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Six international cities with outstanding green infrastructure

Top Green cities

Six international cities with outstanding green infrastructure

Green infrastructure and urban sustainability are becoming increasingly high priorities for cities all around the world, however some are already streets ahead. Here are six of the top cities who are leading the pack.


  1. Singapore

Now known as one of Asia’s greenest cities, Singapore’s water supplies were once so scarce that they had to import water from Malaysia. However, Singapore has since turned things around, making two-thirds of the city’s hard surfaces rainwater catchments, which deposit water to 18 reservoirs.

Other sustainability systems include advanced water purification and recycling processes, a driverless metro and environmentally-friendly meeting venues.


  1. Stockholm

Stockholm in Sweden became the first European Green Capital in 2010, thanks to an administrative system that makes sustainability a priority. In Stockholm, eco-taxis get preferred placement at the front of taxi ranks, while more than 700 kilometers of bike lanes and a community bicycle rental program encourage people to cycle rather than drive.

Stockholm even has an official ‘eco-district’, located in Hammarby Sjöstad. Its goal is to halve the carbon footprint of a typical city, by providing residents with gas and electricity from renewable sources, as well as houses made from raw materials.


  1. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach is ranked second on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of mid-sized cities with the most buildings that also received the ENERGY STAR rating for energy efficiency.

The city has a strong focus on school-related sustainability, with the Virginia Beach public school system being the only K-12 division to receive a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, which recognises continual efforts made toward conservation.


  1. Portland, OR

When Portland residents voted in the 2018 midterm elections, they favoured a ballot initiative that imposed a one percent tax for large corporations. The revenue generated by this initiative will go toward supporting change minimisation strategies in the city.

Earlier in 2018, Portland also made single-family home owners responsible for disclosing their home’s energy efficiency rating (measured by a professional assessment) before putting their home on the market. This allows potential buyers to make more informed purchasing decisions, while also encouraging sellers to make their homes more sustainable.


  1. Boston, MA

Boston’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and the city is also working towards a zero-waste goal. The climate change plan involves planting trees to help absorb floodwaters that could result from worsening storms, plus looking at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by giving residents sustainable transportation options.

In Boston, there are nearly 200 bicycle rental stations. The city is also considering how to accommodate more electric vehicles by installing more convenient charging points.


  1. Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver is the third most sustainable North American city, according to data published in 2017. Notable green initiatives include the Tap Map app, which helps people find places to refill their reusable water bottles. In 2015, Vancouver also banned organic materials from landfills, encouraging people to recycle their food scraps.

In terms of urban buildings, Vancouver has a particularly eco-friendly landscape and scores a higher-than-average rating for walkability. That means fewer vehicles, less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint.


Darwin to increase tree canopy in response to Cyclone Marcus

Darwin to increase tree canopy in response to Cyclone Marcus

Darwin Council has set a lofty long-term goal to cover half of the CBD in natural tree canopy by 2030. The plan comes in response to a report into the aftermath of Cyclone Marcus, which claimed more than 10,000 trees in early 2018.

The report, prepared by the Tree Re-establishment Committee (TRAC), focuses on developing an urban forest management plan, and is supported by Darwin Lord Mayor Kon Vatskalis.

“We want to plant as many trees as possible, create a canopy over the streets and cool down the city,” he said.

“(TRAC) had the look at the report from the cyclone … they also had a look at reports in other places where trees caused destruction and looked at which ones fell down and which ones stayed up,” he said, adding that TRAC also returned a list of 194 trees that were suitable to the local environment.

While the Mayor advised that major plans would start rolling out in early 2019, members of the local community have already embarked on replanting projects to breathe new life back into Darwin. In November 2018, one key location in each of Darwin’s council wards was targeted for a ‘replanting day’, with several replanting days scheduled since.

“The community planting days are a great way for the community to come together and help council get areas that were severely affected by Cyclone Marcus started on their recovery and bring areas back to life with new trees” said Lord Mayor Vatskalis.

He also said that, while efforts would continue well into the future, the replanting projects were a wonderful start and would allow Darwin residents to get a better understanding and appreciation of the extent of Cyclone Marcus’ damage.

“Replanting will be ongoing for many years to establish a diverse and resilient urban forest. I encourage local residents of all ages to come along and help rejuvenate these spaces.”


Swinburne trials world-first urban forest management project

The sensors in the instrumented trees at CERES provide constant, real-time watering data.

Swinburne trials world-first urban forest management project

A new pilot program led by Swinburne is using water-sensor technology to better manage urban forests in Melbourne.

Dr Scott Rayburg, Swinburne Water Resources Engineering senior lecturer, and his team have joined forces with ICT International and RMIT University to install $31,000 worth of tree water sensors at CERES Community Environment Park – a not-for-profit sustainability centre located in the inner-city suburb of East Brunswick.

The sensors are designed to create stronger, healthier urban forests. They also enable park managers and members of the community to track the progress of trees via online platforms that provide real-time data on water use and water stress.

During the pilot, data will be collected via sensors attached to the trees. It will be used to determine the most suitable species for current and future climates. It will also allow forest managers to determine how much water to apply to their trees, and when.

Dr. Rayburg says, “The project is transformational. Instead of trees dying at 80 years of age because they are spending their whole lives in water stress, they’ll live to be two or three or maybe even four hundred years old. That matters because when we lose a tree in an urban landscape we lose habitat, we lose cooling, we lose a part of ourselves, and people have a really visceral connection to trees.”

He also notes that this project is the first of its kind in the world, saying “These sensors have previously been used in agriculture and plant biology, but never before in an urban forest management setting.”

The sensors are the first stage in this pioneering project, which plans to go one step further with an app that allows the trees to ‘talk’.

“The City of Melbourne has a platform called Urban Forest Visual that allows people to send an email to a tree and then somebody from the City of Melbourne responds to the email,” Dr Rayburg says. “This has been really popular, which demonstrates the desire people have to interact with nature, even in cities.”

“We want to take this to the next level; instead of a person responding, we want the tree to respond.”

The proposed app will allow members of the community to contact a tree and ask how it’s going. Using the real time watering data, the tree will send back an instant response which might confirm its feeling healthy, or even ask for some water.

The hope is that the app will get more people engaged with Melbourne’s urban forest and tree health, taking some pressure off local councils.

Main image: The sensors in the instrumented trees (as pictured) at CERES provide constant, real-time watering data.


Urban Daydreaming exhibition in Hong Kong: How trees bring joy to the urban jungle

Hong Kong Urban Daydreaming Seminar

Urban Daydreaming exhibition in Hong Kong: How trees bring joy to the urban jungle

When it comes to designing cities, urban planners focus on practicality. There’s rarely room for poetry or romanticism. However, French industrial design duo, Ronan Bouroullec and his brother Erwan, believe these qualities are vitally important. That’s why they’ve produced a range of 14 scale models expressing their vision for contemporary, tree-clad urban environments.

In Hong Kong to open their acclaimed Urban Daydreaming exhibition at the Hong Kong Design Institute, Ronan Bouroullec explained how incorporating trees, nature, shadows and water features into urban design can encourage people to pause and think.

“What makes the quality of a city?” asks Bouroullec. “Of course, that it works technically – that is very important, but it’s the charm and the dreams and the relation between constructions and trees. And I think it needs to be considered more seriously. And I think probably the success of this exhibition explains this need to find solutions to integrate nature in a new way, because we all always agree on the fact that we miss nature.”

Urban Daydreaming includes thought provoking models such as “Clouds” – a floating garden that creates a roof for an urban promenade, adding plants to the cityscape while also casting shadows on those who walk in its passage.
Urban Daydreaming Seminar

Another innovative design, “Turnstiles”, incorporates a turning platform in a street. “You are walking in the street and at a certain point you find yourself on this platform that is turning. It’s about cutting your habits,” says Bouroullec.

Before making its debut in Asia, Urban Daydreaming was first exhibited at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. It then went on a tour of Europe. Since then, various cities have already embraced the designs.

“Clouds” was the first to be realised, and now features in the Miami Design District. The brothers have also been chosen to revive six historic fountains on the Champs Elysées in Paris, which will feature intricate bronze and crystal trees when unveiled next spring. However, the designers also see huge potential for greener solutions in Asia.

Before visiting Hong Kong to open Urban Daydreaming, Bouroullec was in Japan, where he identified a need for more nature in Tokyo and Kyoto. “It’s really divided,” he says of the split between city and nature in those cities.

One of the simplest ways to fuse nature and urban design in cities like Tokya, Bouroullec suggests, is “Vines”, a jungle-like design for pathways canopied by climbing plants spread between masts – an idea inspired by Asian cities where tangled electricity cables hang in a mess.

Urban Daydreaming Seminar

“Extract from this the idea that you have urban lighting and then chains and from that there are holes in the ground and, depending on the city, using good plants that grow in it, and it’s not a big investment,” says Bouroullec.

“These are simple principles,” he adds. “Travelling in certain cities I find it extremely hard, and it’s linked partially to our way of living, but also to tough environments. I don’t pretend that we will save the city with this project, but it can produce a bit of joy and a smile.”

Urban Daydreaming is on display at d-mart, HKDI & IVE (LWL), 3 King Ling Road, Tseung Kwan O, until 17 February 2019.



Councils in Auckland and Sydney tackle urban tree decline

Councils tackle urban tree decline

Councils in Auckland and Sydney tackle urban tree decline

Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council and the Waitemata District Council in New Zealand might be oceans apart, but they do share a common concern – the decline of their urban tree canopy due to growing populations and overdevelopment.

Research conducted by Greater Sydney Commission in 2017 showed that some of Sydney’s leafiest areas including Warringah, Hornsby and Willoughby have seen the highest percentage of loss in their urban tree canopy.

Similarly, Waitemata, just north of Auckland in New Zealand, has lost almost 13,000 trees between 2006 and 2016, due to increased private land ownership and high development rates. To combat the decline of their urban forests, local governments are exploring new ways to revive urban greenery in cities.


Auckland greening initiatives

Auckland City Council has launched a new program called ‘urban ngahere,’ meaning ‘network of trees’, which aims to increase city greenery by up to 30 per cent. The program coordinates planting initiatives with members of the local community – like schools, farmers, developers and social groups – to plant and maintain trees across Auckland. These efforts are complimented by a three-pronged strategy that includes interpreting data around tree loss, growing canopy and protecting trees from pests and diseases.

John Mauro, the council’s chief sustainability officer, said that Auckland is one of many large cities under pressure to protect trees against overdevelopment, population growth and other factors like climate change.

“A healthy urban forest enriches our communities, our local economies and our natural environment. Auckland cannot become a world-class city without a great urban forest,” he said.

“Some of the key challenges to our urban forest that we are monitoring include; population growth and urbanisation, ongoing issues with weed and pest control, diseases such as kauri dieback and myrtle rust and factors caused by climate change,” Mr Mauro said.

Another exciting initiative in New Zealand is the Million Trees project, which aims to plant one million native trees and scrubs across Auckland in three years. This partnership between Mayor Phil Goff and the New Zealand Department of Corrections has already facilitated the planting of 750,000 trees to date, with inmates managing tree planting and maintenance.


Sydney greening initiatives

Across the sea, the Sydney Northern Beaches’ Council has joined Auckland City Council in exploring innovative ways to counteract development and increase urban tree canopy.

Compelled by a recent population boom, the council has launched a draft Urban Tree Canopy Plan to protect tree cover in the Sydney Metropolitan area. The plan aims to ease the impacts of Sydney’s growing population by planting 5,000 new trees each year, plus introducing an offset program that will plant two new trees for every one that is removed.

Michael Regan, Northern Beaches Mayor, said the plan will be supported monitoring the tree population, and encouraging support from the Sydney community.

“The immediate focus will be on collating accurate baseline data to allow us to monitor the actions of the plan and ultimately measure how successful we are in protecting and maintaining a healthy and diverse canopy cover,” he said.

“Engaging our community in protecting and enhancing our urban trees will also be a critical factor in achieving the objectives of the Urban Tree Canopy Plan.”


Did you know Melbourne has an entire map dedicated to urban trees?

Melbourne urban trees

Did you know Melbourne has an entire map dedicated to urban trees?

Contrary to many major cities, Melbourne is home to a vast array of street trees. The urban jungle that is the Melbourne CBD is lined with an actual jungle of sorts, with leafy trees and green parks populating the inner city. If you’ve ever been enchanted by Melbourne’s street trees and wondered where you can learn more about them, prepare to be captivated by an online map that’s dedicated to the city’s trees.

The Urban Forest Visual is an interactive, online map that marks every single tree in Melbourne’s key urban areas. As well as naming the genus each tree belongs to, the map also lists details about each tree’s overall health and life expectancy. For example, the map shows many healthy London plane trees located near the State Library of Victoria. However, a few blocks down at the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street, the London plane trees aren’t fairing as well.

You can use the map to look up tree data for the whole of the Melbourne CBD, as well as surrounding suburbs including Carlton, Docklands, Kensington, Parkville, Flemington and South Yarra. You can filter the map depending on whether you want to see street trees or park trees – and you can even email individual trees if you need to report something.

If you’re keen to see what the future holds for street trees in Melbourne, you can access a detailed tree planting schedule via the website. Each Urban Forest Precinct Plan includes a map showing when urban forest planting will occur in each street over the next 10 years. The tree planting roadmap shows when each street will be planted and what the scope of planting will be. In some streets, tree planting might be limited, while other streets may include intensive planting as part of a redevelopment project. Detail about the factors considered to develop the planting schedule is included in each local Precinct Plan.

Check out the tree planting schedule and find out everything you’ve always wanted to know about your favourite Melbourne street trees by visiting the Urban Forest Visual website.



Amazing eco-tech innovations from Singapore Green Building Week

Eco-tech Innovations | Singapore

Amazing eco-tech innovations from Singapore Green Building Week

During Singapore Green Building Week 2018, more than 12,000 policy makers and professionals from 31 countries gathered for the Build Eco Xpo. The purpose of the event was to showcase solutions to help the built environment withstand rising challenges – like congestion, air pollution, rising temperatures, flooding and insecurity.

With Asia’s annual urban growth rate of 2.7% per year being nearly 27% greater than the global average, technology was a key focus of the event. Innovators showcased groundbreaking technologies that will help Asia’s built environment to thrive in a future shaped by climate change. Here are two of the best technologies that caught the eye of urban experts.


GraviPlant horizontal trees

Sideways-growing trees that appear to cheat gravity were a talking point at the Build Eco Xpo. Biologist Dr Alina Schick, managing director of Visioverdis, the German firm behind GraviPlant, explained how the trees are planted in pots clamped to the sides of buildings. The pots rotate, ‘tricking’ the trees into growing sideways.

Because they are continuously revolving, Visioverdis’ trees are exposed to more sunlight than ordinary trees. As a result, they are much bushier, with double the biomass of regular trees. That means they can filter more pollutants from the air, fix more carbon and produce more oxygen. They also have a cooling effect. In fact, according to Schick, a building adorned with greenery is about twice as cool as a concrete surface.

In terms of energy expenditure, you might think these trees would be expensive. However, Schick explains how the benefits offset the costs. “A single unit uses 30 watts of power from a computer that automates rotation, irrigation and lighting. But that’s offset by the cooling effect of the trees”, Schick says.


The PHI 1080 – A solar-powered sustainable canopy

The PHI 1080 is a multi-purpose sustainable canopy developed by Indian entrepreneurs Priya Vakil Choksi and Samit Choksi. The canopy not only provides shade and solar-powered lighting, it also harvests rainwater and even charges your phone while you sit under it.

The canopy’s mast contains USB ports for charging, but its main function is as a filter for cleaning rainwater that funnels down. The mast is linked to an underground plumbing network, which can draw on the rainwater when needed. It features intelligent controls that automatically adjust the lighting levels, depending on the time of the day, plus a window that allows passers-by to view the rainwater harvesting process.

Yap Su Chii, director of food-saving non-government group ZeroWaste Food, said “The PHI 1080 canopy looks deceivingly simple. But it incorporates sustainable design elements such as harnessing solar and rainwater. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it is functional and can be easily installed anywhere and everywhere.”

Singapore’s futuristic horticulture park will be the first place outside of India that will feature the PHI 1080.

PHI 1080 canopy

World Forum on Urban Forests: Call for trees to shape city planning

Designs for new urban park – Melbourne

World Forum on Urban Forests: Call for trees to shape city planning

The first World Forum on Urban Forests will be held in Mantua, Italy from 28 November to 1 December 2018. This inaugural event will bring together experts from around the world – including urban foresters, arborists, planners, scientists, landscape architects and many other stakeholders – to discuss how to make cities greener, healthier and happier.

As well as launching long-term collaborations around the development of sustainable cities, the Forum will provide a perfect setting to showcase the best nature-based solutions that can be applied to urban environments. It will also be catalyst for calls to action, which have already begun in the lead up to the Forum.

Stefano Boeri, the architect behind Vertical Forests, is urging planners around the world to consider urban forestry as a core element of all city planning projects. Boeri, whose Milan-based architecture studio is making an impact in the sustainable building space, is best known for the incredible Vertical Forest project in Milan – a pair of award-winning twin towers covered in scrubs and floral plants. This project has become a model for ecological residential building, and Boeri now wants to engage all architects, designers and planners to integrate green spaces into their projects.

Boeri’s vision is for more than just sustainable architecture. It includes incorporating trees, gardens and woods as essential components for all projects. As well as providing visual beauty, urban trees bring many benefits that improve quality of life. These benefits include reducing CO2 emissions, improving air quality and protecting biodiversity.

Recent research shows that forests and trees absorb one fifth of carbon emissions produced by cities worldwide. Similarly, leaves and roots help reduce pollutants which contribute to respiratory diseases that kill 7 million people a year globally, according to the World Health Organisation. With around two thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, now is the time to start imagining new, greener urban landscapes. Particularly since urban areas currently account for more than 70% of global greenhouse emissions, despite covering only 2% of the world’s landmass.

“If a single tree can bring great benefits to the city and its inhabitants, an urban forest can be an extraordinary help to improve the quality of health and life in a city”, Boeri says.

Boeri will be one of many experts speaking at the World Forum for Urban Forestry. For more information on the Forum, visit the official website.

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