March 01, 2024
Active Travel

From grey to green: Evolving our urban environments with green infrastructure

Carrie Adam Turvec Headshot

By Carrie Adam

For years, our urban environments have been growing. By 2050, seven out of ten people will live in cities, globally.

This means new buildings and roads, new schools, shopping centres, retail parks, car parks – the list goes on.

Invariably, these construction projects bring more concrete and grey to our landscape, often at the cost of our natural environment.

Restoring nature to our urban environments is great for improving air quality, controlling temperatures, and boosting biodiversity, as well as bringing positive mental health benefits.

Turning the ‘grey back to green’ in our urban environments is vital in achieving those benefits. So how can it be done?

What is green infrastructure?

Simply put, green infrastructure can be seen as using nature as a building material itself. Examples include sustainable drainage systems, or ‘SuDs’, living walls, green roofs, and urban forestry, to name a few.

The aims of green infrastructure include better managing stormwater and flooding, reducing heat stress on the environment, improving water quality, and boosting wellbeing – both physical and mental – in urban spaces.

It might seem relatively simple. After all, it’s only natural to look for shade and respite in parks as temperatures rise. But many cities are struggling to finance the planting schemes scientists so often call for.

The knock-on benefit of extra trees, planting, and greenery is far reaching. Improving air quality, absorbing rain water, improving mental health – these ‘co-benefits’ go beyond the short term and make a case for further integrating green infrastructure, wherever possible.

A calm refuge

We’ve known and understood the importance of urban parks in helping reduce the risks of mental health problems.

This is evidenced by calls to expand ‘green social prescribing’. The aim of which is to encourage more people to take park walks and involve themselves in gardening schemes – ultimately reducing strain on the NHS and helping public health.

New parks are, of course, very hard for crowded and growing cities to create. Instead, new green infrastructure projects are looking at improving the existing built environment.

Creating green spaces for everyone

The recent regeneration of the Kings Cross area in London provides a great example of new green infrastructure. 

The development has focused on extensive planting, seating areas, nature regeneration, water features, and cycle parking to provide a green and open space in the heart of the city.

Camley street nature reserve just across the canal uses centuries old land once used for coal deliveries – now transformed into a haven for wildlife in the centre of London.

Similarly, on London’s formerly traffic clogged and busy Aldwych/Strand, redesigned garden areas and planting are surrounded by high quality seating and table options.

Benches, planters, picnic tables – they all make a big difference in completing green infrastructure projects. 

A worthwhile investment, then?

Both the Strand and Kings Cross projects have been meticulously designed and thought out. Green infrastructure, perhaps more so than traditional paving and drainage, requires long-term planning to get the best results.

Without stating the obvious, trees and plants grow. They also require care and attention, particularly in the early stages of planting. Without regular watering, you run the risk of creating muddy eyesores rather than green havens.

And while maintenance is important, if looked after correctly green infrastructure can transform the urban landscape, adding myriad benefits for years to come.

Our green roof bike shelters and high quality street furniture help contribute to important green infrastructure projects across the UK & Ireland. Get in touch with us today to find out more.

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