It’s a kind of magic: how green infrastructure is changing landscapes and lives

Daisies in Victoria Park sent in by Fiona Ann Patterson

Victoria Park, Belfast. Image: Fiona Ann Paterson

The greatest change happening to the face of our planet is the rapid growth of urban areas. Every ten years, an area the size of Britain is colonised by urban development, and by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. This urban growth is already having a profound impact: while cities occupy 2% of the world’s surface, they consume 75% of the Earth’s natural resources and produce 75% of global CO2 emissions.

Last month’s Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) forum in Edinburgh explored how green infrastructure projects can help cities and towns repair the damage of urbanisation, while making urban areas more healthy and prosperous places for the people who live there.

The importance of green infrastructure

Green infrastructure includes elements such as parks and gardens, woodland and wetlands, canals and cycle paths. It’s a natural life support system that can play a key role in helping urban areas adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Three projects showcased at the CSGN forum admirably demonstrated how green infrastructure can benefit the environment, the economy, large cities and local communities.

Milan: building forests in the sky
Francesca Cesa Bianci, senior architect at Stefano Boeri Architects in Milan described a ground-breaking project in her city, called Bosco Verticale – the Vertical Forest.

She explained that, while urban growth cannot be stopped, it is possible to build cities more in harmony with nature. The Vertical Forest project is a response to this challenge.

Almost 800 trees and 5000 shrubs have been planted on the balconies of two residential towers built on a brownfield site in central Milan. The result is visually striking, but even more outstanding is the greenery’s environmental impact. The two towers absorb 30 tons of CO2 per year and produce 19 tons of oxygen a day. Noise and heat are also reduced and the buildings now provide habitat for more than 20 species of birds.

The Bosco Verticale idea is now spreading beyond Italy, with similar projects in Albania, Switzerland and China. Some municipalities in China are also exploring the idea of entire cities composed of vertical forests – which could bring significant benefits to urban areas where air pollution is a hidden killer.

Belfast: telling a different story

East Belfast is an area of multiple deprivation, with some of the worst levels of physical and mental health in Europe, low educational attainment and a deprived physical environment. The 2014 edition of the Rough Guide to Ireland warned readers that it was “inadvisable” to visit the area.

That scenario is now changing, thanks largely to a green infrastructure project. Wendy Langham, Programme Manager for the EastSide Partnership, outlined to the CSGN forum how the Connswater Community Greenway  (CCG) is changing lives and changing the way people think about the area.

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Connswater Community Greenway Image: EastSide Partnership, Belfast

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Executive, two major phases of development have created a 9km linear park with 16km of walking and cycling routes, 30 new or improved bridges crossing over three rivers, and works to deliver elements of Belfast’s Flood Alleviation scheme and improve water quality.

An ongoing assessment of the project has estimated the potential economic return of the CCG to be up to 14 times the investment. The flood alleviation investment of £11.7m has saved an estimated £54.7m.

The study also highlighted the wider benefits of the project:

“We have shown that environmental interventions, such as the Connswater Community Greenway, could be a cost-effective way to increase physical activity levels, prevent major chronic diseases and decrease healthcare expenditure. In addition, the Greenway may have benefits beyond health such as reductions in traffic and carbon emissions, crime and improvements in safety.”

The project has been keen to tell a different story about East Belfast from the negative narrative so long associated with the area. Celebrating local heroes, the project has developed a public square named in honour of author C.S. Lewis, while a Van Morrison music trail has attracted locals and tourists to the area.

Wendy explained that the project is far from finished, and has ambitious plans for the future. She concluded with a quotation from Michelangelo that captures the spirit of the project:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Copenhagen: connecting people with nature

For many years, the Danish capital has been the envy of cyclists the world over. But now, the city’s well-developed network of on-road cycling routes is being supplemented by a new set of ‘green cycle routes’. Winding through parks, open spaces, woodlands and other habitats, the new paths will give cyclists and pedestrians safe and enjoyable access to nature.

Niels Jensen, traffic planner with the City of Copenhagen, explained that the first of these green cycle routes opened in 2012, and a further 23 routes are planned, covering an area of over 100km. One of the routes connects central Copenhagen with the suburban town of Albertslund, 22 km outside the city, while another follows the course of an abandoned railway line.

Albertslund Bikeway

Albertslund Green Cycleway. Image: Soren Rud/LifeExhibitions. Further information – Copenhagen Green

Niels acknowledged that the investment in the project is significant – €20.7 million, But Copenhagen believes the benefits are worth the money,with more non-cyclists – including children – taking to bikes, using safe, direct and unpolluted connections. Since 2012, the first two routes have experienced a growth in the number of bicycle users of 61% and 34% respectively. The project expects to see a 25% increase in cycling traffic by 2025, advancing Copenhagen’s ambition to be the best cycling city in the world.

Conclusion

In her keynote speech to the CSGN forum, Scottish Government minister Roseanna Cunningham described the transformation achieved by green infrastructure as “magical”. She highlighted the examples of a project that will transform a landfill site in Glasgow into a community woodland, and another programme to improve mental health by bringing people into contact with woodlands and forests.

These projects, and those showcased during the CSGN forum demonstrate that our urbanising world need not be a concrete jungle, and that the benefits of green infrastructure go far beyond its face value.

Orangefield Park Celebrations

Orangefield Park, Belfast Image: EastSide Partnership, Belfast


Further reading on green spaces in our blog

A tale of five cities: night time transport infrastructure in global cities

By Rebecca Jackson

As London’s launch of its new night tube services is delayed, we compare night-time transport infrastructure in 5 cities and consider the importance of the night tube to allow London to maintain its status as one of the world’s great cities.

London is viewed, like most modern-day cities, as a 24-hour hub of activity, and supporters of the night tube have argued that we need 24- hour infrastructure to support it. The importance of the night tube on London’s night time economy has been heavily emphasised by supporters of the roll out. According to TfL, the night tube will create almost 2,000 new jobs and contribute £360m to the economy:

“Demand for a 24-hour Tube service is clear – late night Tube use has increased at double the rate of day-time trips and Night Bus usage has risen by 173 per cent since 2000. There are already over half a million users of the Tube after 22:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Under the plans for the night tube, services will run 24 hours over Friday and Saturday on five main tube lines: Jubilee, Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern and Central lines. Plans for further expansion are already in place.

But how does London compare with other world cities?

Many major world cities operate late running underground services, particularly at weekends. However when London eventually launches its night tube, it will become one of only seven cities to have ‘around the clock’ underground transportation, either in full or on particular days of the week. The other six are: Copenhagen, Berlin, Stockholm, Sydney, Chicago and New York.

That leaves many other major world cities with transport networks which do not reflect their ’24-hour’ reputations. Cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris have more limited night-time transport services but still effectively serve the inhabitants of some of the worlds biggest cities.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a highly developed and sophisticated public transport network which has made it the envy of city planners across the world. However it does not operate a 24 hour transport system, nor are there plans to introduce one.

Hong Kong’s public transport system is supported by 24- hour ferry services, buses, trams and moving public walkways to allow easy travel through the city although few of these run beyond midnight. Underground trains feature below ground 3G, colour coded stations to ease navigation of passengers and an integrated payment system in the form of an “Octopus” card. The equivalent of London’s “Oyster” card, it was the first of its kind in the world and can be used on all public transport in Hong Kong. Tickets cost an average of $14 HKD (£1.18).

New York

Hosting one of the largest underground train systems in the world, New York has been committed to offering 24 hour underground transportation since its first trains ran in 1904. It’s total track length spans the distance from Chicago to New York.

Recently they introduced a system which can email commuters details of a delayed journey to work, to justify lateness to employers; they also have an email alert system to inform passengers of delays on selected routes. An average equivalent Zone 1-6 fare in New York would cost $2.75 (£1.76) The London average is £5.10.

Paris

The second busiest subway system in Europe after Moscow, the Paris subway carries an average of 4.2 million passengers a day. Standard operating times are between 05:30am- 01:15am, except Friday, Saturday and nights before national holidays, when services run until 02:15.

There is contemplation in the French capital of whether to introduce a 24 hour service there – the success or failure of London’s scheme will undoubtedly impact on their decision. Paris metro fares are significantly lower than those in London, with tickets in the region of €1.80 (£1.28).

Copenhagen

Not the first city you might think of when looking at transportation in global cities, but in terms of transport infrastructure Copenhagen has one of the best in the world. Their driverless underground system has operated 24/7 since 2002. In addition an S-train system runs from 05:00am- 00:30am daily.

Awarded the “Best Metro” and “Best Driver-less Metro” awards at the 2010 MetroRail congress in London, the Copenhagen system is considered one of the safest, cleanest and most efficient underground lines in the world. An average ticket on this service would cost around 31 Danish Krone (£3.08).

Blueprint for the future

When London’s night tube finally launches, under the branding ‘free the night’, TfL will be keen to stress the unique qualities it will bring to London’s transport system. By making the city accessible for longer, the night tube will place London among a select group of world cities with 24-hour transport infrastructure.

And the success of the programme could prove key to encouraging some of the world’s other largest cities to follow suit, potentially allowing London to provide a blueprint for services which could be emulated across the globe.


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Read our article How data and smart city infrastructure can support transport planning for more on intelligent mobility and how London is leading the way in the use of data in transport planning.

Want to know more about inequality or digital public services? So do our members!

Photograph: James CarsonPhotograph: James Carson

One of the big attractions of the Idox Information Service is the wide range of subjects covered by our database.  From economic development to crime prevention, social care to urban planning, the breadth of coverage is impressive.  To offer a flavour of that diversity, here we take a snapshot of some recent journal articles that have been especially popular among our member organisations.

Britain: richer, but more unequal

An article in Poverty (A divided Britain) reviewed the evidence on economic inequality in the UK, drawing on four large-scale surveys between 1983 and 2012. These surveys measured public views on what constituted an unacceptable standard of living, and the basic necessities of everyday life, in Britain at the time. There was a rise in poverty over time among those in paid employment, those with children, lone parents, and those in families with disabilities. The article also explored the socio-economic and political changes over the last 30 years that have contributed to a society that is described as richer overall, yet more unequal. And it outlined measures to tackle growing economic inequality, focusing on structural factors including pay, educational opportunities, childcare, tax avoidance and universal welfare.

Copenhagen: digital city

The redevelopment of the Danish capital’s public service through digitalisation was highlighted in an article from Agenda NI (‘Digital public services’). Copenhagen has invested 30 million euro in developing a digitalisation scheme that enables citizens to access most public services online, including applications for passports and driving licences, wedding registrations and social security payments. The article explains that efficiency and cost-cutting was at the heart of the improvements, and as a result the city has made annual savings equating to 20 million euro. Getting city centre managers to buy into the changes was especially important, and one unusual incentive is to offer bonuses to managers taking risks, even if they make mistakes. The approach is certainly forward-thinking, and the article suggest that the Copenhagen model could be applied in other cities.

Olympics and Commonwealth Games: looking back, looking ahead

It’s been a year since Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games, and three years since the London Olympics. Two different articles have taken a look at the impact of these major sporting events.

In ‘Going for bronze’, The Economist describes the redevelopment of the Olympic Park. It reports that new housing has revived an area that previously felt like a ghost town, but notes that politicians in the area are unhappy that too little social and affordable housing has been built on the site. Much of the redevelopment would have taken place anyway, says the article, but the Olympics sped up the process. However, the full impact may still take another 15 years to be felt. As one academic tells The Economist: “Creating an ‘Olympic legacy’ is still more of a marathon than a sprint.”

The same might be said of the economic impact of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. One year on, Holyrood magazine has reflected on the effect of the Games in terms of tourism, infrastructure investment and employment. It finds that, while the Games generated new business for the host country, the real challenge is to build on that success. The article reports that agencies such as Scottish Development International (SDI) hope to capitalise on increased awareness of Scotland in areas such as food and drink. But, as Anne MacColl, chief executive of SDI tells Holyrood, Scotland needs to punch above its weight in the global marketplace: “We can only do that by ensuring our international propositions are seen and heard on the world stage.”


 

Want to know more about what we do? Our article Celebrating a different kind of library describes our membership service.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading

A divided Britain (economic inequality in the UK)

Digital public services (digital delivery of public services in Copenhagen)

Going for bronze (impact of the 2012 Olympics on east London)

Gold rush (economic impact of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games)

Urban cycling innovations: smart cities get on their bikes

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Image by Poom via Creative Commons

A new OECD report has identified cycling as one of the visible signs of a successful city. Although many cities have yet to adapt their infrastructures to accommodate the growing demand for cycle routes, others are finding inventive ways to bring the bike back to town.

Copenhagen’s green wave
The Danish capital’s gold-plated credentials as a cycle-friendly metropolis are clear enough: 41% of its residents commute by bike, using over 1000km of bicycle lanes. With so many cyclists on the streets, Copenhagen has come to learn the value of keeping the traffic flowing. Which is why the city introduced “green waves”, electronic systems that coordinate traffic signals to recognise bikes instead of cars.  Cyclists travelling at a speed of 20km/h find that they hit green lights all the way into the city in the morning, and back again at the evening rush hour. But Copenhagen isn’t resting on its saddle. The city is currently testing Green Wave 2.0, which will detect bicycle users approaching an intersection. If there are five or more cyclists together, the light will stay green until they pass.

London’s cycle superhighways
When it comes to cycling, London is no Copenhagen. Car-clogged streets make cycling in the UK capital difficult and dangerous. Even so, the number of bicycle journeys in London has doubled since 2000, and a 2013 cycling census found bikes making up around a quarter of rush-hour traffic in central London. That figure seems likely to rise further with the advent of two ‘cycle superhighways’. In February, Transport for London approved mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for the new bike routes, which will run east-west, linking Barking to Acton across central London, and north-south between King’s Cross and Elephant and Castle. Dubbed ‘Crossrail for the bike’, the routes are intended to offer riders more protection from other road users, with segregated cycle lanes, improved junctions and dedicated traffic signals.

Arlington’s equitable bike share scheme
The urban bike sharing concept had an unpromising start. When Amsterdam located 50 bikes for hire across the city in 1968, all of them were promptly stolen. But the idea was too good to die and today, from Dublin to Dubai, there are over 500 bike share schemes worldwide.  Almost all such schemes rely on credit or debit card payments, which excludes those citizens who want to hire a bike, but don’t have a credit card or bank account. Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., is trying something different to ensure more inclusive access to bike sharing. Residents who want to use its Capital Bikeshare programme will be able to pay cash for monthly memberships by visiting one of five ‘commuter stores’. To get started, applicants need only present proof of identification and residency and $16 in cash. When a customer’s account goes below $2, they’ll receive a reminder that they need to add more money to their account.

Mexico City’s cycle Sundays
“We love coming out and seeing our beautiful city from the seat of a bicycle, without the fear of death.”

When the mayor of Mexico City introduced the “Muevete en Bici” initiative in 2007, many dismissed it as a political stunt. But now, each Sunday, tens of thousands of residents get on their bikes and take possession of car-free streets, including the capital’s central eight-lane highway. Since being branded a gimmick the scheme has endured, as the city’s environmental secretary told the Washington Post:

“It has been a success. We shattered a myth that a megalopolis like Mexico City is not capable of considering the bike as a means of transport.”

The idea has also found favour elsewhere; during a visit to Jakarta, London’s mayor praised a similar scheme, and suggested it could work in London. But Boris Johnson doesn’t have to look as far as Indonesia or Mexico for a home-grown model: in Bristol, two roads in the city centre are closed to cars on one Sunday each month, as part of Mayor George Ferguson’s Make Sunday Special initiative.

These ideas offer just a flavour of how forward-thinking cities are adapting to the needs of cyclists as part of wider sustainable development strategies.  Other examples include Holland’s solar-powered bike lane, Tokyo’s subterranean bike parks and Manchester’s cycling community initiatives, among many more.

And it’s becoming clear that local authorities don’t have to develop their own urban cycling concepts from scratch, but can, like Bristol, borrow from other cities and adapt ideas to their own circumstances. As far as urban cycling is concerned, innovating is worth imitating.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on cycling and other transport topics, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading

Other resources which you may find interesting (some may only be available to Idox Information Service members):

TfL’s cycle superhighways rewrite the rules on roadspace allocation

International cycling infrastructure best practice study

Factors influencing bike share membership: an analysis of Melbourne and Brisbane

Cycling works: jobs and job creation in the cycling economy

Cycling plans, strategies and design guidelines

Green for go: the rebirth of light rail

tramby James Carson

When Edinburgh’s new tram system opens this week it will be three years overdue and millions of pounds over budget. But, in spite of the delays, spiralling costs and contractual difficulties, the Edinburgh system is joining a wider urban light rail renaissance.

Since the 1990s, municipalities around the world have been investing more in light rail transit systems: Continue reading

Cycling safety infrastructure and awareness: UK and beyond

Bicycle lane

by Laura Dobie

With governments facing challenges such as climate change adaptation, rapid urbanisation and congestion in cities, and increasing levels of obesity, it is unsurprising that the promotion of active travel is a growing preoccupation in transport policy in the UK and internationally. Continue reading