Our cities are alive! And not just with fantastic theatres, concert halls, businesses, museums, galleries and vibrant communities. Our cities are the newest ecosystem on our planet, with birds, butterflies and bees, wild flowers and spreading trees.

Just as we are starting to see our cities as potential havens for nature, we are beginning to understand just how important nature is to each of us as well.

Many of our cities are getting hotter and have poor air quality. Those of us that live there are increasingly feeling lonely and isolated, and our health and wellbeing is suffering.

Recognising and enhancing nature in our cities can help us tackle these modern day social and environmental problems. Green rather than grey cities have clean air and nature breathing life into our outdoor living spaces, providing natural sanctuaries for people to spend time with friends and family.

Achieving green cities can include cleaning up waterways and redesigning them to be more natural and visually appealing or allowing vacant land to be claimed by nature. Street trees can provide shade and shelter, while creating sky gardens and green walls can reduce local temperatures thus making our cities cooler.

Life in the city….

Building nature into our cities provides multiple social and environmental benefits that allow our societies and businesses to thrive:

  • Biodiversity in the City, a White Paper released by WSP in 2017, demonstrated that integrating biodiversity into our cities can regulate surface water runoff, alleviate high inner city temperatures, reduce air and noise pollution, improve water quality and contribute to human health and wellbeing.

  • Bringing nature into workplaces can increase employee engagement, reduce stress and improve productivity.

  • Green spaces can provide natural sanctuaries and safe areas for people to relax, relieve stress and rest in comfort, improving our mental health.

Already we are seeing many examples of where the UK in particular is taking action to green cities:

  • As part of their drive to create sustainable places to live, Barratt Development Plc creates multi-functional, nature-rich greenspaces within their urban developments. Through their work with landscape and biodiversity experts, including the RSPB, their developments have naturalised rivers, created green roofs, planted orchards, created natural sustainable urban drainage systems and provided outdoor learning centres. At the same time their residential dwellers can experience natural outdoor areas to relax, improving their health and wellbeing

  • The Quaggy River was an underground river system with flooding problems due to the lack of natural floodplain. Working with the local community, a restoration project saw the river brought back into the open air. Riparian planting increased biodiversity, helped clean up the river and greatly increased flood water storage. The project successfully employed nature to reduce flood risk and made it a safer and more beautiful place to live.  

  • Sheffield City Council worked with Sharrow Primary School and experts to create a green roof for play and outdoor teaching. The roof helps to control storm water runoff, humidity, noise, heat and pollution as well as providing important habitat for biodiversity, teaching children the importance of nature and sustainability and contributing to the urban green space.

It is critical that experts in design engineering, landscape, air, soil, water and biodiversity work together with local communities and developers to design cities, and other urban spaces which work for business and people. Greener, healthier cities provide a range of economic and environmental benefits and, most of all, provide us with more beautiful places to live and work.

This blog was written by Vikki Patton, Jenny Merriman and Tom Butterworth

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