Investment in green infrastructure grows along with Scotland’s population

Scotland Green Infrastructure

Scotland’s population is growing at record rates, with most people residing in the central belt and high-density urban areas. To cater for the increase in city living, mixed-use properties have become more common as developers seek to maximise land. While the built environment boosts the economy and provides more living options, it comes at the cost of green spaces.

Urban greenery offers a range of benefits, including minimising air pollution, combating climate change, and enhancing mental health. Plus, it’s aesthetically pleasing and makes shared spaces more inviting. To ensure quality of life is maintained in urban areas, government and local authorities are proposing major investment to make Scotland’s cities greener than ever.

Two funds – the Green Infrastructure Fund and the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund – have already provided a combined £15 million for rejuvenating urban areas with poor quality green space. These funds will be used to preserve and develop natural spaces in and around city areas, including ponds, reservoirs, sports grounds, parks, gardens and cycle lanes.

For example, the £2 million landscaping project at Countesswells Woods in Aberdeen will create sought after green space for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and is a prime example of how thoughtful engineering can create sustainable living spaces for a whole community.

Thanks to these pioneering projects, more planners, architects, civil engineers and developers are beginning to realise the true potential of green infrastructure, especially when linked to a considerate stormwater management design. For decades, the approach to rainwater in urban areas of Scotland was to manage water away from buildings. However, as major cities continue to thrive, there’s a collective shift towards harnessing water as a resource to keep Scotland green.


U.S. non-profit generates private funding for urban trees

Washington Park Arboretum

Despite evidence that urban trees offer a diverse range of benefits – from improving air and water quality to reducing energy costs, improving human health, and even storing carbon – they are disappearing at an alarming rate from cities across the U.S.

A recent paper by two Forest Service scientists reports that 36 millions trees are lost each year in U.S. metropolitan areas. The reasons are largely financial, with many municipalities unable to find enough money to finance green projects. It’s been reported there’s a growing recognition of the inequity of tree-canopy distribution in U.S cities, with vast cover in wealthy areas and far fewer trees in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Add to this the difficulties posed by drought and increased temperatures due to climate change, and it’s clear to see why urban trees are suffering.

However, good news is on the horizon. To help find more funding for urban trees, some local governments, including Austin, Texas, and King County, Washington are running pilot projects with a non-profit organisation called City Forest Credits (CFC) in Seattle. The projects are generating funding for city tree canopies from private companies and individuals who wish to offset their carbon emissions. These companies and individuals buy credits for tree planting or preservation, contributing to greener urban environments.

The credits generated from these projects “are specifically catered to the urban environment and the unique challenges and possibilities there, so they differ from traditional carbon credits,” said Ian Leahy, a member of the CFC protocol board, and Director of Urban Forestry Programs at American Forests – a non-profit conservation group.

Zach Baumer, Climate Program Manager for the City of Austin, and fellow member of the CFC board, said, “I think the work is innovative and potentially game-changing. To harness the market to create environmental benefits in cities is a great thing.”

To be eligible for new carbon credits, city tree projects must follow official procedures for urban forests. These include rules covering specific factors like the location and duration of a project, and how the carbon will be quantified.


City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Fund transforming concrete jungles into green oases

Melbourne skyline river

The Urban Heat Island Effect is real, with daily temperatures in Melbourne projected to rise 3.8C above existing records by the end of the century – even hitting a sweltering 50C on some days. As our cities get hotter, green spaces are becoming an increasingly-important approach to cooling our concrete jungles.

In one such initiative, the City of Melbourne is now offering predominantly ratepayer-funded grants for owners wanting to green private land. Kensington resident, Milla Mihailova, is a keen environmentalist, so when she saw an opportunity to make her apartment complex greener she jumped at the chance. With support from neighbours, residents have transformed their outdoor space with small vegetable gardens at the 45-unit complex. The design includes 1500 new plants, 34 planter boxes, stormwater harvesting and a large vertical garden which insulates adjoining apartments. After pitching the idea to the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Fund they received a $100,000 grant to be matched dollar for dollar by residents.

Milla said, “We live in a very concrete environment and living so close to the city we’re really limited in our own green spaces. To be able to get all that greenery and help the environment, it seemed like a great opportunity. I’m really excited to see it come to fruition because I think it will make such a difference to how we use our space and create more of a feeling of a neighbourly, friendly environment instead of just a passageway where people don’t really say hello.”

The City of Melbourne’s environment spokeswoman, Councillor Cathy Oke, said private property represented 73 per cent of all land in the municipality. “Encouraging greening on private property … is the next step to expanding our urban forest and increasing green space and canopy cover.”

The second round of the Urban Forest Fund will be open for applications from August 27 until October 22. Grants range from $25,000 to $500,000 which must be matched by residents. To date, the fund has received $1 million from the City of Melbourne and a $215,000 contribution from VicRoads. There are plans to grow it to a $10 million fund over the next four years through a combination of council money and contributions from organisations and individuals.


New Toronto skyscraper to house 450 urban trees

vertical forest

Toronto, Canada, is a city that should be commended for giving its urban canopy the attention it deserves. It’s already home to 10 million urban trees, covering around 26% of the city. But why stop there? Mayor, John Tory, wants to grow that to 40%.

A new 27-storey residential building, designed by local architecture firm, Brisbin Brook Beynon (BBB), will make a big contribution to this goal – albeit in an unconventional way. The apartment building will be covered with around 450 trees growing on its balconies and rooves – cleaning up the surrounding air and providing a fertile environment for pollinators and humans alike.

This vertical forest takes inspiration from the Bosco Verticale residential towers built in Milan in 2014 and housing up to 11,000 plants on its sides. Since then, we’ve seen other similar buildings in cities like Nanjing and Taiwan leveraging vertical and horizontal roof space to create much-needed urban greenery.

Brian Brisbin, Principal at BBB, said bringing the vertical forest concept to Toronto aligned perfectly with the mayor’s goal of increasing tree coverage. In fact, the technology that enabled the Bosco Verticale building to come to life actually originated in Canada and North America. Brisbin said, “We have a lot of depth of specialty in this area in Toronto, with horticultural and agricultural universities and research facilities and we’ve brought a lot of this together to take a very science-based approach to developing this project.”

A specialized system will monitor and irrigate all 450 trees, which will be planted in their own portable woven stainless steel planters. The integrated system will connect with all of the planters to track key metrics such as the amount of water, nutrient density and external conditions like wind strength.

While covering buildings in trees will not be enough to achieve Toronto’s urban canopy goals alone, projects like this certainly deliver clear benefits like cleaner air and more space for birds and pollinator species to work their magic.


Hong Kong Polytechnic University launches new project to monitor urban tree stability

urban tree stability - Hong Kong

Urban trees need structural stability to survive strong winds and weather events. But how do we assess the stability of tree roots and therefore the tree itself? Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently kicked off the Jockey Smart City Tree Management Project. This large-scale project will tailor-make and install sensors on the lower trunks of selected urban trees to monitor their tilting angle in a 3-dimensional manner. Leveraging smart sensing technology (SST) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the project will monitor urban tree stability to enhance timely mitigation measures to increase urban tree longevity.

Dr Miranda Lou, Executive Vice President of PolyU, said, “Committed to the pursuit for application-oriented research, PolyU researchers will apply smart sensing technology and Geographic Information Systems for monitoring tree stability. Our vision of establishing this system is to facilitate green management in the city for longer tree lives, so as to further improve our air quality for enhancing the living environment for the local community.”

Ir Hon Chi-keung, JP, Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) of HKSAR Development Bureau, said, “This project is a good opportunity to showcase Hong Kong’s positive attitude towards innovative technologies and technology applications. Through the close co-operation between the tree management departments and the project teams, an effective tree monitoring system will be established to enhance the tree management works in all aspects, enabling the continual development of Hong Kong into a safe and liveable city.”

Data collected will be used for a quantifiable analysis of the trees’ root plate movement and then a threshold developed based on numerous environmental factors. When the tilting angle of a tree exceeds the threshold, the project team will be alerted to conduct a visit to verify the data for the purpose of calibrating the system. When considered necessary, it will also inform the relevant tree management team to undertake actions in a timely manner.

Commencing in February 2018, approximately 8000 urban trees across the territory will be monitored over a 3-year period. Through early notification and response, the project aims to increase longevity of invaluable urban trees in Hong Kong.


Study finds London’s trees may absorb as much carbon as tropical rainforests

green park london

In dense urban cities like London, city parks are beloved for the green space and respite they provide. They also help to keep the heat island effect in check by absorbing carbon dioxide. In fact, a study published in Carbon Balance and Management found that urban forests in London may be storing as much carbon as tropical rainforests.

One of the researchers of the study, Mathias Disney, said, “Urban trees are particularly effective at absorbing carbon dioxide because they are located so close to sources such as fossil fuel-burning transport and industrial activity.”

To determine just how good the trees in Camden are at absorbing carbon dioxide, Disney and his fellow researchers at University College London (UCL) set out to measure the trees in the London borough of Camden. Using airborne LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scans of trees combined with LIDAR scans conducted on the ground, the researchers not only estimated the biomass of the 85,000 trees in Camden but also created a formula to predict the differences in size-to-mass ratios between urban and non-urban trees. In areas such as Hampstead Heath, researchers found trees store up to 178 tonnes of carbon per hectare (t/ha) in comparison to the median value for tropical rainforests of 190 tonnes t/ha. Camden is also a particularly carbon-heavy borough.

So, there’s a lot of carbon to soak up and trees are just the organisms to do it – making them hugely valuable. According to a UCL press statement about the study, Treenomics estimates that the environmental value of Greater London’s trees is around £133 million a year ($176 million), with their carbon storage capacity worth around £4.8 million a year.

Disney said, “This may equate to less than £20 a year per tree, but the real value may be much higher, given how hard it is to quantify the wider benefits of trees and how long they live. The cost of replacing a large, mature tree is many tens of thousands of pounds, and replacing it with one or more small saplings means you won’t see the equivalent net benefit for many decades after.”

All the more reason to give urban trees the best possible start with enough uncompacted soil and room to grow, ensuring their longevity for years to come.


Water sensitive urban design could stem future flooding in Hobart

water sensitive urban design - Singleton

Australia’s island state, Hobart, is well known for its history of catastrophic fires, including the disastrous wildfires of 1897-98 and 1967. As the second-driest city in Australia, it’s easy to forget though that Hobart is also vulnerable to serious flooding. Until earlier this month that is, when a record 236.2mm of rain fell on Mount Wellington and 129.2mm fell in Hobart. The deluge flooded the city, with the Hobart Rivulet breaking its banks and flooding other lower lying areas in Sandy Bay, South Hobart, New Town, Lenah Valley and Kingston. In Hobart, cars were swept away in Collins St and Syme St and McRobies Rd in South Hobart.

Hobart’s closeness to nature and surrounding hilly terrain makes the city especially prone to wildfire and flash-flooding. But, the May 2018 flooding is also partly attributable to the city’s postwar planning. Like the rest of Australia, city planning in Hobart was dominated by, “a disconnection from nature. Creeks and streams were filled in, built over or walled off (taming nature), creating risks of catastrophic failure in unexpected conditions. This approach also overlooked the important ecological functions of watercourses.”

Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worst as Hobart expands, with houses, roads and buildings increasing the hardscaped area and decreasing green cover, which acts like a sponge. Planners now must apply water-sensitive urban design principles, including protecting floodplains from development, limiting the development of very steep land, and restricting land uses on flood-prone sites. Separately, thought must be given to the development of the urban forest – planting urban trees and carefully incorporating water sensitive urban design to better manage stormwater runoff. Good planning can help prevent future disasters and keep Hobart’s residents out of harm’s way.


New “Sydney Modern” gallery plans updated to prioritise green space

Sydney green space

Modifications will be made to the Art Gallery of NSW’s new “Sydney Modern” wing after two thirds of public submissions to Planning NSW criticised the design. The most notable criticism of the planned $344 million development was the lack of trees and open green space.

The modern wing – a series of pavilions to be built on the hill to the north east of the existing gallery opposite the Botanical Gardens – will now also feature natural stone cladding to complement the Sydney sandstone of the existing 1909 Walter Liberty Vernon gallery building and make the new wing less conspicuous.

Concerns raised by nearly 200 people and organisations attacked the loss of open green space in the city as something that could not be reversed. In a submission, the Eastwood Evening Garden Club said a meeting of its 100 members had decided to oppose the expansion because of the destruction of trees and open space. At a time of global warming, green areas needed to be protected without “adding to our increasing ‘cement city’,” it said.

The gallery’s revised proposal will covert parking spaces into open space, create more green roof space and feature a central public lawn in a proposed Art Garden. The gallery also promised to remove only 124 trees (versus 141) and plant 273 new trees, including more mature specimens.


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