Animation: WATG http://www.watg.com/london-national-park-city-green-block/
Could Fleet Street in central London be turned into ‘green boulevard’? The architecture practice WATG have teamed up with “guerrilla geographer” Daniel Raven-Ellison (who is leading the campaign to have London declared the world’s first city national park) to explore the idea of greening the city using green building blocks .
“The mission of this campaign is to create a city where people and nature are more connected. A city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable.”
Following a meeting withDaniel Raven-Ellison the WATG Landscape Architecture team were inspired to contribute to this socially important initiative in the Capital. Led by Demet Karaoglu, Senior Project Landscape Architect, the team challenged themselves to an internal innovation competition and the ‘Green Block’ was born.
“It’s safe to say that we can all now envision a future with driverless, electric cars and that translates to fewer cars on the road and fewer car parks and car lanes,” said John Goldwyn, Vice President, WATG. “The Green Block claws back space from the roads and returns it to the people of London.”
The team at WATG have developed the ‘Green Block’ – a maintenance-free modular, living building material permeated with native wildflower seeds and containing its own irrigation reservoir. The website explains that Green Blocks can be used in creative ways to enhance the natural biodiversity of London by:
- Reclaiming expanses of tarmac and space made available by redundant roads and car parks, following the rise of autonomous and shared vehicle and bicycle schemes in the Capital;
- Adding greenery to existing cafes and shopfronts whilst cleaning and filtering the city air and creating a more aesthetically-desirable city-scape;
- Cladding buildings and hoarding construction sites;
- Delineating and augmenting cycling routes;
- Connecting the city’s existing parks;
- Allowing residents and property owners in the Capital to create their own urban allotments, replacing concrete front gardens and providing ecological corridors for the city’s native wildlife such as invertebrates, small mammals and raptors.
For further information on greening the city read Arup: Cities Alive – Rethinking green infrastructure and Cities Alive Workshop video launch.
Note: The animation of Fleet Street was designed by WATG for visualisation and conceptual purposes only; to show how the prototype ‘Green Block’ could be used within an urban environment. The ‘Green Block’ is a landscape architecture concept that was developed purely to explore how design can innovate and contribute to a greener future.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched a new £9 million fund to create and improve green spaces and encourage more tree planting in London. The Mayor wants to make London the first National Park City with a target of making 50 per cent of the city green by 2050. To do this, his ambition is to plant more trees, restore our rivers, create natural play-spaces for children and green routes to encourage walking and cycling. The first commitment towards this is the Greener City Fund, a grant programme to support boroughs, local communities and environmental organisations to plant more trees and improve our green spaces.
Previous assessments of London’s green spaces have indicated that about 47 per cent of London is green space. This includes: parks and amenity space; the countryside and farmland in London’s green belt; nature reserves; and private gardens. About 20 per cent of London is covered by trees, mostly as integral parts of the city’s green spaces. It also includes trees in streets and other urban parts of the city.
Khan asserts that well-designed green spaces should be multifunctional and offer a range of benefits that support the needs of a growing population. Yet there are many parts of London, especially in densely populated or deprived areas, where Londoners lack green space or have little tree cover. Greening these areas can provide many benefits, including: improving health and wellbeing; providing space for recreation and cultural activities; adapting to climate change; and creating habitat for wildlife.
A City for All Londoners sets out the Mayor’s plans to improve London. The policy document states that London ‘must develop to accommodate more people, jobs and activity. It must also adapt to the increasing threats from climate change. As such, it is vital both for the health and wellbeing of our citizens and for London’s economy to protect and enhance the environment.’
Making London a National Park City
The Mayor also wants to make London the first National Park City. This will be a way to promote his policies, proposals and projects on green infrastructure and give them a common identity. It is how he will engage Londoners and raise awareness about natural environment issues. The aim is to help Londoners make more use of London’s outdoors. It will also encourage them to help green London, whether by gardening for wildlife, volunteering to plant trees, or installing green roofs.
The Mayor’s National Park City programme will include:
- updating London Plan policies to protect green space and encourage greening of the urban environment, for example through green roofs
- support for boroughs and other land managers to help identify and promote the full economic value of London’s green infrastructure, to help build the case for essential investment and maintenance funding
- feeding into initiatives such as the Healthy Streets Approach, to ensure that the full potential of greening to enhance street space is realised
- a package of funding and advice – the Greener City Fund – to help boroughs, local communities, and environmental organisations run projects that plant more trees and improve London’s green spaces.
Greener City Fund
The Mayor has committed £9m to create and improve green spaces and encourage tree planting and management in London.
The Greener City Fund will include three specific elements:
- Strategic green infrastructure projects: the Mayor’s £3m of funding will support strategic green space improvements that will bring multiple environmental benefits. For example, river restoration in parks, which could provide flood water storage, new habitats for wildlife and improved space for play.
- London’s urban forest: City Hall will work with partner organisations, boroughs, Londoners and businesses on a range of projects to help plant and look after trees in London. The Mayor’s £3m of funding will help: create new woodlands; pilot new approaches to supporting tree planting in public space; improve data about London’s trees; and support London-wide projects.
- Community Tree Planting and Green Space Grants: over the next three years, the Mayor has committed £3m to help Londoners plant trees and make our city greener. These community grants will be offered in several rounds. They will involve community groups, charities, schools, boroughs and businesses in planting trees, and improving and increasing green space across London.
Source: Derkzen, M., van Teeffelen, A. & Verburg, P. (2015). Quantifying urban ecosystem services based on high-resolution data of urban green space: an assessment for Rotterdam, the Netherlands. J Appl Ecol, 52(4), pp.1020-1032. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12469
Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using new methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ES, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. This method to map ES supply can aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.
Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ecosystem services, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. The authors say their method to map ES supply will aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.
Urban green spaces, which include parks and playing fields, have important benefits. They provide a range of ecosystem services (ES) and can help to mitigate problems that are particularly prevalent in cities, such as air and noise pollution. Despite their importance in urban areas, most studies of ES focus on rural or natural landscapes. This may be because existing methods to quantify ES struggle to cope with the high-resolution land-cover data necessary to assess ES in a city context.
To improve understanding of urban ES, this study derived new methods to quantify and map ES supplied by urban green spaces. The methods, based on land-cover data and a literature review, were applied to Rotterdam. The second largest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam faces challenges common to many European cities, including heat stress, flooding and air pollution.
The researchers, supported by the European Commission via projects Transitioning Towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability (TURAS) and OPERAs: Ecosystem Science for Policy & Practice, selected six urban ES: air purification (defined as the lowering of background air pollution concentrations), carbon storage (gross above ground carbon storage), noise reduction (the capacity of vegetation to attenuate environmental noise), run-off retention (the combined effect of rainfall interception, infiltration and storage), cooling (temperature reduction by vegetation) and recreation (the potential of green spaces for everyday outdoor recreation). These ES were chosen due to their relevance for human well-being.
To determine the spatial distribution of each ES, the researchers mapped them onto the city landscape using data on the locations of eight different types of urban green space (trees, woodland, tall shrubs, short shrubs, herbaceous, garden, water, and others, such as allotment gardens and sports fields). This data was compiled from a combination of green maintenance maps, cadastral maps [a map defining land ownership] and land-use maps.
Indicators for each ES were obtained from a literature review and applied to the green space data within the geographic information services platform ArcGIS 10.1. The researchers calculated the ES supplied by each individual green space and at the neighbourhood and district levels. For each urban green space they multiplied the area by the ES supply rate per square metre. The ES supplied by individual green spaces was then aggregated to the neighbourhood and district levels.
Analysis showed that different green spaces have different capacities for ES delivery. The spatial arrangements of green spaces are also a key determinant of ES supply. For example, trees can be more effective in filtering pollutants from the air when they are close to the source of pollution.
Differences in the availability of green spaces can lead to significant spatial variation in ES supply across a city. In general, supply increases with distance from the city centre. The researchers say this is because central neighbourhoods tend to be more developed and are therefore less green. In Rotterdam, there were clear spatial discrepancies in ES supply; some districts completely lacked green spaces and therefore received low levels of ES, while others received high levels of numerous or even all ES.
This study shows that not only the amount but also the composition and arrangement of urban green spaces influence the type and level of ES provided to neighbourhoods. The methodology used here to map ES shows which services are supplied, where, in what quantity and by which green spaces. This approach will help urban planners to ensure that the ES needs of neighbourhoods are met, and ultimately to design more sustainable cities.
Here’s some food for thought…….The following commentary blog was posted on the World Design Summit’s ‘Designing the Future’ website – world design summit taking place over 10 days in Montreal in October, 2017. The event is described as, ‘an international gathering of diverse disciplines with a common focus: how design can shape the future.’
“Green has gone mainstream. But as green walls, rooftop farms, and tree covered skyscrapers become the norm in cities around the world, critics ask if these developments are simply the latest face of ‘greenwashing’. Environmental advocates such as Naomi Klein have long warned of corporations that attempt to mask questionable records by emphasizing green elements. Klein has challenged industrialists who partake in flashy, eco-conscious campaigns but do little to alleviate the impact of their businesses on the climate. Many companies spend more money convincing consumers that they are green than they do on actual green initiatives; some corporate green initiatives actually harm the environment.
Urbanists worry that greenwashing has spread to urban design and architecture by literally covering up buildings with plants. The vertical farms, plant-covered towers, and eco-villages that once seemed far-fetched are now not only possible but all the rage. Bringing greenery into the city may reduce emissions and improve air quality, but it does little to address the deeper causes of urban and environmental stress. Greening initiatives increase the economic value of places, risking displacement of economically vulnerable residents. Does a greenroof on top of a superstore help uninsured workers? What difference does a green tech-campus make if it requires hundreds of parking spaces?
One architect who questions greenwashing is Alejandro Aravena, director of the firm ELEMENTAL in Chile. At last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, Aravena exposed the wasteful side of design by exhibiting 90 tons of detritus from the previous year’s event. He also tackles underlying challenges, by collaborating with communities to empower them to design affordable and sustainable housing for themselves. In this age of tree-covered skyscrapers, Aravena’s commitment to modest and even monotonous design stands out.
Questioning greenwashing demands that designers ask whether the green city must be a luxury for the privileged and whether sustainability initiatives accelerate inequality. Designers in all disciplines must look beyond rhetoric and aesthetics to evaluate the impact of environmental design. How can we, as designers, reconcile our role, which is closely linked with the market economy and over-consumption, with environmental and social awareness? Designers invested in truly sustainable practice are encouraged to submit a proposal for the topic “Questioning Greenwashing” at the Congress for the World Design Summit.”
The article is not attributed to any particular author but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts? What’s your opinion in relation to #greenwashing? The article is illustrated by Stefano Boeri‘s proposals to build “forest cities” in Shijiazhuang, China plus an image of Bosco Verticale, Milan although the latter is not credited – (neither design is referred to by name in the article). Both designs incorporate vegetation on the outer construction with the twin towers of Bosco Verticale – constructed with a $2.5 billion public-private investment as part of the redevelopment of Milan’s Porta Nuova district – housing 800 trees between 9 and 30 feet tall, over 4,000 shrubs, and 15,000 ground cover plants including vines and perennials.
The summit focuses on 6 key themes including ‘Design for Earth’ and 108 topics including ‘Questioning greenwashing’,
“Designers are sensitive to environmental issues and announce their willingness to conform their practices. However, beyond appearances and words, critical scrutiny is essential. How can we, as designers, reconcile our role, which is closely linked with the market economy and over-consumption, with environmental and social awareness?”
To read Naomi Klein’s, ‘The hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle’ . Source: The Guardian, Sept, 2014.
Regulating urban surface runoff through nature-based solutions – An assessment at the micro-scale. Zölch,T, Henze, L, Keilholz, P & Pauleit, S. Environmental Research, Volume 157, August 2017, Pages 135–14.
- Runoff after heavy rain events accounts for approx. 95% of total precipitation in highly sealed urban areas.
- By enhancing water storage capacities green infrastructure reduces runoff by max. 14.8% compared to the baseline.
- Green roofs and trees both show to be effective but due to different functions.
- The reduction of runoff is larger with higher shares of green cover in the case area.
Urban development leads to changes of surface cover that disrupt the hydrological cycle in cities. In particular, impermeable surfaces and the removal of vegetation reduce the ability to intercept, store and infiltrate rainwater. Consequently, the volume of stormwater runoff and the risk of local flooding rises. This is further amplified by the anticipated effects of climate change leading to an increased frequency and intensity of heavy rain events. Hence, urban adaptation strategies are required to mitigate those impacts.
A nature-based solution, more and more promoted in politics and academia, is urban green infrastructure as it contributes to the resilience of urban ecosystems by providing services to maintain or restore hydrological functions. However, this poses a challenge to urban planners in deciding upon effective adaptation measures as they often lack information on the performance of green infrastructure to moderate surface runoff. It remains unclear what type of green infrastructure (e.g. trees, green roofs), offers the highest potential to reduce discharge volumes and to what extent.
Against this background, this study provides an approach to gather quantitative evidence on green infrastructure’s regulation potential. We use a micro-scale scenario modelling approach of different variations of green cover under current and future climatic conditions. The scenarios are modelled with MIKE SHE, an integrated hydrological modelling system for building and simulating surface water and groundwater flow, and applied to a high density residential area of perimeter blocks in Munich, Germany. The results reveal that both trees and green roofs increase water storage capacities and hence reduce surface runoff, although the main contribution of trees lies in increasing interception and evapotranspiration, whereas green roofs allow for more retention through water storage in their substrate. With increasing precipitation intensities as projected under climate change their regulating potential decreases due to limited water storage capacities. The performance of both types stays limited to a maximum reduction of 2.4% compared to the baseline scenario, unless the coverage of vegetation and permeable surfaces is significantly increased as a 14.8% reduction is achieved by greening all roof surfaces.
The authors conclude that the study provides empirical support for the effectiveness of urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to stormwater regulation and assists planners and operators of sewage systems in selecting the most effective measures for implementation and estimation of their effects.
Urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to regulate surface runoff becomes increasingly important, as climate change and urbanisation alter the urban water balance. The present study assessed the performance of two urban green infrastructure (UGI) types, trees and green roofs, on relevant hydrological processes, especially surface runoff. The two measures were applied in scenarios of different greening quantity and for heavy rain events of different intensities as projected for the future. This scenario approach revealed that both trees and green roofs contribute positively by interception, evapotranspiration and infiltration. Differences in their performance showed to be dependent on the greening quantity, share of permeable surfaces leaf area index (LAI) and finally, intensity of the rainfall event. Generally, their effectiveness remains low under heavy rain events, unless a significant proportion of the case area is greened to provide sufficient water storage capacities (Artmann, 2014).
For urban planning the presented results have practical implications for the selection of UGI types to reduce surface runoff volumes and in consequence reduce discharge loads, the sewage system has to handle. An effective nature-based solution increases the storage capacities within the area of interest as much as possible, while using open spaces that have not been used previously and/or while providing benefits to other areas of urban planning. Trees increase the storage capacity mainly by intercepting and evapotranspiring rainwater, their infiltration capacity is limited to the tree pits. But trees can normally not be implemented in large quantity in dense urban areas due to their requirements of open space. Green roofs on the other hand, provide storage capacity mainly by retaining rainwater in their substrates and can be implemented at larger scale on previously unused roof surfaces.
Furthermore, both types are multifunctional and can provide co-benefits for urban planning. The approach represents a first step in allowing planners as well as operators of sewage systems to estimate reductions in runoff volume when locally implementing UGI measures. These estimations could be further improved by integrating additional stormwater management practices and the drainage system in more detail into the modelling setup. Thus, conducting a larger systematic study of UGI scenarios would allow for including e.g. more UGI types, different species and LAI values as well as planting conditions. Such a study could enhance the provision of empirical evidence for climate resilient urban planning.
In March 2013 the Landscape Institute published an updated Mission Statement, ‘Green Infrastructure: An integrated approach to land management’. The document was described as,
“An opportunity to showcase a range of successful strategic GI work and completed
projects. The aim is to give public and private sector bodies, clients and natural and built environment professionals fresh insights into the benefits GI can bring by creating multifunctional landscapes and show how people can collaborate to deliver it.”
Research: Collentine, D. & Futter, M.N. (2016). Realising the potential of natural water retention measures in catchment flood management: trade-offs and matching interests. Journal of Flood Risk Management. DOI: 10.1111/jfr3.12269.
Natural water-retention measures, which ‘keep the rain where it falls’, have great potential to be used as part of flood-risk management plans. But their benefits for downstream urban areas can bring costs to the upstream agricultural areas where they are installed. The researchers suggest that we need new and/or improved policies and institutions to oversee the trade-offs and benefits for agriculture and flood management, and a better scientific understanding of the measures’ likely impact on urban flood risk.
The analysis, conducted by academics in Sweden, draws on various studies to discuss the many benefits of natural water-retention measures and how to encourage their uptake. Floods, which have caused annual economic losses of €4 900 million in Europe, are a serious problem. Natural water-retention measures could play an important role in managing floods, the researchers say, and help meet the goals of the EU’s Floods Directive and Water Framework Directive. These nature-based solutions store rainfall and allow it to evaporate back into the atmosphere to help prevent water flowing into urban areas, where it can cause the greatest damage.
Nature based water-retention measures are a key example of how green infrastructure can work alongside traditional grey infrastructure (e.g. flood gates). They take many forms, from small green roofs to large forests, and bring multiple benefits. As well as reducing flood risk, they can have value for biodiversity, recreation and water quality because they reduce soil erosion and can prevent agricultural pollution running into rivers.
However, this multi-functionality may also act as a barrier to their uptake. Because they bring benefits that fall under different policy areas, it is not necessarily easy for decision makers to determine who should pay for these measures. For some measures, the effect on flood risk may be an additional, secondary benefit — as in the case of agricultural buffer zones, which are primarily intended to reduce fertiliser run-off.
Alongside flood-management benefits, measures installed on upstream agricultural land can also lead to trade-offs, notably reduced crop yield. This loss occurs either because cropland is replaced by the measures or because soil in fields becomes too wet. A payment-for-ecosystem-services (PES) model could, therefore, be used to finance natural water-retention measures, possibly through national agri-environmental schemes. Research from the USA has indicated that it is less costly to pay farmers to temporarily flood their land upstream, than it is to pay for urban damage downstream.
Other barriers to widespread uptake of natural water-retention measures include specific knowledge gaps. There is plenty of evidence to show the effectiveness of individual natural water-retention measures, particularly in small catchments. Computer-modelling studies suggest natural water-retention measures could contribute to downstream flood risk reduction, but there is a lack of real world studies which show how to incorporate such measures into flood-risk management plans and their likely impact on downstream urban flood risk. Such studies are needed to encourage further uptake by decision makers and land managers.
The exact area of responsibility of decision makers with regard to flood-risk management also remains unclear. As such, water policy at the national level is accountable to EU water directives and national decisions must be consistent with the decisions made at the EU level. This is also true for regional-level policy, which is based on national policy and, similarly, local decisions are founded on regional policy. Unfortunately, this set of embedded decisions seems to break down with flood-risk management and has led to a lack of distinction between jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction attempts to reduce flood damage within a limited area and thus tends to focus on the use of preventive structural measures, such as dams or retaining walls, rather than measures to reduce flooding (1).
The authors recommend that institutional structures and mechanisms are created or enhanced to oversee the urban/rural trade-offs that natural water-retention measures may bring, to match potential costs with benefits and ensure an appropriate compensation scheme is put in place; for example, one which links PES with flood-risk management plans.
1. This shortcoming should normally be addressed by the inclusion of a river basin approach within the flood risk management plans: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/index_en.htm
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: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11252-016-0593-6.
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.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
- 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.
- 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.