Innovation, Planning, and Principles for More Effective Urban Greening

In our effort to counteract the negative effects of urban sprawl, we are instead densifying our cities, and making housing more compact. Consequently, as our city populations increase, urban planners are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver green space – despite the unarguable benefits of green space planning for sustainable cities.

Can we overcome the challenges of providing urban green space during urban densification?

In this article, we make suggestions on how to increase green spaces in cities, including how to conserve and plan green space more effectively in even the most highly populated city neighborhoods.

Conserve existing green space

Too often, we destroy green space that exists when regenerating or constructing new urban infrastructure. Shouldn’t our priority be to conserve existing green spaces? Research shows that vegetation that is already present often benefits from more variety than planted vegetation. A further benefit of maintaining existing green space is that cities can retain up to 82% of the original carbon storage of that space.

Instead of destroying green space to build, we should seek to retain and enhance it ─ providing greater potential for recreational space and improving biodiversity.

Plan and deliver green space ‘at the edge’

In compact city environments, it can be difficult to provide green space. But it is possible. We should build based on ‘every little helps’. And there is a lot that we can do to deliver green space at the edge:

  • Pocket parks are a convenient way to incorporate public spaces in dense urban areas where catching some green space can be difficult. Mini-parks can provide spaces to relax, playgrounds for children, or communal spaces to meet.

  • Planting sidewalks can provide strips of green, varied vegetation and trees, and have even been used for planting free fruit and vegetables for residents.

  • Shade pathways, by using frameworks to incorporate climbing plants.

  • Plan for green roofing, designing rooftop gardens that can be used by residents for a variety of purposes and that also enhance warmth retention and stormwater dispersions.

  • Plant entrances to buildings, providing greening and air purification.

Apply principles of landscape ecology and ecological urbanism in urban planning

Our green spaces are often haphazard and disconnected. By applying the principles of landscape ecology and ecological urbanism during urban planning and design stages, we can enhance our ‘at-the-edge’ provision of green space and enhance the qualities of what we have and what we plan to have.

We can deliver green space more effectively by considering three aspects:

  1. Patch greening

Such as pocket parks, which improve the ratio of green space in urban landscapes.

  1. Connectivity between green spaces

We can implement green corridors to connect patch greening, developing a more integrated system that helps to connect human life and wildlife. Connectivity can be made between small and close green spaces, or larger and more distant spaces, linking neighborhoods and providing opportunities for more people to benefit from urban greening.

  1. Matrix greening

Instead of linear connections between green spaces, we can plan to provide more green space surrounding urban infrastructure, combining patch and connectivity greening.

Green our buildings

In situations where delivery of green space on the ground is impractical, we should consider greening our buildings.

Naturally, we should consider green roofs here, but we can also implement vertical gardens. This type of greening project can deliver benefits such as cooling of buildings, food production, and biodiversity conservation ─ as well as improving air and living quality.

Use legal frameworks to compel green space planning

To achieve the goal of more green space in our cities, we should consider designing legal frameworks that compel the urban design to incorporate green space. This will encourage greening strategies that improve the quantity and quality of urban green spaces and answer questions such as how to replace green space where it is lost because of construction.

Ensure public participation in the planning process

We should make sure that communities participate in the process of planning our urban infrastructure, and that we develop our urban spaces to include green space that delivers to the need of a community.

Existing green space should be evolved to the needs of a community (for example, to provide areas for youth activities, communal meetings, recreation, exercise, etc.). It’s also crucial that we revisit these needs regularly to ensure that our green spaces remain relevant.

Conclusion: We must plan more effectively to deliver effective urban green spaces

We know that urban green space is crucial for the physical and mental wellbeing of city populations and that quality green space can improve communities and local economies.

Yet, because of the densification of our cities, we are facing many challenges to the provision of urban green space. These challenges manifest in risks, including:

  • Loss of urban green space 

  • Insufficient green space where construction is taking place

  • New green space being of insufficient quality

  • Low prioritization of green space in the planning process

  • Social inequalities to continue or worsen

Unless tackled, these risks can develop into lower quality of life in urban locations, poorer access to recreation activities, a loss of biodiversity, and a lack of coherence of green space in our cities.

We must emphasize planning for green space in our cities, and continually seek innovative ways of providing it for the benefit of all.

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To learn more or to join the conversation, contact ACB Consulting.

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