In this efflorescent changing world, the need to maintain and ensure a sustainable economy has been at the forefront of many landscape planning policies and decisions. Many urban areas are bursting at their seams, swallowing up the once vacant, raw lands that surrounded them and changing the planet’s systems in unprecedented ways.
Green infrastructure is a new term but not a new idea that has come into the planning spotlight as a result of the societal climate of today’s world and may be seen as an antidote to the problems previous land use policies and terrestrial changes have caused to the world’s natural systems.
The underlying concept of Green Infrastructure is the incorporation of natural and managed green areas in both urban and natural settings that conserve natural ecosystem values and functions and provides associated benefits to human populations.
It differs from conventional approaches to land conservation and natural resources in that it attempts to bridge the divide that has been created between man and nature, whilst also recognizing the need for development in an ever-increasingly populated world.
Green Infrastructure can be seen as providing the ecological framework required for environmental, social and economic sustainability that can deliver the sustainable economy it so readily yearns to achieve.
Biodiversity and Conservation efforts
Wildlife biologists and ecologists have long recognized that the best way to preserve native plants, animals and ecological processes is to create an interconnected conservation system to counter fragmentation. The development of ecological networks through Green Infrastructure has been advocated as a means of alleviating the biological impacts of habitat fragmentation, making biodiversity and conservation an integral part of sustainable landscapes.
Through providing a framework for future development, Green Infrastructure Planning has presented a diverse array of ecological functions and benefits such as enriched habitat and biodiversity, maintenance of natural landscape processes, cleaner air and water and a better connection to nature and sense of place.
Another major donation towards a sustainable economy that Green Infrastructure planning has contributed has been the benefits of climate change mitigation.
With the current climate accelerating to an almost “runaway” degree, the need to sustain the changing planet is a much needed plea now than ever and the functionality provided by urban greenspace has become increasingly important. Climate change will impact on urban environments and these changes will be experienced by both people and infrastructure.
Researchers working on green infrastructure have consequently promoted the value of the concept as a way of controlling climate change through the sustainable design of housing and larger scale infrastructure developments. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), green walls and roofs, as well as better building design (i.e. those proposed under the Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards) are just a small number of examples of how climate change can be planned for through the implementation of Green Infrastructure.
Recent research in Greater Manchester has revealed that strategies such as green roofing (whereby the roofs of buildings are masked by vegetation) can have substantial effects on urban heat island temperatures and can even reduce temperatures by up to 84%. It has also been recognized by the North West Climate Change Action Plan that a 10% increase in green cover could also reduce the volume of surface water runoff in extreme rainfall events by 14%.
One very innovative green infrastructure technology that is taking hold in the UK is district heating and cooling systems that use pre-insulated pipes to distribute heat, hot water and cooling to large scale residential, commercial and public premises. Imagine heat pump technology on a infrastuctural level and you get the idea behind district heating.
The consideration of trees and greenspace as a living system as oppose to the engineered structures of grey infrastructure have also revealed added benefits on psycho-social dynamics.
It appears that the experience of nature in cities is integral to human health, well-being and quality of life. Ergonomics is the process of translating such human actions and needs into the physical forms of engineered or built systems.
Studies across several disciplines have been able to document the human benefits of nature experiences in city landscapes. With vision, Green Infrastructure planning can become an urban system that delivers human benefits and service in both the environmental and social dimensions and with consideration of ergonomics, provides another opportunity to expand the political appeal and fiscal support of Green Infrastructure.
There have also been evaluations on the potential economic implications of Green Infrastructure linked to health effects and health service budgets. Currently over £8.2 billion a year is spent tackling the effects of poor diet, a lack of exercise and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of people in the UK.
Conversely the UK Department of Health has stated that with a 10% rise in exercise and overall health, over £500 million could be entered back into the national economy each year. Green infrastructure has thus been viewed by many as a way of achieving these health targets and lowering the cost of health care to the UK taxpayers.
The creation of more green spaces has also been shown to increase property values and decrease the costs of public infrastructure and public services, including the costs for stormwater management and water treatment systems.
These arenas that Green Infrastructure Planning have helped to influence have highlighted the infrastructure’s role in economic prosperity and stability. The savings include a reduced need for healthcare, better adaptation for climate change and an increased preservation of the planet’s wildlife and resources, which all contribute to an ever expanding sustainable world
These benefits emphasize that Green Infrastructure is dynamic and must be strategically planned, invested in and managed at local and regional levels, if it is to function in underpinning and providing for a prosperous and sustainable economic future.
It has been shown that, if designed appropriately and developed with ecological, economic and social factors in mind, green infrastructure can be a valuable component of the urban form for successful renewal. Resources such as the countryside, coast, wetlands, urban parks, street trees and their ecosystems are seen as critical for sustainable economic growth and social goals, not just a way of supporting wildlife and ‘the environment’.
The concept of Green Infrastructure could be the start of a long and successful domino-effect towards a sustainable economy, if implemented correctly and planned appropriately. We are at a milestone in the planning and design of urban communities. Finding a place where we start to co-exist with the natural environment instead of developing in conflict with it, lies at the heart of Green Infrastructure planning.
The environment is critical to sustainable economic prosperity by contributing to the conditions for growth and economic security as well as providing healthy ecosystems. Green Infrastructure has recognized this importance and attempted a practical solution to this ever-growing problem
Green infrastructure plans can create a framework for future growth while also ensuring that significant resources will be preserved for future generations, facilitating the journey on this road to a sustainable economy.
Victoria Moore holds a first class honours in Geography and an M.Sc. in Environmental Governance from Manchester University. She has worked as a geography tutor and recently returned from a six month journey through Asia. Victoria is passionate about the environmental movement and aspires to have a positive impact on the planet through her work and play!