis-management institutional framework and efforts to improve the effectiveness of FEMS, yet gaps are seen between policy and practice. The researchers identify small-scale examples of good practice, such as the ‘flood leaders’ initiative in Wroclaw, but say these are yet to be scaled-up and implemented nationwide.

Although the researchers found that all countries had different approaches to flood-risk management, shaped by diverse political and administrative cultures and socio-economic conditions, they have produced some common recommendations to improve the effectiveness of FEMS:

  • Specific provisions for flood emergency management could prove beneficial in countries where flood risk is projected to increase. Lessons could be learned from the multi-agency flood-planning groups and subgroups within Local Resilience Forums, as seen in England, which provide further clarity on roles and responsibilities at times of flood emergencies;
  • National guidance could be provided for flooding in countries with a low risk of flooding, or where flood-risk areas are widely distributed, to help deliver consistent support and establish good practice at the local level;
  • Specific training for flood emergencies is necessary to test planning, responsive procedures and communication systems, as well as helping to raise community awareness of flood risks;
  • Efforts to encourage community preparedness require better communication of flood risks and need to be situated alongside wider efforts to normalise adaptation within society.
  1. STAR-FLOOD (STrengthening And Redesigning European FLOOD risk practices Towards appropriate and resilient flood risk governance arrangements) was supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme.



Chandigarh Revealed – Le Corbusier’s City Today

Chandigarh, the capital city of the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, was planned and designed in the 1950s and 60s by French-Swiss master architect Le Corbusier, along with architects Jane Drew, Pierre Jeanneret, and Maxwell Fry, and a host of Indian modernists. Envisioned by India’s founding prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, the planned city […]

via Chandigarh: Where Modernism Met India — The Dirt

Kingston University ranked in top 100 global art and design institutions

QS World University Rankings place Kingston University among top 100 institutions globally for art and design. Kingston University has been named among the top 100 institutions in the globe for art and design education in the prestigious annual QS World University Rankings – and rated as a top performing international university in six other areas. In addition, Kingston University won the prestigious Guardian 2017 University Awards for teaching excellence last week.

The newly-released 2017 QS subject league tables ranked the University’s art and design offering in the 51-100 band worldwide, placing it among the top five per cent globally and the best 25 in Europe.

QS World University Rankings place Kingston University among top 100 institutions globally for art and design. The latest accolade celebrating the University’s art and design expertise comes at an exciting time for the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, which will this year be going back to its roots when it returns to its original name as the Kingston School of Art.

Acting Faculty Dean Penny Sparke said the international recognition reflected the University’s long-standing commitment to excellence in art and design education. “The Faculty has always had a high standing in the areas of fine art, design and architecture and has maintained a strong identity through its art school roots at Knights Park,” she said.
“We have forged strong international links and our partnerships with industry create a pathway for graduates to embark on their careers at the cutting-edge of their professions.
“This latest ranking demonstrates the creativity, passion and commitment of our staff and students, with the success of our graduates a testament to our ‘thinking through making’ ethos.”  Acting Faculty Dean Penny Sparke

Kingston University offers 3 post graduate Landscape courses with the Department of Architecture and Landscape – click on the links below for full course details:

Moravia Florece Para la Vida, Medellín, Colombia.

The Moravia Florece Para la Vida project in Medellín, Colombia – an area that used to be a rubbish dump is now the focus of an art corridor and newly formed community garden and public space. The expansion of the corridor of art and memory together with the construction of the second greenhouse are part of the intervention carried out by the Mayor of Medellín in this area of the northwest of the city, which for years was a rubbish dump.

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According to Gloria Alzate, Secretary of Environment, “The change in the environment must be accompanied by a social transformation, that is why we have accompanied the families in the transfer to other sites of the city and have strengthened social ties, as well as the creation of productive enterprises has been encouraged “.

The project, according to figures from the Ministry of the Environment, has benefited nearly 40,000 people who live in the neighborhood and its area of influence, since it has allowed the consolidation of small businesses, such as flower crops that are managed by women in the neighborhood. sector.

In the process, which began in 2013, there have been works of urban, landscape and environmental interventions in 35,000 square meters of the 72,000 corresponding to the old garbage dump of the city. In this space they have planted 3,600 square meters with 46 species of ornamental and floral plants.

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Among the works carried out is the extension of 265 meters of the Corridor of Art and Memory, composed of 300 linear meters in which the inhabitants portrayed stories, characters and images of the neighborhood.

The construction of the second 1,000-square-meter greenhouse with capacity for 40,000 plants was also completed, as well as the installation of 39 fences with historical photographs of the sector and 14 sculptures by artists from three universities in the city.

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This has been a social and economic process, but also cultural because we change mentalities with art,” said Alzate.

The story begins with internal violence in Medellin during the 1970’s and ‘80s. Conflict involving guerrilla groups, military groups, and drug cartels led to the displacement of a large number of people. Many had been living in impacted rural areas, and moved to Medellin seeking security and the opportunity for a better life.  These migrants began to build informal housing at the Moravia garbage dump, which eventually grew into the most densely populated community in Colombia.

Inhabitants survived through the recycling of the waste materials and the close transport links, like the old train station, but continued violence and an economic crisis only exacerbated the influx of migrants and high population density.During this time the sanitation and health standards of El Morro de Moravia were dire. In fact:

  • 30% of the structures were deemed dangerous,
  • 30% of the population were children, and
  • There was an average of 4.8 inhabitants per room.

In  1983 the dump was moved to prevent the landfill from defining the future development of the area.

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By 2006 Mayor Sergio Fajardo and Colombia’s Interior Ministry declared the situation in Morro de Moravia a “public disaster”.  A government initiative had begun to transform the community by this time, and the former garbage dump was to be converted into a public space.

First, residents of the dump were evicted and relocated to safe areas, then they began the process of decontaminating the mountain and converting into public gardens. Next came a series of small urban projects, new dwellings, and the opening of an educational and cultural building.

All projects employ residents of the neighborhood, so the transformation can be the pride of those who live there. One stand-out project was a series of greenhouses atop the old garbage hill that employed single mothers from the community.

The goal for the project is “Moravia florece para la vida”, or that Moravia should “blossom into life”. The result of government projects and work by locals seems to indicate that Moravia is indeed blossoming, quite literally. Today, locals have planted more than 50,000 plants of 47 species.

At Home with Nature: Encouraging biodiversity in new housing developments

The London Assembly’s  latest report, ‘At Home with Nature: Encouraging biodiversity in new housing developments’ published in Jan 2017, delivers the latest findings from the Housing Committee which scrutinises the Mayor’s role and record in delivering the private, social and affordable homes London needs.

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There is a risk that London will see its biodiversity being squeezed or reduced as planners and developers try to increase housing density in the city. Nature provides physical, mental, social, environmental and economic benefits for city dwellers, but both flora and fauna are rapidly decreasing in UK cities. The Mayor has an important role in ensuring biodiversity is enhanced and new habitats are created, as London attempts to tackle the housing crisis.

Biodiversity is part of national, regional and local planning policies. Collectively, these policies provide a good overall strategic vision for providing for nature in London. Unfortunately, these policies are not always translated at ground level.

Some European cities explicitly recognise the importance of green infrastructure and the environmental, social and economic benefits it provides. Several cities have introduced a planning tool called a ‘green factor’ or ‘green space factor’ (GSF) to ensure a minimum level of greenery in new developments. This planning tool has increased levels of green space and improved resilience to flooding and climate change impacts in these cities.

There are inconsistences at borough level when it comes to approving planning applications. This is due to lack of ecology expertise within planning departments and other pressures, for example housing target pressures, which can impact on the decisions of the authority. Funding cuts have reduced the capacity of planning departments.

Developers are sometimes uncertain of the steps needed to promote biodiversity and therefore the cost of doing so. The historic emphasis on protecting key species sometimes worries developers and mean some avoid biodiversity entirely. However, some developers clearly do value biodiversity on their sites and include biodiversity adaptations and green infrastructure where it is feasible. The inclusion of biodiversity and green infrastructure in a site has been shown to increase the chances of receiving planning permission with fewer conditions, positively affecting prices paid and speeding up the rate of sales.

This report explores the current situation and offers some potential solutions to ensure that London maintains and improves on its current levels of biodiversity, as it continues to grow and change.


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London is still one of the greenest cities in the world but, in the rush to tackle the housing crisis, there is a risk that opportunities to protect and enhance local flora and fauna are being lost. In order to build the homes that London needs, a large proportion of these homes will be built on brownfield land and at higher densities. An increased housing density could lead to a more fragmented environment for nature, reducing biodiversity and access to nature for Londoners.

Although nature provides physical, mental, social, environmental and economic benefits for urban dwellers, both flora and fauna are rapidly decreasing in UK cities. The 2016 State of Nature report showed that, in the UK, 56 per cent of species are in decline and 7 per cent of urban species are threatened with extinction. For example, London’s hedgehog population has dropped by 50 per cent since 2000. This is a further concern for London government as nature can also improve the city’s resilience to climate change and can help mitigate issues associated with high density living, such as flooding and the urban heat island effect, thereby generating financial savings in the long term.

The Mayor has an important role in ensuring biodiversity is enhanced and new habitats are created. A large proportion of new homes will be built on public land and will be subject to Mayoral planning approval if they are of potential strategic importance to London. This means that the Mayor can, and should, push for higher requirements for biodiversity on these sites in order for planning permission to be granted.


  • RSPB, 2016, The State of Nature
  • Written evidence from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species
  • GLA, 2016, Mayoral planning powers