ENGINEERING SOLUTIONS FOR GREENER CITIES IN THESE TRYING TIMES – OUR MODULAR ROOT DIRECTOR

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology has officially declared that a third La Niña is underway. With this announcement, it is safe that most Australians are looking forward to the eventual return of sunny skies; however, this cannot be said for other citizens around the globe.

The La Niña causing relentless rain for eastern Australia is also driving serve drought conditions in East Africa.

This is because there are ‘cool seas off Africa and warm seas off Australia, leading to rain falling over Australia instead of Africa’ (Deacon, 2022).

As the rains began to fall in Australia shortly after the Black Summer Fires in early 2020, rainfall sadly failed to eventuate in East Africa. This year, the Horn of Africa faces a record fifth failed wet season, which is impacting some of the poorest countries on earth.

The million-dollar question is what can be done about La Niña?

With climate change, these unusual, erratic weather events will be more frequent, and our cities need to be able to adapt.

At Citygreen, we believe that trees can help to alleviate the impacts of climate change, but first, we need to get them in the ground, so they thrive in our communities.

Planting trees in our bustling cities is no easy feat. The idea that you can plant a tree into a sidewalk or verge and hope that it will survive on its own during these erratic weather seasons we now face is an idea that has now been conclusively abandoned.

At Citygreen, we have been developing highly-engineering and researched products for over three decades, enabling trees to thrive and benefit our urban communities as soon as possible.

One of these products goes by the name of the RootDirector – a modular root management device designed to prevent root swirl and divert root growth downward and outward. This encourages profound root growth, which enhances the tree’s growth and overall stability.

Deeper and healthier root growth means the trees can access more subsoil moisture during dry periods. During wet periods, the roots have a greater and deeper span to find available oxygen in waterlogged soils.

Also, if tree roots are not directed downwards, they will grow horizontally and cause issues to other infrastructures like pipes and sidewalks.

At Citygreen, we believe that planting trees using an adequately designed root management system is a small cost compared to the time and labour needed to replant trees after premature death or removal due to infrastructure damage.

For more information download the free digital brochure below.
RootDirector Brochure

The critical role of ‘everyday nature’ for the future of cities

A growing population puts increasing pressure on biodiversity when residential areas encroach on natural systems. The Built environment report describes Australia’s urban footprint, and the implications for air quality, water quality and the natural environment.

As Australia’s population grows, additional urban land is required, or existing land is used more intensely. In Australia, population growth tends to be most concentrated in outer suburbs, in inner cities, in urban infill areas and along the coast. Our big cities continue to expand into natural areas on the city fringes, despite the well-recognised problems associated with higher infrastructure costs, lack of amenity, car dependency, poor job access, and diminished agriculture and open space (Newton 2012). In Melbourne, 50 per cent of the approximately 40,000 new dwellings built each year are in new greenfield sites (Buxton 2014). Targets for infill housing established in recent metropolitan strategic plans are not being achieved (Newton 2012).

The threatened Grassy Eucalypt Woodland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain is encroached on by Melbourne’s peri-urban zone, with woodland remnants cleared to allow increasing urban development. Additional growth centres are planned. In response, the Victorian Government is establishing conservation areas in and outside the growth corridors to protect threatened species and ecological communities of national and state significance, and to manage the impacts of urban development in urban growth corridors. Similarly, encroachment of urban development on the Cumberland Plain Woodland in the Sydney Basin has reduced the community to small fragments scattered across the western suburbs of Sydney, and it is now listed as critically endangered.

Urban development is a major driver of environmental change. Urban areas contain threats to, and opportunities for, biodiversity. The conversion or degradation of natural ecosystems in urban areas has the most obvious and immediate impacts on biodiversity. In addition, human settlements and development are often the entry point for introduced species, which are a major pressure on biodiversity. For example, non-native invasive garden plants, introduced to Australia by and for the urban population, make up an estimated 72 per cent of environmental weeds that affect biodiversity (Groves et al. 2005).

In contrast, the urban environment can prove an attractive habitat for a wide range of taxa because of abundant food and shelter. Urban areas may also provide more stable resources for some native species as a result of planting selection and supplemental watering. Some urban habitats, such as railway lines, abandoned industrial lands and urban wetlands, can be rich in native species and can play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of a city.

Although the presence of wildlife in urban areas can enhance human quality of life (see Box BIO3), some urban animal populations can prove problematic because of their impacts on amenity or their role as vectors of disease. For example, roosting by flying foxes in urban and peri-urban areas can result in contact and conflict with humans. Human concerns include noise, odour and faeces from flying fox camps, particularly when they occur near residences. Transmission of disease, particularly Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus, is also a key concern and has received much attention during the past few years. Although smaller camps are often tolerated, larger camps become a focus of community disquiet. The spectacled flying fox (P. conspicillatus) and grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) are both listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act. They have both shown marked changes in the distribution of their abundance during the past 15 years, in the form of increases in the number of urban camps and in the proportion of their populations found in urban contexts (Tait et al. 2014Westcott et al. 2015). It is unclear whether these changes represent responses to the development of appropriate conditions in urban areas, the deterioration of conditions elsewhere or the cessation of exclusion from urban areas. Regardless, the shift represents a major management dilemma, given the conflict it produces and the conservation status of the 2 species.

Cities are often located in areas with high biodiversity, and the process of urbanisation itself is likely to have led to many species that formerly occurred in these places now being threatened. In 2015, Ives et al. (2016) analysed the extent to which the distribution of 1643 species of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act overlapped with 99 Australian cities of more than 10,000 residents (Figure BIO5). They found that 25 per cent of listed plants and 46 per cent of listed animals had distributions that intersected with cities. The distributions of 8 threatened species (all plants) entirely overlapped with cities, whereas 51 (10 per cent) of the 503 threatened species found in cities had more than 30 per cent of their distribution in urban areas. The research showed that cities contain substantially more threatened species per unit area than non-urban areas.

Nature in cities delivers a remarkable range of benefits to human health and wellbeing. Individuals are more likely to live longer (Donovan et al. 2013), and have better general health and wellbeing (Dallimer et al. 2012) in a city with more trees.

Urban greening can substantially improve the resilience of cities to climate change, potentially cooling cities by up to 8 °C in summer, alleviating the impacts of flooding and providing shelter from extreme weather events. Vegetation in cities can also play a significant role in mitigating climate change impacts by sequestering greenhouse gases, and reducing energy consumption for cooling and heating.

Cities host numerous threatened plant and animal species. In Australian cities, more than 3 times as many threatened species are found per unit area than in rural areas (Ives et al. 2016). Some species are found only in cities, whereas others rely on cities for key food and habitat resources. The future of many threatened species will depend on actions to accommodate their needs within city boundaries.

Creating opportunities in cities for everyday interactions with nature provides an unparalleled opportunity to reconnect people with biodiversity, and expose urban residents to the myriad health and wellbeing benefits provided by nature. Furthermore, urban renaturing has the potential to connect urban residents with Indigenous history and culture, and create an avenue for preserving traditional knowledge and engaging urban Indigenous people in city planning processes.

The reasons for embracing nature in cities are compelling, but the pathways to achieve this vision are not always straightforward. An important first step is to reframe the way nature is considered in the planning process. Rather than considering nature as a constraint—a ‘problem’ to be dealt with—nature can be seen as an opportunity and a valued resource to be preserved and maximised at all stages of planning and design. It also requires a different conceptualisation of nature, where novelty is the norm and apparently scrappy bits of urban nature can have as much value as pristine nature reserves. The future of our cities may well depend on a new conceptualisation of urban landscapes, where nature can thrive and people can enjoy—every day—the remarkable range of benefits that nature can deliver (Figure BIO6).

Source: © Sarah Bekessy, GE Garrard & LM Mata, RMIT University, Melbourne; and RG Hobbs, University of Western Australia; all rights reserved

Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Better Urban Renewal

Our impressions of a city are formed mainly by the quality of public spaces. If they are not pleasant and preserved, or if they transmit a sense of insecurity, we will seldom return. Good planning of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception. In the series “Public Spaces,” originally published in Portuguese by TheCityFix Brasil, we explore different aspects related to public spaces that determine our daily experience in cities.

Nothing lasts forever without conservation and preservation. With cities, it’s no different. Different interventions in cities can alter built-up areas or public spaces to address social issues, environment or health problems, or even reactivate the local economy. In this context, the practices of renovation, requalification, revitalization and rehabilitation can be used to not only renew a city but help proactively solve a wide range of problems.

First, we need to differentiate terms that are often used synonymously but do not have exactly the same meaning. Briefly, “revitalization” is about recovering space or an existing construction; “renewal” deals with replacing or rebuilding and changing use; “requalifying” adds new functions while improving the appearance, and “rehabilitation” is restoring but without changing function. Each of these processes, therefore, generates different results. All of them, however, are linked to the same idea: to transform urban spaces in order to rejuvenate them.

Projects like these often arise from the need to solve economic, social or environmental issues, but are carried out in ways that make success difficult. They need community participation to be embraced but are often instead led by public-private partnerships that have few feedback mechanisms for community members to engage with. This is one of the most common criticisms of this type of intervention, in which large projects are conceived and constructed without any connection to the local reality.

New models of urban transformation should recognize that transformative change is no longer the responsibility of a single actor, organization, institution or sector. Change needs to be led by multi-stakeholder coalitions and movements, on the demand side as well as the supply side.

report by the Australia-based consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning presents 10 principles for urban renewal that take the public interest into account, based on case studies in cities like London, Sydney, Melbourne, Hamburg and New York. According to the survey, much of the criticisms of urban renewal projects are a result of actions undertaken without the perspective and contribution of affected communities. Finding ways to include more participation could improve success rates. The report focuses mainly on renewal; however, the principles also apply to revitalization, requalification and rehabilitation:

1. Create “Shared Value”

Urban areas do not belong to a single group or individual but should offer value to many actors. All those who are part of the broader community as a whole – from workers and tourists, children and students, to the underserved and investors – should benefit from urban renewal. “Ultimately, the ‘communities’ for whom the value is created to share, should be those with long-term interests, not transient stakeholders with a primary focus on value extraction and repatriation,” write the authors.

2. Plan With Input From All

Delivering this shared value requires engaging with communities. Planners bringing an intervention into an existing space should share their vision and include people in the planning from day one, or risk it being rejected. Decision-making techniques such as cost-benefit analysis should be explained and employed to also promote “non-financial values,” helping communities feel a sense of ownership. The researchers also suggest the creation of a common platform where information about the process and the progress of the project can be shared transparently.

3. Build a Long-Term Vision

In any extensive process of urban renewal, the initial goals of the project may change over time. Even so, a long-term vision should be locked in and changes for the sake of short-terms gains resisted, with flexibility growing as the timeline extends further into the future. “A commitment to the public interest and shared value needs an inclusive approach, and future development stages should have the flexibility to be able to adapt to market and social changes,” write the authors.

4. Agree on Non-Negotiables

Non-negotiation issues should be clearly understood by all stakeholders. These could include respecting existing lease terms, fixed quotas for affordable housing or protecting open spaces. The rights of renters and leaseholders should be guaranteed and stakeholders agree to a common set of design standards.

5. Agree on a Financial Profile

Studying how the space to be renovated is expected to yield from a financial perspective not only serves to set parameters for the project’s development options but is also critical to whether the public’s interests will be met. There are many options available to both provide returns on government investment in underserved areas but also safeguard communities from potential negative side effects, like rising taxes, and encourage a handoff to private developers in the future.

6. Establish Clear Development Goals

The planning process should develop and affirm clear objectives, not just desired outcomes. The best goals will be specific and measurable and anticipate the physical, economic and social results of the project.

7. Establish Options to Achieve Development Goals

There are often multiple options for achieving the same development goals and they should be compared to one another as well as to baseline scenarios of what might happen without any intervention. The process will create “a much clearer picture of marginal benefits and costs associated with any particular development option,” the report explains.

8. Incorporate a Sense of “Localness”

Local characteristics and peculiarities should be captured and incorporated into the new project. These details may come from local standards, services offered in the region, the environment, the climate or other socio-cultural specificities. Finding ways to assimilate a sense of the local into the project will help people identify with it, separate it from other similar projects and generate community acceptance.

9. Evaluate Options With the Goal of Maximizing Net Community Benefits

Cost-benefit analyses are often viewed with scepticism, but the report notes there are well-documented techniques that allow for the inclusion of things communities care about most, like open space, social capital and heritage. Finding ways to incorporate them into a cost-benefit analysis is important for avoiding the scenario where “financial considerations or otherwise vague community aims to end up dominating choices between options.”

Macquarie Mall Redevelopment

10. Align the Procurement Model With the Planning Vision

Finally, the governance, implementation and contracting trajectories – how the project is actually carried out – should align with the unique vision laid out during the planning phase. Procurement targets should bespoke, rather than using “off-the-shelf” options. This may mean a greater role for the government as a developer in the early stages before handing off to private sector developers later.

“These principles are not locked in place but are guiding principles to ensure urban renewal benefits the widest community possible,” write the authors. “The renewal of strategically important urban sites must have the needs of communities, both social and commercial, at its core.”

 

Citygreen Projects

Source: https://thecityfix.com/ Paula Tanscheit is the Communications Analyst for WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

Texas Takes Trinity River by the Horns

Texas Takes Trinity River by the Horns:

Within the city limits of Dallas, Texas, there is an eleven mile stretch of land named the Trinity River Corridor. An urban hardwood forest to rival New York’s Central Park in size, this gem of real estate is the site where years of visions, funding and plans have recently gone under way.

The Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) is the organization responsible for the implementation of the Trinity River Vision (TRV) – a master plan for the Trinity River in Fort Worth, Texas.” Alongside the TRVA, Viridian Energy has made its entry into the entire state of Texas, providing potential green energy services to over 25 million residents. Hand in hand with the TRV, Viridian has already contributed severall hundred volunteer hours to, “remove a total of 2,050 pounds of invasive plants, trash and debris from the Dallas Floodway along Cedar Creek and the Santé Fe Trestle Trail.”

The TRV encompasses a program that will create, “new recreational amenities, improved infrastructure, environmental enhancements and event programming,” as well as a new urban waterfront neighborhood re-named Panther Island. As stated on the TRVA website, responsibility to the urban forestry is a large part of the project goals, including flood control, ecosystem restoration, and sustainability.

The website further elaborates,“While previous channelization and levee construction has provided a measure of flood protection to Fort Worth’s central city, it left much of the Trinity River a broad, straight trapezoidal vessel with little environmental character.”

Since April of 2015, the TRV was given the approval to seek federal funding by way of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Dallas Morning News reported on this huge hurdle overcome, reporting a, “$572 million comprehensive plan that would enhance flood protection, provide a reliever road for downtown highways and create recreational amenities along the river’s path.”

With the collaboration of companies and government with the great city of Dallas, the Trinity River Project is a large, but successful example of urban planning that touches on and addresses essential parts of revitalizing an urban area. For the future of the environment, a key factor in this project is that the redevelopment and redesign can and will continue to respect and successfully coexist with nature.

image courtesy of Jeremy Monin . Dallas skyline with Trinity River

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