Green infrastructures as a barrier to the urban tsunami

Green infrastructure refers to plant systems that enhance the natural environment rurban (rural + urban). It includes the network of green spaces and water systems with environmental and socioeconomic benefits for cities and their surroundings. Its organization is done through green-blue ecosystems (aquatic), both on land (gardens, forests, orchards) and in height (roofs, walls, interior patios).

According to the Global Green Infrastructure Network, during 2017, 12 million m² of green roofs were installed in 11 EU countries, which represented an investment of around 360 million euros. It is expected to reach 35 million m² in five years, with an investment of more than 1,000 million euros.

green infrastructures rurban they provide nature-based solutions in an affordable and sustainable way.

We are aware that the current urban model is unsustainable. It is subject to strong convulsions that come from demographic accumulation, climate change, pollution, external dependence on natural resources, waste problems, loss of biodiversity, hygienic-sanitary problems, isolation in social relations, etc. All this constitutes a true tsunami for the survival of the population.

Cities are home to 80% of the EU population. Globally they occupy 3% of the planet and, according to the International Energy Agency, consume 67% of the energy. It is estimated that by 2050, 3.6 million people a year will die from urban pollution, with gas emissions rising by 50%.

Therefore, the solutions must come from reducing emissions (traffic, domestic boilers, factories) and increasing emissions (green infrastructure).

Nature-based solutions

The case of green infrastructures has been treated at local and international level by different experts and citizens. On May 12, European Green Infrastructure Day, a virtual event was held based in Brussels organized by the International Association of Green Infrastructures (WGIN). This initiative brings together 22 national organizations from all continents, including the Spanish Society for the Promotion of Urban and Rural Nature (Pronatur).

One of the topics addressed was green infrastructures as life-saving instruments. Its ability to achieve nature-based solutions and its multifunctional nature allows it to address significant problems with affordable resources:

  • Feeding. Urban agriculture is developing a silent revolution, penetrating the urban fabric, both in marginal and developed areas. Many cities (such as Havana and Cairo) manage to supply themselves with basic products, especially horticultural products from ground and high-altitude orchards, in proportions that reach 60% of their needs. The trend is growing. Many other urban centers are interested in leisure farming that fosters social relationships and generates additional profits.

  • Air and noise pollution. Large cities suffer from air and noise pollution problems that can be partially reduced with green infrastructures. Plants and substrate retain or absorb dust particles, CO₂, NO₂ and other gases, as well as ultraviolet radiation. They serve as a shield by reflecting or absorbing acoustic waves. The use of greenhouses on terraces or inside buildings (high-rise urban agriculture) intensifies the aforementioned activities.

  • Well-being, physical and mental health. The environmental improvement in temperature, humidity and air cleanliness produces a well-being that, accompanied by physical activity, promotes physical and mental health. Nursing homes and hospitals are witness to the impact on residents of a green infrastructure environment, with orchards and gardens.

  • Ornamentation and landscaping. Gardening is an art closely linked to cultural traditions that generates undoubted benefits for the population.

  • Insulation and energy saving. Green roofs and vertical walls produce thermal insulation that can lead to up to 20% energy savings. They also contribute to mitigating the heat island, with stormwater management, flood prevention.

  • Social relationships. The availability of accessible recreational spaces and for the joint performance of agricultural work allows social gatherings and cultural or sports developments in the proximity of the urbanite. The approach of the 15-minute polycentric city is driven by the use of underused spaces. Involving the population in the design and maintenance of green infrastructure is one of the objectives to achieve its expansion and maintenance

  • Business, employment. The ability to promote a new urban model will make it possible to generate new jobs and new professions – the urban farmer is among the new job options. This requires the collaboration of training centers, universities and professional organizations, as well as agricultural engineers.

  • Use of marginalized spaces. One of the limitations of urban areas, especially the oldest ones, is the lack of space to develop leisure activities. With imagination and will, green infrastructures can serve this purpose, recovering inert areas and, in the case of roofs, combining them with solar panels and improving biodiversity and pollination.

Encourage and manage green infrastructure

Urbanization is causing a true tsunami in the lives of urbanites, leading to an unsustainable model, which forces action on several fronts. Eco-urbanism is a new trend that seeks functionality and well-being, trying to make a more habitable city.

Green infrastructure is a service based on nature that, with proper management, is offered to citizens. Even if spaces are left for spontaneous naturation, they need vigilance and care, controlling invasive species so that they do not eliminate the native ones and do not cause biodiversity loss and diseases.

However, the search for the common good must avoid false prophets. There are ecologists (students of the subject), ecologists (rational enthusiasts) and ecolaters (they idolize nature by preventing any alteration).

On the other hand, public and private investments must be mobilized to improve natural capital, considering that nature-based solutions are cheaper and more durable in the long term and reduce external dependence on energy and basic products.

Finally, citizen, administrative and corporate responsibility is needed, having training and information to adapt the means to their objectives.

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