Green Urban Planning – What Is It?

Green Urban Planning

Green urban planning is a process of integrating Ecology, Economy, and Socio-economy in urban planning. It is a long-term process where the administrative authorities set goals for urban transformations. The key goal of green urban planning is to improve ecological biodiversity and make the cities climate-resilient. The Urban Climate is changing and we are observing its consequences such as Urban Heat Island, Unbearable air pollution, heavy rainfalls (Cloud bursts which are a result of the urban heat island effect), and not but not least habitat loss.

Apart from this, the livability of cities is a major concern; with fewer number parks and ignorance of ecology in urban planning is resulting in fewer opportunities for the citizens to connect with nature. From the beginning of civilization most of the time humans were living close to nature and it is a pity that modern cities are snatching those opportunities under the name of economic development.

The world has urbanized rapidly in the past century and humans have predominantly become urban species and soon two-third of the population would be living in urban environments (Wu, 2008).  Although the urbanized area is dominated by the built environment; it only occupies a small percentage (<1%) of the earth’s surface (Schneider, Friedl, & Potere, 2010). Cities are now accounted for approximately 60% of all residential water use, 75% of energy use, 80% of wood used for industrial purposes, and 80% of human greenhouse gas emissions (Grimm et al., 2008; Newman, Beatley, & Boyer, 2009).

The future of humanity lies in cities; weak cities will almost certainly act as a break on national development. Strong cities can a key factor enabling a country to thrive in the global economy (Annan, 2002).   If our cities continue to grow and spread the way they have to post the industrial revolution, there is little doubt that human civilization is destined to disaster (Wu, 2008).

Is green Urban Planning only possible for green-field urban developments?

It is a perception that green urban planning is only possible in the case of greenfield urban development projects. However, It is also possible in the case of old and densely populated cities. Freiburg, Germany is a perfect example of how a medieval city can be ecofriendly and how urban dwellers live close to nature.

Solutions to make traditional urban planning green

Nature-Based Solutions

As we all know Nature-based solutions offer an exciting prospect of urban resilience and incorporating these into urban planning can help to mitigate the complex challenges. Cities are the key contributors to the greenhouse gas emission and large populations of city dwellers are vulnerable to the urban climate. Cities can capitalize on the fact that the decision-makers have the opportunity and the capability to adopt local and global nature-based solutions (Frantzeskaki, 2019).

Green Roofing

Green roofs are being taken up as a Nature-based solution in cities all around the world. This is providing local cooling to mitigate the urban heat island effect and also the solution is in line with the sponge city philosophy. Green roofs are also a part of the ecosystem which can provide solutions for urban farming and can also create new spaces for recreational and cultural benefits. Green roofs can also capture stormwater and benefit habitats for biodiversity (Frantzeskaki, 2019).

Figure 1: Terrace of Vice Media Headquarters, Brooklyn, New York.

Co-creation through clubbing multiple solutions in urban

In figure number 2 we see a solution that was the result of concretion and an interdisciplinary approach.

Figure 2: A solution to tackle episodic rain and build cohesion in London.

In this particular case, once a busy road was closed to cars and was repaved with permeable pavements. The rainwater was also intercepted from the rooftop of the neighboring social housing in storage boxes and overflow is then captured by rain gardens or wildflowers, herbs, and insect-friendly plants. More bee-friendly plants can be seen on the top of the bicycle shelter.  The initiative was co-created by the Community Interest Company (CIC). The CIC manages Nature-based solutions for the local authorities.

Urban Biodiversity

Urban development decreases the amount of habitat for native species and increases habitat fragmentation for most native and exotic species. However, several general findings have emerged. For example, with increasing urbanization, plant species richness tends to increase due mainly to the increase in exotic species; bird species richness. This is not possible without the synergy of private and administrative drivers and it is equally important for both of them to decisively act on it.

A 20-minute city

In Melbourne, the state government has come up with a newly developed plan  ‘Melbourne 2017-2050’. The idea is to create cities where the residents can get most of the services within 20-30 minutes. It has values such as ‘safety’, ‘Walkability’, and ‘attractiveness’ especially by including local work opportunities.

The Bike-Infrastructure

With Covid-19 we have observed cities dedicating hundreds of kilometers lanes for bikers; which is a big success in many countries and Urbinists hope that this overnight shift and the political will lasts even after the pandemic is over.

The cities which have adopted the Bike-Infrastructure solutions have enjoyed great success; Copenhagen is one of the best with 41% of commutes (to work or study) resulting in pedal power. There are 675,000 bicycles and just 120,000 cars in Copenhagen; meaning bikes outnumber cars by more than five-to-one. However, biking solutions have limitations in countries like India, and hybrid solutions are needed to make it a success in warmer countries.

The Bottom-Up Approach

We should not forget that cities are not buildings, roads, or metro systems; Cities are people and when the change happens from the bottom it is long-lasting and effective. It is time that people take part in the process of urbanism and volunteer to show the administrations that change is possible and that too without any kind of support. This will encourage the administrations to connect with the citizens and it will help them to know what people want.

Final Remarks

The way the urban population is rising it would be more and more difficult to preserve the urban ecology and maintain a livable urban climate. We all know that cities have a smaller footprint and all the carbon emissions and pollution are concentrated on these small pieces of land. This creates adverse climatic conditions; which are unbearable at times.

The process of green urban planning is continual and citizen participation is extremely important and especially so in cases where the governments are not so keen to act upon the changing urban climate. This positivity from the citizens will also encourage the city administrations and this will create the political will and more opportunities will be created for municipalities, activists, and citizens.

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