For green cities to become mainstream, we need to learn from local success stories and scale up



Melbourne has a rich legacy of urban parks thanks to planning decisions made when the city was first established.
Shutterstock

Jason Alexandra, RMIT University

Greening our cities has become one of the great global imperatives of the 21st century including to tackle climate change. And Australia’s sprawling car-based cities are gradually changing to embrace green or living infrastructure.

Green cities bring together elements of architectural design and urban planning, often combining plants and built infrastructure to meet the needs of humans, such as our love of nature.




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Trees, plants, waterways and wetlands can deliver climate conditioning, cooling cities by reducing the urban heat island effect. They also absorb carbon dioxide, filter wastewater and create habitats.

Living elements can be incorporated with built infrastructure at a range of scales, from individual buildings with green walls and roofs, through to citywide strategies. And there are a suite of strategies to guide more widespread integration of biological elements and ecological processes in cities.

In recent months, we profiled Australian examples of living infrastructure that show some of Australia’s approaches to developing green infrastructure, from greening Melbourne’s laneways to Canberra’s urban forest. These cities are already redesigning their water systems and implementing urban forest strategies to create green belts and protect and restore waterways.

Melbourne and Canberra provide some useful examples of the green cities movement, but to make it mainstream, these techniques need to be adopted widely through policies supporting more holistic and better integrated urban planning.

Why we need urban forests

Percival Alfred Yeoman was one of the first Australian pioneers of urban forestry. In 1971, he articulated a clear vision for enhancing cities with trees.




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Local governments in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, are implementing his ideas, committing to ambitious increases in urban canopy cover. Their targets range from 25% to 40%.

This revived interest in urban forestry comes from its well documented potential for accelerating the transition to more climate adaptive cities.

The social, environmental and economic benefits of urban trees, or “ecosystem services”, are becoming better recognised, including for their recreational and cultural values.

Melbourne and Canberra are leading Australia’s green cities movement

Melbourne

Melbourne has a rich legacy of urban parks and green belts thanks to planning decisions made in the city’s early years.




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Urban greening can save species, cool warming cities, and make us happy


These parks underpin a new wave of urban greening, with projects that aim to deliver action on climate change, biodiversity and the health and well-being of communities.

The Melbourne green infrastructure plan includes:

  • a “growing green guide” that provides practical advice to community and business groups on planning, design and maintenance of green infrastructure

  • the greening laneways strategy, which builds on the commercial revitalisation of Melbourne’s laneways over three decades. Laneways with greening potential were mapped and demonstration project developed to display techniques for making them more vibrant green spaces for business, tourists and locals to enjoy

  • an urban forest strategy, with an overall target of 40% canopy cover by 2040. And 5 to 8 million trees will be planted over coming decades for the greater Melbourne metropolis.

Canberra

Canberra is often described as “a city within a landscape” and the “bush capital”. But its higher altitude, hot dry summers and cold winters bring a set of challenges for green infrastructure.

With more than 800,000 planted trees, Canberra is an urban forest. But these trees require special care and attention given they are ageing and suffering from a hotter, drier climate.




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Wildfire also represents a significant risk where urban and rural areas connect. This means Canberra needs urban forests that will cool the city in warmer months without also escalating wildfire risks.

The ACT Government has committed to action on climate change, legislating targets for 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and carbon neutrality (no net carbon emissions) by 2045.

With more than 800,000 trees, Canberra is an urban forest.
Shutterstock

Integrated approach needed to expand green cities

Greening cities requires a holistic approach – for instance, not leaving the health of waterways entirely to water engineers.

Greening cities is more than just a technical challenge. Transforming the form and functions of urban systems, through urban forests and other living infrastructure, requires greater leadership and political commitment, integrated planning and community participation, and long-term thinking.

An integrated approach to greening cities involves mapping diverse opportunities and mobilising support for change in the community. As an example, urban storm water can be a productive resource when used in constructed wetlands or to irrigate urban forests.

The vertical gardens in One Central Park in Sydney are globally renowned for their green infrastructure.
Shutterstock

And often urban drainage lines and wastelands can be transformed into green spaces, but it’s worth recognising there is intense competition for space for housing.

But for more widespread adoption of integration, institutional support within local governments and metropolitan water and planning agencies is needed.

So to scale up living infrastructure in our urban landscapes, we must learn from local success stories, conduct more research, and better understand how to deal with climate adaptation and mitigation challenges.




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Jason Alexandra would like to gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Barbara Norman to this article.The Conversation

Jason Alexandra, PhD candidate, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Buildings produce 25% of Australia’s emissions. What will it take to make them ‘green’ – and who’ll pay?


Igor Martek, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Deakin University

In signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the Australian government committed to a global goal of zero net emissions by 2050. Australia’s promised reductions to 2030, on a per person and emissions intensity basis, exceed even the targets set by the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the European Union.

But are we on the right track to achieve our 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels? With one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world, this represents at least a 50% reduction in emissions per person over the next dozen years.




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Consider the impact of one sector, the built environment. The construction, operation and maintenance of buildings accounts for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. As Australia’s population grows, to an estimated 31 million in 2030, even more buildings will be needed.

In 2017, around 18,000 dwelling units were approved for construction every month. Melbourne is predicted to need another 720,000 homes by 2031; Sydney, 664,000 new homes within 20 years. Australia will have 10 million residential units by 2020, compared to 6 million in 1990. Ordinary citizens might be too preoccupied with home ownership at any cost to worry about the level of emissions from the built environment and urban development.

What’s being done to reduce these emissions?

The National Construction Code of Australia sets minimal obligatory requirements for energy efficiency. Software developed by the National Housing Rating Scheme (NatHERS) assesses compliance.

Beyond mandatory minimum requirements in Australia are more aspirational voluntary measures. Two major measures are the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and Green Star.

This combination of obligatory and voluntary performance rating measures makes up the practical totality of our strategy for reducing built environment emissions. Still in its experimentation stage, it is far from adequate.

An effective strategy to cut emissions must encompass the whole lifecycle of planning, designing, constructing, operating and even decommissioning and disposal of buildings. A holistic vision of sustainable building calls for building strategies that are less resource-intensive and pollution-producing. The sustainability of the urban landscape is more than the sum of the sustainability of its component buildings; transport, amenities, social fabric and culture, among other factors, have to be taken into account.

Australia’s emission reduction strategy fails to incorporate the whole range of sustainability factors that impact emissions from the built environment.

There are also much-reported criticisms of existing mandatory and voluntary measures. A large volume of research details the failure of voluntary measures to accurately evaluate energy performance and the granting of misleading ratings based on tokenistic gestures.




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On top of that, the strategy of using front runners to push boundaries and win over the majority has been proven ineffective, at best. We see compelling evidence in the low level of voluntary measures permeating the Australian building industry. Some major voluntary rating tools have penetration rates of less than 0.5% across the Australian building industry.

As for obligatory tools, NatHERS-endorsed buildings have been shown to underperform against traditional “non-green” houses.

That said, voluntary and obligatory tools are not so much a weak link in our emission reduction strategy as the only link. And therein lies the fundamental problem.

So what do the experts suggest?

We conducted a study involving a cohort of 26 experts drawn from the sustainability profession. We posed the question of what must be done to generate a working strategy to improve Australia’s chances of keeping the carbon-neutral promise by 2050 was posed. Here is what the experts said:

Sustainability transition in Australia is failing because:

  • government lacks commitment to develop effective regulations, audit performance, resolve vested interests (developers), clarify its own vision and, above all, sell that sustainability vision to the community

  • sustainability advocates are stuck in isolated silos of fragmented markets (commercial and residential) and hampered by multiple jurisdictions with varied sustainability regimes

  • most importantly, end users just do not care – nobody has bothered to communicate the Paris Accord promise to Joe and Mary Citizen, let alone explain why it matters to them.

Tweaking the rating tools further would be a good thing. Getting more than a token few buildings rated would be better. But the show-and-tell display of a pageant of beautiful, green-rated headquarters buildings from our socially responsible corporations is not going to save us. Beyond the CBD islands of our major cities lies a sea of suburban sprawl that continues to chew up ever more energy and resources.




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It costs between 8% and 30% more than the usual costs of a building to reduce emissions. Someone needs to explain to the struggling home owner why the Paris climate promise is worth it. Given the next election won’t be for a few months, our political parties still have time to formulate their pitch on who exactly is expected to pay.The Conversation

Igor Martek, Lecturer In Construction, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Lecturer in Construction, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scientists are developing greener plastics – the bigger challenge is moving them from lab to market



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Used once and done.
Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA

Richard Gross, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Synthetic plastics have made many aspect of modern life cheaper, safer and more convenient. However, we have failed to figure out how to get rid of them after we use them.

Unlike other forms of trash, such as food and paper, most synthetic plastics cannot be easily degraded by live microorganisms or through chemical processes. As a result, a growing plastic waste crisis threatens the health of our planet. It is embodied by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a massive zone of floating plastic trash, three times the size of France, stretching between California and Hawaii. Scientists have estimated that if current trends continue, the mass of plastics in the ocean will equal the mass of fish by 2050. Making plastics from petroleum also increases carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Much of my work has been dedicated to finding sustainable ways to make and break down plastics. My lab and others are making progress on both fronts. But these new alternatives have to compete with synthetic plastics that have established infrastructures and optimized processes. Without supportive government policies, innovative plastic alternatives will have trouble crossing the so-called “valley of death” from the lab to the market.

From wood and silk to nylon and plexiglass

All plastics consist of polymers – large molecules that contain many small units, or monomers, joined together to form long chains, much like strings of beads. The chemical structure of the beads and the bonds that join them together determine polymers’ properties. Some polymers form materials that are hard and tough, like glass and epoxies. Others, such as rubber, can bend and stretch.

A monomer of Teflon, a nonstick synthetic resin (top), and a chain of monomers (bottom).
Chromatos

For centuries humans have made products out of polymers from natural sources, such as silk, cotton, wood and wool. After use, these natural plastics are easily degraded by microorganisms.

Synthetic polymers derived from oil were developed starting in the 1930s, when new material innovations were desperately needed to support Allied troops in World War II. For example, nylon, invented in 1935, replaced silk in parachutes and other gear. And poly(methyl methacrylate), known as Plexiglas, substituted for glass in aircraft windows. At that time, there was little consideration of whether or how these materials would be reused.

Modern synthetic plastics can be grouped into two main families: Thermoplastics, which soften on heating and then harden again on cooling, and thermosets, which never soften once they have been molded. Some of the most common high-volume synthetic polymers include polyethylene, used to make film wraps and plastic bags; polypropylene, used to form reusable containers and packaging; and polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, used in clothes, carpets and clear plastic beverage bottles.

Recycling challenges

Today only about 10 percent of discarded plastic in the United States is recycled. Processors need an input stream of non-contaminated or pure plastic, but waste plastic often contains impurities, such as residual food.

Batches of disposed plastic products also may include multiple resin types, and often are not consistent in color, shape, transparency, weight, density or size. This makes it hard for recycling facilities to sort them by type.

Melting down and reforming mixed plastic wastes creates recycled materials that are inferior in performance to virgin material. For this reason, many people refer to plastic recycling as “downcycling.”

As most consumers know, many plastic goods are stamped with a code that indicates the type of resin they are made from, numbered one through seven, inside a triangle formed by three arrows. These codes were developed in the 1980s by the Society of the Plastics Industry, and are intended to indicate whether and how to recycle those products.


Filtre

However, these logos are highly misleading, since they suggest that all of these goods can be recycled an infinite number of times. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling rates in 2015 ranged from a high of 31 percent for PET (SPI code 1) to 10 percent for high-density polyethylene (SPI code 2) and a few percent at best for other groups.

In my view, single-use plastics should eventually be required to be biodegradable. To make this work, households should have biowaste bins to collect food, paper and biodegradable polymer waste for composting. Germany has such a system in place, and San Francisco composts organic wastes from homes and businesses.

Designing greener polymers

Since modern plastics have many types and uses, multiple strategies are needed to replace them or make them more sustainable. One goal is making polymers from bio-based carbon sources instead of oil. The most readily implementable option is converting carbon from plant cell walls (lignocellulosics) into monomers.

As an example, my lab has developed a yeast catalyst that takes plant-derived oils and converts them to a polyester that has properties similar to polyethylene. But unlike a petroleum-based plastic, it can be fully degraded by microorganisms in composting systems.

It also is imperative to develop new cost-effective routes for decomposing plastics into high-value chemicals that can be reused. This could mean using biological as well as chemical catalysts. One intriguing example is a gut bacterium from mealworms that can digest polystyrene, converting it to carbon dioxide.

Other scientists are developing high-performance vitrimers – a type of thermoset plastic in which the bonds that cross-link chains can form and break, depending on built-in conditions such as temperature or pH. These vitrimers can be used to make hard, molded products that can be converted to flowable materials at the end of their lifetimes so they can be reformed into new products.

It took years of research, development and marketing to optimize synthetic plastics. New green polymers, such as polylactic acid, are just starting to enter the market, mainly in compost bags, food containers, cups and disposable tableware. Manufacturers need support while they work to reduce costs and improve performance. It also is crucial to link academic and industrial efforts, so that new discoveries can be commercialized more quickly.

The ConversationToday the European Union and Canada provides much more government support for discovery and development of bio-based and sustainable plastics than the United States. That must change if America wants to compete in the sustainable polymer revolution.

Richard Gross, Professor of Chemistry, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the ‘yeah-but’ mentality stalls progress on bag bans and other green issues



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Is forgetting your bags really such an inconvenience?
AAP Image/Peter Rae

Anne Lane, Queensland University of Technology

The debacle over the removal of single-use plastic bags from supermarkets has been analysed from a range of different perspectives. Supermarkets have been described as breaking a psychological trust contract with their customers and cynically using environmental concerns to reduce their costs and increase their profits. The pushback by Australian shoppers has been the cause of much amusement and bewildered head-shaking.

But there’s one aspect of people’s resistance to this type of change that has major implications for every environmental initiative in the country. Let’s call it the “yeah-but” mentality.




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Yeah-buts know when things are bad for the environment. They know about the dangers of throwaway plastic, whether it be bags, straws or bottles. They know that eating farmed meat, leaving the tap running, and driving cars powered by fossil fuels are not good for the world we live in.

They know this situation is not sustainable and that someone must do something about it. They might even be willing to make an occasional donation to an environmental charity. But ask them to take action themselves, especially if that involves even a low level of inconvenience, and the Yeah-buts sound their call.

Yeah-buts know they shouldn’t really drive to work, but then again public transport takes longer and doesn’t go door-to-door.

Yeah-buts know that farmed meat has a large environmental footprint, but they like the taste, and anyway veggies are only really an accompaniment.

This mentality has significant implications for any organisation attempting to address environmental challenges in Australia, or any other democratic society.

Previous research – such as that into the low take-up of electric cars – has found that consumers can be resistant to eco-friendly innovations in products and behaviour where they perceive that the proposed alternative is more expensive and/or less practical.

A requirement for people to actually put in some effort to acquire new behaviour that helps the environment is almost certainly going to encounter resistance.

How to drive behaviour change

Encouraging people to adopt new behaviours – especially those that involve personal inconvenience – is traditionally done through a “standard learning hierarchy approach”. The first step is to provide people with new knowledge and information on a topic or issue, thus increasing their understanding. As a result they will change the way they feel about the topic, and ultimately change their behaviour to reflect this new understanding and feeling.

Research has shown, however, that giving people new knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do the right thing.

For years, organisations have been telling us how bad plastic bags are for the environment. As a result, people have been feeling increasingly negative towards the use of plastic bags. But despite some shoppers changing their ways, many didn’t. Until this month, supermarkets were still supplying millions of single-use bags, and thousands of their customers were still using them.

Then came the prospect of a ban, and the yeah-but excuses began to flow. One shopper told A Current Affair:

It’s just one extra thing (to remember) and invariably as I get older my memory gets worse.

Clearly the standard learning hierarchy wasn’t working here. The Yeah-buts persisted because their unwillingness to be inconvenienced by the need to provide their own shopping bags triumphed over their knowledge of the harm that plastic bags do. For these people, the inconvenience of forgetting their bags is acute, whereas the guilt over using unnecessary plastic is more vague. So this is where the government stepped in and removed the option of single-use plastic bags altogether.

Under pressure from environmental groups and concerned individuals, governments introduced a legislated ban on single-use plastic bags. This is a different approach to the standard learning hierarchy, which seeks to change people’s perception first, and then their behaviour. Here, people’s behaviour was forcibly altered in the hope that their knowledge and feelings would catch up.

The idea that people will reject an opportunity to acquire a new habit that will bring positive environmental change because it inconveniences them is one that clearly needs more research. It’s hard to think of another example where this inconvenience has resulted from a government mandating the withdrawal of a legal product to benefit the environment.

The case of the plastic bag ban is still being analysed, but could it provoke copycat behaviour by other environmental agencies – lobbying for legislation to force people to take a particular course of action while waiting for them to realise it’s the “right” thing to do and it makes them feel good? It’s an avenue that has been explored by some over many years, with varying degrees of success.




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Only time will tell if the use of legislation makes the Yeah-buts’ resistance over the single-use plastic bag futile. If it does seem to work, watch out for a slew of applications from other environmental agencies and charities for similar levels of strong-arm government support.

The ConversationBut those organisations will have to be prepared to weather a severe storm of backlash and negative public sentiment if they think legislation is the way to go. It’s not the governments that will be held liable: just ask Coles and Woolies!

Anne Lane, Academic and researcher, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Green is the new black: why retailers want you to know about their green credentials


File 20180628 112611 198lh5y.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Is it really that hard to switch to paper or cloth bags?
Guus Baggermans | Unsplash

Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania and Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

Australian supermarkets phasing out single-use plastic bags is just one example of how retailers are fiercely engaged in a race to be “green”. Other examples are dumping plastic straws, buying back used products and reducing unnecessary packaging.

Rather than competing on price or time, green credentials offer a way for retailers to differentiate themselves. Encouraging customers to make overtly good moves also has a psychological effect, allowing them to excuse poor behaviour elsewhere – such as buying a product that may not be ethically sourced.

Having a strong green record also helps create a buffer for when events like plastic bags killing whales or sweatshop abuse hit the headlines.




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Way back in April Woolworths announced the removal of all single-use bags across the country by the end of June. Although, after some backlash, Woolworths has said it will give bags to customers until the 8th of July.

Coles will also ban single-use bags from July 1.

Woolworths has since announced further strategies for “a greener future”. These include reducing unnecessary packaging and linking with “food waste diversion partners”.

However, sustainability is bigger than just food waste and plastics.

Ikea Australia recently announced it will “buy back” used furniture to resell. IKEA has been doing this in other markets, like Hong Kong, for some time.

Buying ‘green’ makes us feel good

The consumer market for green products and services was estimated at US$230 billion in 2009 and predicted to grow to $845 billion by 2015.

While consumers are increasingly engaging in shopping activities that support the environment, such as reusing shopping bags, buying local and supporting local farmers and producers, at the same time many are still tempted by A$4 T-shirts from Kmart.

This behaviour can perhaps be explained by the effect of “moral self-licensing”. This is where consumers do something good to offset their bad behaviour.




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In the context of shopping, a good deed, a customer putting reusable bags in the boot of the car, will be followed by a not-so-good deed, such as driving to the shops in our gas-guzzling 4WD.

In this way, the first choice gives us a positive self-concept, which negates or “licenses” the subsequent more self-indulgent choice.

A slippery (green) slope

The only concern for companies is that they might be accused of “greenwashing” – using marketing to create the perception that their policies, purpose or products are environmentally friendly, when that’s not really the case.

Despite consumer awareness of the practice of greenwashing, the number of companies making green claims has escalated sharply in recent years as organisations strive to meet escalating consumer demand for greener products and services.

According to one advertising consultancy, there were 2,219 products making green claims in 2009 alone, a 79% increase over two years earlier.




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Research shows that when consumers are sceptical about a retailer’s corporate social responsibility practices, this can damage the retailer’s brand, increase sensitivity to negative information and stimulate unfavourable word of mouth.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen exactly these phenomena play out again and again.

Several years ago, Walmart faced scrutiny about its corporate social responsibility claims relating to renewable energy, the industrialisation of food systems and its cheaply made, disposable products.

Starbuck’s green credentials were met with scepticism when it was reported some stores left taps running all day to clear pipes.

Other retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, JC Penney and Backcountry.com have faced fines for making misleading environmental claims.




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Banning the single-use plastic bag alone will not save the environment. Sadly, it is not as simple as that. Research shows lightweight plastic shopping bags make up around 1.6% of litter in Australia or less than 2% of landfill.

However, despite some backlash, banning the bag is certainly a step in the right direct.

The ConversationRemembering to bring reusable shopping bags is a fairly significant change in shopping behaviour, but the practice has been successfully implemented in states such as Tasmania, which banned single use bags several years ago.

Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania and Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Working with nature can help us build greener cities instead of urban slums



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Garden roofs (like these in Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan province) need maintenance and community involvement.
from shutterstock.com

Paul Osmond, UNSW

As Australian cities grow and transform, we need to ensure we are not building the slums of the future by making buildings so tall and tight they turn our streets into stark canyons. Sydney’s Wolli Creek, where buildings dominate and tower over a transport hub, is an example of where this is happening. It is now considered one of the city’s densest areas.

Dense, high buildings limit the space available for urban greenery and, unfortunately, the current development boom privileges concrete and glass over vegetation. A more strategic approach to urban growth can ensure our cities maintain adequate green space and become low-carbon, efficient and affordable.

It’s also vital the community and individuals are enthusiastic drivers of such change, with shared ownership of it. Imaginative projects – at times described as urban acupuncture – can all play a role. This is where small-scale interventions (like green balconies) are applied to transform the larger urban context, improve the environment and make the city liveable.




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Higher-density cities need greening to stay healthy and liveable


Going up or out

Whether you go up (higher) or out (more), or both, there are always challenges and opportunities.

The drawback in going out is that we start creeping into our remaining open space, including important biodiversity hotspots.

Sydney’s Wolli Creek is considered one of the city’s densest areas.
from shutterstock.com

Going out can also encroach on agricultural land. Farmers around the Sydney basin produced up to 20% of the area’s fresh food needs in 2011. But researchers have predicted urban sprawl and rising land prices will lead this to drop to 6% by 2031, losing both produce and jobs.

Going up is an approach driven by proximity to transport, utilities and employment, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. Major upward developments, like Wolli Creek, are logically being located around transport nodes. But these then become dense and concentrated areas, putting growing pressure on open space and community facilities.

Community projects

Community consultation is key before any major project and redevelopment, as genuine dialogue supports shared ownership of the outcomes. Existing community projects must be celebrated. Having an engaged and empowered community leads to a healthier, happier population.




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No garden? Five creative ways city dwellers can still grow their own


In Sydney, new precincts like Waterloo are ambitious and have good intentions. These areas aim to deliver new homes, shops, major transport services, community facilities, parks and open spaces over the next 20 years – and they’re located close to the urban centre.

Waterloo already has three community gardens, which bring together public housing residents through growing and sharing fresh produce. This approach is important to continue and initiate new projects.

Green roofs can become community gardens.
from shutterstock.com

Around the world there have also been successes with city farming where the community grows and sells agricultural produce locally. In skyscraper Singapore, they are farming vertically at Sky Greens, providing an alternative to importing food for this densely peopled city-state.

Green roofs are another alternative where communities can grow flowers and vegetables while providing training and jobs. A good example is the Uncommon Ground rooftop farm in Chicago.




Read more:
Australian cities are lagging behind in greening up their buildings


In Australia, the Grounds is a former pie factory in the industrial heart of Sydney’s Alexandria. In 2012, the site began to metamorphose into a cafe, restaurant, bakery, organic mini-farm and more. This is a successful example of how a little greenery has turned a bleak post-industrial site into an enjoyable destination, where young and old from far and wide come to enjoy the plants, animals and coffee.

The Grounds in Sydney’s Alexandria was transformed from an industrial site into an enjoyable destination.
Herry Lawford/Flickr, CC BY

A domestic garden, a green balcony or a green wall can all play a role – but these need ongoing care and attention, which means individuals and engaged communities must drive the enthusiasm.

Nature in the city

So, for a start, let’s not build fast and furiously without grasping the place as a whole and making the most of what is already there. This means preserving mature trees and shrubs, leaving open space unpaved and protecting areas of deep soil for future planting.

Maintaining, enhancing and creating urban green space not only fulfils the requirements for urban acupuncture, but – to mix medical metaphors – provides a kind of urban vaccination against the emergence of slums, where nothing can grow and depression sets in.

The ConversationWe can combine building development with what Stefan Boeri Architects have described as “vertical densification of nature within the city” to achieve a new kind of urban nature – nature in the city to transform the nature of the city.

Paul Osmond, Senior Lecturer and Director, Sustainable Built Environment program, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Children living in green neighbourhoods are less likely to develop asthma



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Several studies have shown that spending time in nature is good for health. Now new research has looked specifically at asthma and found that living in green neighbourhoods protects children from developing the condition.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-SA

Jeroen Douwes, Massey University and Geoffrey H. Donovan, United States Forest Service

Since the pioneering work of architecture professor Roger Ulrich, who found that patients with a view of a natural scene recovered more quickly from surgery, research has shown that exposure to the natural
environment is associated with a wide range of health benefits.

We have focused our work on asthma, and our research, published today, shows that children who live in greener neighbourhoods are less likely to develop it.

Not all greenness was equally effective, however. If a child was exposed to a broader range of plants, they were even less likely to get asthma. Exposure to landscapes with low plant diversity, such as gorse and exotic conifers, on the other hand, were a risk factor for asthma. Thus, greenness is good, but more biodiverse greenness is even better.




Read more:
How urban bushland improves our health and why planners need to listen


How nature protects against asthma

One intriguing explanation is provided by the hygiene hypothesis, which proposes that for children’s immune systems to develop properly, they need to be exposed to a broad range of microbes in early life. Without this exposure, children may be more susceptible to immunological diseases, like allergies and asthma.

The hygiene hypothesis explains why children living on farms, where they are exposed to a wide range of animals, are less likely to develop asthma. However, it’s not only farm children who benefit from exposure to animals. Having a pet in the house can also help protect against asthma. Similarly, children with more siblings are less likely to be asthmatic.




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Four ways having a pet increases your lifespan


Living around a more diverse range of plants may also increase a child’s exposure to microbes. In fact, past studies have shown that people who live in more biodiverse areas have more diverse skin bacteria. Exposure to the natural environment may, therefore, improve our health by increasing the diversity of microbes living on our skin and in our gut.

This, in turn, may promote a healthy immune response and reduce the risk of allergies and asthma. Reduced stress and increased physical activity, associated with living close to green space, may be another reason for the observed protective effects.

Tracking children’s environment

This study used the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), which is a large database of individual-level data maintained by Stats New Zealand. Currently, it contains 166 billion pieces of information on education, benefits, tax, families and households, health, justice and migration.

Using these data, we were able to track where children lived from birth until age 18, calculate the greenness of their neighbourhoods using satellite imagery and land-use data, and link to health records throughout each child’s life. This was all done anonymously, in a secure data lab, to safeguard the children’s privacy.

This study is an unusual collaboration between economists at the US Forest Service and epidemiologists in New Zealand. It contributes to our understanding of why asthma is on the rise.

Our results may lead to some innovative strategies to combat asthma, although there is a need to elucidate the underlying immunological mechanisms.

Improved prevention and treatment options for asthma are urgently needed as the burden of asthma is considerable, with 334 million people affected worldwide. Asthma prevalence in English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Australia, the US and the UK is particularly high, with approximately one in six people suffering from it.

Good for people, good for the planet

Showing a link between biodiversity and human health may also change how we manage natural resources, especially in cities. Unfortunately, biodiversity is declining around the world due to population growth, climate change and intensive agricultural practices. Our work suggests that this is not just an ecological problem, but may also present a significant threat to public health.

The ConversationOther studies have suggested that the exposure to the natural environment also protects against low birth weight, heart disease, mental health disorders and breast cancer, although results have not always been consistent. Therefore, as the diversity of our natural environment and resultant microbial exposure declines, we may see further increases in diseases, such as childhood allergies and asthma.

Jeroen Douwes, Professor of Public Health; Director, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University and Geoffrey H. Donovan, Economist, United States Forest Service

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.