Greening our cities
Green, healthy cities attract investment for innovation and can act as hubs for creativity and wealth creation. A Green Week panel considered some of the nature-based solutions devised by leading cities to tackle problems such as flooding and air, soil and water quality.
European Green Capital award winners commit to sharing their best practices, whether in environmental technologies or other solutions. Green Week showcased a number of examples, with current title-holder Bristol and 2014 winner Copenhagen leading the way.
António Vicente, Head of Cabinet for
C. Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
“One-third of Bristol is green space or water,” said George Ferguson, the city's mayor. Nature is one of the five themes of Bristol’s year as EU Green Capital 2015, and a range of environmental projects have been launched, from the Bristol Natural History Consortium – which includes the BBC as a partner – to the ‘One tree per child’ planting initiative. Ferguson noted how spending on green infrastructure provides a form of “eco-therapy”, contributing to lower health costs which benefits both citizens' well-being and the public purse.
For Copenhagen, Lykke Leonardsen, Head of the city's Climate Unit, explained how a cloudburst in July 2011 had taught planners about the city's vulnerability to flooding. When over 15 cm of rain fell in less than three hours, the need to look at the city as an integrated system was obvious. Planners are now using nature-based green and multifunctional infrastructure to good effect.
As well as letting water flow along the beds of old streams, the city will use lakes as retention basins to store water during floods and still be used as public parks when water levels are lower. “Who says a road has to only be a road?” she asked. Careful planning means that water can flow down “cloudburst boulevards” during floods in a controlled way, avoiding flood damage elsewhere.
Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development at Siemens' Centre of Competences for Cities, pointed out the new opportunities offered by making digital information more easily available to consumers. “If we measure what we consume we can reduce it considerably,” he said.
António Vicente, Head of Cabinet for Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, wondered what cities would look like if nature had planned them. A question that might be answered under Horizon 2020, the EU’s vast research and innovation funding programme, where research into sustainable cities as ‘urban living labs’ is a high priority. He stressed how cities need to take an integrated approach to issues like consumption and energy use. “We cannot be more energy efficient only to use more energy; we cannot recycle more only to consume more,” he said. “We need to pool resources not deplete them.”