Green Cities - a vital priority

Within All things green

Green Cities - a vital priority

On Tuesday I attended the Green City Conference organised by the International Association of Horticultural Producers. Delegates from the UK and around the world debated the benefits of urban green spaces and the issues surrounding the implementation of green infrastructure plans.

Examples of excellent practice were demonstrated by delegates from Holland, China and Taiwan. Closer to home, Mark Camley who heads up the London Legacy Development Corporation, showed us the development of the Olympic site into an outstanding green space.

Sir Richard Thompson, physician to HM the Queen, concentrated on the health benefits of green spaces. Green gardens in hospitals improve the mood of patients and staff alike. "There is a gym outside your window!" Flowering plants promote relaxation and gardening reduces stress. He went through much of the well documented evidence that recovery times are faster, and that physical and mental well being is hugely enhanced by access to green, living landscapes. There are huge savings to be made to the NHS budget, and architects and builders of hospitals must be made aware of green benefits.

Dr Val Kirby of the Landscape Institute produced the outstanding document " Public Health and the Landscape" in November 2013. If you haven't read it you should download it from the LI website. Backing up what Sir Richard had said earlier, she deplored the fact that many public health professionals are not convinced about the health benefits of landscape.  Her report has an evidence based approach to the 5 principles of a health place. Why is their "killer" evidence not hitting home - reduce NHS spending by providing green spaces?

Boris Johnson's environmental advisor talked about the challenge of providing access to decent green space to a London population that is expected to grow to 11m by 2050. He highlighted the fact that green infrastructure will be a key component in reducing rain water flooding into sewers. The work that we are doing with Lindum Green Roofs to encourage storm water attenuation is a vital component of that programme.

Mike Kiely of the Planning Officers Society talked about securing a network of high quality, well designed and multi-functional green and open spaces. The health and storm water attenuation benefits were recognised, but talk about enhancing biodiversity sounded aspirational without any clear plan of how to achieve it, and indeed, measure it.

You would have expected Leigh Hunt of the RHS to seduce us with all the benefits that gardening has to offer, but he also talked about their research showing the cooling effects of green roofs, and in particular how broad leafed perennials are much better at cooling than traditional sedum. This is precisely why we encourage the use of our Lindum Biodiverse Green Roof Mat - not only does the mix improve cooling, but it encourages invertebrate diversity and has better storm water attenuation attributes due to greater substrate depth. I was delighted to hear that the RHS are challenging preconceptions. Are natives or non native species best for encouraging biodiversity? The results to be published in the summer will show that native is not always best. This is music to my ears. We have worked over several years with Prof Nigel Dunnett to produce green roof vegetation mats that are a carefully designed mixture of wildflowers, drought tolerant perennials, herbs and some sedums to provide a long flowering display that is attractive to pollinators and humans alike. These mixtures are sometimes frowned upon by the ecology establishment because of the inclusion of some non-natives. We should look closely at what it is we are trying to achieve, especially in this unusual environment of a roof space.

Julia Thrift who heads up the Town and Country Planning Association's work on green infrastructure, threw down the challenge to individuals, companies and industry organisations to join in their "Green Infrastructure Partnership" . It sounds a sensible move and anyone wanting to support should email gip-uk@tcpa.org.uk

"Built today - treasured tomorrow" was the thought she left us with.

Tim Briercliffe, Secretary General of AIPH, in summing up challenged us to produce a "Green City Index". Let the best be highlighted. Name and shame the poor performers. At ground level, people should be demanding change. By demonstrating what a green city looks like and what can be achieved, change can happen.

This was an encouraging day, highlighting as it did the benefits to health, urban heat islands, storm water attenuation and biodiversity. The way in which we at Lindum have worked to produce a range of green roof and turf products is bearing fruit in that we can provide a choice of solutions in the campaign for greening urban spaces.

 

Stephen Fell 3rd April 2014

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