Urban Greening: the future of nature in our cities

With an increasing population comes an increasing need for urban development. Consequently, areas that were natural green havens – from grassland to forests – have become urbanised concrete jungles.

There is much evidence proving the environmental and social benefits of green spaces, yet these important environments have been forgotten in the race for urbanisation. However, with an increasing awareness of human health and wellbeing and the impacts of climate change, urban greening is becoming a hot topic amongst town planners and designers.

What is Urban Greening?

Urban greening is the provision of green features (typically referred to as soft landscaping) within an urban context using various means of vegetation. It provides a multitude of benefits that result in improved environments for inhabitants, both human and wildlife. Aside from making urban environments aesthetically pleasing, benefits include combatting air and noise pollution; assisting surface water drainage thereby reducing localised flood risk; creating habitats for urban wildlife, engagement with local communities, promoting mental and physical wellbeing; calming traffic, and reducing crime rates. Urban greening also presents the opportunity for extracting CO2 emissions from the air – sometimes known as ‘carbon sinks’ – thereby playing a critical role in halting climate change.

Climate Resilience

I’ve already highlighted some of the many benefits of urban greening, but it is its links to climate resilience that is crucial for a planet that is warming. Urban green spaces can help cool the local environment through the process of evapotranspiration, and stores and re-radiates less heat than buildings.  A study in Manchester, showed that by increasing urban green space by 10%, the temperature of high-density spaces can be cooled by 3-4oC.  The effects of this could be significant given the projected increase in global temperatures due to climate change. Particularly in helping to reduce the impact of heatwaves, such as the 2003 London heatwave that killed over 600 people.

Greening Planning Polices?

Despite the countless positive impacts urban greening is often overlooked by building developments, or at the very least, a token gesture. Typically, this is due to the lack of obvious or upfront financial rewards.  Planning policy should be providing the push the built environment sector needs to reverse this trend of diminishing green areas.

As an example, the London Plan includes urban greening as a central policy for creating a greener London. It aims to increase the levels of ‘greened’ surface area in the Central Activities Zone by at least 5% by 2030, and a further 5% by 2050. Additionally, there are plans for an extra 2 million trees by 2025 (on top of the 10,000 by 2015). These progressive targets are largely reactions to the impacts of climate change in cities.

Final thoughts

The push for urban greening is a positive step to improving urban environments, particularly as part of policy in the New London Plan. With benefits for the environment and people’s wellbeing it makes sense for developers to incorporate greening. It’s also interesting to observe the collaboration between urban greening and hot topics within the building industry, such as ‘Healthy Cities’ and Circular Economy. Urban greening challenges the idea that urban areas have to be concrete jungles and we are certainly looking forward to seeing more innovative greening in London!