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Tree-clad vertical tower proposed for Toronto, Canada

vertical forest - Toronto Canada
A rendering for the proposed 27-storey Designers Walk building in Toronto.
It’s part of an international movement in creating vertical urban forests.

Toronto architects Brisbin Brook Beynon have designed plans for a ground-breaking tower featuring more than 450 urban trees. The difference between this building and others is that none of the trees will be potted. Instead, they will form a vertical forest, fusing the natural outdoors with indoor spaces.

According to architect Brian Brisbin, “A vertical forest is really like a hillside. It’s not potted plants on a decorated building. The building is really a host, like a hillside”, he said.

The proposed building will have over 450 trees, with irrigation, fertilizing and monitoring systems all built into the structure. Each tree will have its own computerised ID and will be monitored by an offsite control system. Sensors reading irrigation and nutrient levels will also be fitted, as its anticipated that each tree will have different needs, depending on where it’s situated.

The building will be the first of its kind in Canada and is being planned for a plot next to Designers Walk – an area of offices for architects and designers at the intersection of the Annex and Yorkville Neighbourhoods.

The development application is currently with the City of Toronto, and the innovative design has everyone talking. It draws on what people want to see (more trees than glass and steel) and what cities want to achieve (buildings that benefit the urban climate, rather than contribute to the heat-island effect). It also breaks down traditional barriers between nature and the built environment.

“Twenty-five years ago, awareness of the heat-island effect, storm-water management and green roofs wasn’t that profound, because the consequences hadn’t quite been as clear,” Mr. Brisbin said. A traditional glass and steel condo does “absolutely zero for the heat-island effect of our cities. It’s doing nothing for the green canopy, oxygen, carbon dioxide. So our approach is literally nature and its relationship to an urban environment, and how it’s going to survive the heat-island effect and carbon footprint,” he added.

The design also solves the complex problem of creating more tree canopies while contending with space and budget challenges. “You simply can’t increase the city’s canopy by 30 to 40 per cent [by planting trees] on the sidewalk. So, we have to look at a solution that’s vertical,” Mr. Brisbin said.

While the proposed building has clear aesthetic and environmental benefits for the City of Toronto, Mr Brisbin sees potential for something bigger – a new micro-industry of tree-clad technology that could be applied to other buildings.

“We’re trying to set a standard with a team here,” he said, indicating that it could become a new arm of consulting, to create a fully sustainable micro-climate exterior, “not a decorated building with potted plants.”

The developers for the proposed tower are Cityzen Development Group, who are best known for the head-turning “Marilyn Monroe” condo towers in Mississauga. This is going to be one to watch.


Australia’s first urban forestry school is coming to Melbourne

Melbourne's urban forest

The City of Melbourne has joined forces with the prestigious University of Melbourne to create a new study program on urban forestry. The inaugural Australian School of Forestry will be held from 11–16 November 2018. It is the first course of its kind in Australia – and one of few study programs in the world dedicated to understanding and preserving urban forests.

The program offers an interactive learning experience delivered by some of Australia’s leading urban forest practitioners and researchers. It will explore environmental and social issues impacting urban forests, and how cities can continue to enjoy healthy street trees in the face of increasing challenges.

In terms of delivery and structure, the program will include a combination of skills-based workshops, case studies and field visits, during which participants will be introduced to real-world challenges facing urban forestry. It is suitable for all professionals in the urban greenspace industry, community advocacy, environmental health, and policy management with a desire to develop their skills and knowledge in the multi-disciplinary field of urban forestry.

The program was introduced by Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, who spoke about the development of program and the importance of street trees to Melbourne culture.

“Our tree-lined streets contribute enormously to Melbourne’s liveability, from providing much needed shade in summer to mitigate the urban heat island effect to helping reduce stormwater run-off and pollution. After a decade of drought and extreme heat many of our trees are in accelerated decline and we face the challenge of climate future proofing our urban canopy”, he said.

“Our dedicated Urban Forest and Ecology teams have become world leading in research, mapping and recording every tree in our municipality, developing biodiverse planting programs and building a resilient urban forest that can tolerate and continue to thrive in future climatic extremes.”

“We are excited to partner with the University of Melbourne in sharing this expertise to expand the network of urban forest experts working in government, industry and the community.”

Unlike a traditional workshop or conference, the program is expected to facilitate deep engagement around issues of urban forestry, planning and management. As University of Melbourne Associate Professor Stephen Lively said, “the urban forest is a complex and dynamic system, supported by many decision-makers, stakeholders and communities that sometimes have opposing views”.

It is wonderful to see leading academics, practitioners and policy experts coming together to share knowledge for the betterment of our built environment.

For more information on the Australian School of Urban Forestry, visit the official website.


U.S. study shows cyclists and pedestrians prefer more trees

greener US street cycling
Photomontage of Western Avenue in Allston, Massachusetts, with trees separating the cycling track from the street and curb
separating. Image courtesy of CC BY-ND via EcoWatch.

For decades, city streets in the U.S. have been engineered to keep road users and pedestrians safe. If city streets do include trees, they are usually planted in small sidewalk pits, where they have limited access to water. This means they live, on average, for just three to ten years. Until recently, the lack of trees in U.S. streets has been matched by a lack of cycling paths – exclusive, protected tracks for cyclists between the road and the sidewalk.

However, with cycling becoming increasingly popular, both for commuting and recreation, there is a push for city planners to integrate more tracks and trees into busy U.S. streets. A new study published in the Cities journal and highlighted in a podcast from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health explored whether pedestrians and cyclists in the Boston area enjoyed having trees in city streets. It also asked where they preferred trees to be placed, and whether they believed trees offered benefits.

In the study, 836 pedestrians and cyclists on five existing cycling tracks were shown photomontages. The images included proposed configurations, such as a row of trees separating the cycling track from the street, or trees in planters extending into the street between parked cars. Participants were asked how effectively they thought the trees:

  1. a) blocked perceptions of traffic
  2. b) lessened perceptions of pollution exposure; and
  3. c) made them feel cooler.

The findings showed that both pedestrians and cyclists liked having trees, preferably between the cycling track and the street. They strongly preferred the images that included trees, reporting that the trees blocked their view of traffic, lessened their feeling of being exposed to pollution, and made them feel cooler.

With many city leaders promoting cycling to reduce traffic and combat climate change, attention is turning to street design. Specifically, how and where to plant trees in relation to cycle tracks and sidewalks, and how to help trees flourish through urban design. There is a call for planning experts to design “climate street guidelines”, which would focus on delivering physiological and psychological benefits to all street users.


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.


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