Rapid urban development destroys biodiversity, cars and industrialisation leads to excess carbon in the atmosphere polluting air and waterways, and concrete — the second most used material for building — ruins soil, upends species and traps harmful gases.
Cities — and how they’re designed — therefore have an important role to play in the battle against climate change. Nature-based Solutions (NBS), long-term, cost-effective policy solutions that solve urban planning challenges by using nature itself, may be cities’ best defence.
Here are four unique ways city governments are using NBS to curb the contribution urban development makes to climate change.
Milan, Italy: Urban greening to cool the city
Known as the fashion capital of the world, Milan has applied its sophisticated design mentality to buildings and city streets through urban greening.
Expanding green infrastructure projects, which fuse natural elements such as trees, gardens and plants into buildings and other “grey infrastructure” was the core focus of Carta of Milan — the city’s environmental plan devised in 2013.
Mayor Giuseppe “Beppe” Sala, has continued the tradition of using NBS as a way to mitigate the effects of climate change since he assumed office in 2016. For the last year and a half, the city government, in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, has been planting trees in the neighbourhoods with the hottest temperatures.
The government is using satellite imagery to create a heatmap to target the hottest areas of Milan and then plant trees on sidewalks, streets and exposed pavement.
The trees help cool neighbourhoods by shading pavements that trap heat — bringing temperatures down by 5 degrees celsius.
Trees also reduce air pollution by filtering out toxic air through their leaves.
Sala has committed to planting 3 million trees, more than double Milan’s current 1.4 million-strong human population, by 2030.
Melbourne, Australia: Species conservation and management to encourage biodiversity
The city of Melbourne is home to over 239 species of birds, 12 species of reptiles, 18 species of mammals, 31 species of fish and over 1500 species of insects, all of which play an important role in shaping the natural environment.
The government’s vision is to improve the environment and wellbeing of the city by using NBS. One priority is to protect and increase biodiversity and encourage species and habitat growth through conservation and species management by 2027.
One activity includes restoring native vegetation by creating native action plans with partners to protect species and vegetation sites to enhance biodiversity.
The government also plans to find innovative solutions to build wildlife into infrastructure projects such as green roofs and laneways.
Berlin, Germany: Using citizen engagement to restore public land
Deliberations from a public forum and online dialogue, in which 68,000 people took part, developed into a call for ideas for what to do with the space, which ultimately led to a citizen referendum where the park garnered enough votes to be selected.
From decreasing the risk of asthma to reducing stress, studies reveal that nature has the ability to improve human health.
Old airstrips at Tempelhof are now outfitted with plants, trees, and big patches of meadows so people can spend more time in nature.
The 100% Tempelhofer Feld Group, a citizen group formed to manage the grounds and conserve the biodiversity of the park, emerged from the initiative to prevent development of the park.
Shanghai, China: Becoming a “Sponge City” for flood prevention
Rapid urban development in Shanghai has led to more concrete than green space, but in the Linghaou district, the local government is trying to reverse the trend.
As an extension of the original 16 city-wide Sponge City initiative launched in 2015, Shanghai began its own pilot of the project in 2017.
Influenced by severe flooding in Beijing, the project was launched to curb flooding and replace traditional drainage systems by replacing concrete sidewalks with permeable pavements, building rain gardens on streets and installing rooftop gardens.
Green infrastructure such as permeable sidewalks, allows water to filter directly through to the soil, creating greater soil health. The “sponge” features also prevent flooding by absorbing water and preventing stormwater runoff to flow into drainage systems and waterways.
The pilots will be considered a success if 70% of stormwater runoff is captured, reused or absorbed by the ground by 2020. – Amelia Axelsen
(Picture credit: Pixabay)