5 seeds for building green cities
While the focus on green landscape architecture was already building momentum pre-pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions have raised awareness of the importance of designing cities to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of the people living in them.
Building a more balanced natural outdoor urban environment – while also harnessing more nature-focused interior design – can result in a city that benefits both mental and physical health for its inhabitants. Here, we look at the five key seeds of meaningful change when it comes to living greener, and healthier.
What can cities do to ‘go green’?
- Biophilic design
Cities of the future must adopt a holistic framework of planting, habitats and SuDS which integrates green/blue infrastructure with built infrastructure, including green walls, green roofs, rain gardens and tree planting.
- Connecting with nature
Redefining links with natural systems is key to establishing balance between man-made interventions and the environment. This includes measures such as opening up watercourses, diversifying habitats and enhancing green space connectivity.
- Health and Wellbeing
Active and social use relationships between people and their environment must be reinforced, including creation of traffic-calmed neighbourhoods and active travel initiatives to reclaim use of streets for people with the integration of community social space and facilities.
Embedding relevant local service needs is critical within the commercial component of the community – as is drawing on local history, crafts and themes to assert a sense of distinction and neighbourhood identity.
- Climate change resilience
Designing with extremes of climate in mind must be a priority, including the incorporation of flood water management in streetscape design, street tree planting to enhance microclimate and diversity of plant species to anticipate adaptation.
Greenery for wellbeing
In Europe, public space makes up between 2 and 15% of land in city centres. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum amount of 9 m2 of green open space per inhabitant. While there are contradictions in how a city may define green space, many cities struggle to reach the recommended targets.
As urban populations and urban population densities continue to rise, there is an even greater need for cities to become greener and to design future public green spaces with quality in mind, in a way that accommodates the inhabitants’ health and wellbeing.
Nature as an integral part of our cities
Many studies have shown that there is a connection between a person’s proximity to nature and their mental health and well-being. If you live closer than 50 metres to a green area, you will visit a green area between about 3–4 times a week, but if you live 1,000 metres from a green area you will only visit it approximately once a week. Studies also show that if you have a green area close to your home, you are more likely to visit other green areas.
Not only do green areas positively impact on our mental health – they also encourage physical activity, social contact and create spaces for physical and mental restitution, all of which can help lower the chances of developing more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. These conditions represent large costs to society and threaten welfare due to the high cost of medical treatments. Designing more green areas thus brings a financial benefit.
Plant-based indoor living
Because we spend most of our time indoors, there are many benefits to having plants in an indoor environment. They increase the air quality, people’s concentration, overall wellbeing and job satisfaction. Furthermore, plants can reduce irritation and stress. Several experiments indicate that the presence of plants has a positive effect on concentration, productivity and creativity.
A room with a view
All the above benefits can also be gained from having a view of a pleasant green environment. When people in their offices or children in a school have a view of green spaces, they exhibit significantly better performance.
Promoting local ownership and engagement initiatives to engender a sense of community is central to the success of any green vision. Our latest Urban Insights report explores how focusing on natural design and engineering, along with other key factors such as noise and air pollution, is key to transforming society for the better.