Globally our societies are becoming increasingly urbanised with the United Nations (UN) reporting that already the majority of people live in urban settings with predictions this will rise to 66 per cent by 2050. Historically this has often meant increasingly constructed, grey, environments, however, there are increasing demands to green our cities with the introduction of more plants and trees.
Last month London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, unveiled plans to make the English capital the world’s first “National Park City” by 2019. With initial funding of £9M the intention is to increase the amount of green space including encouraging the development of more green roofs, green walls and rain gardens. This initiative connects to the UN Sustainable Development goals for cities and the calls for accessible greenspace made in the New Urban Agenda that emerged after the 2016 UN Summit on Future Cities.
Whilst some have highlighted the challenges for an existing cityscape like London of introducing more green into the urban fabric alongside demands for housing, businesses and service infrastructure recently published research indicates that the Mayor’s plan could bring not just environmental benefits (reducing surface water flooding, improving air quality, cooling urban heat islands and increasing local wildlife diversity) but also improve the mental health and well-being of Londoner’s and increase the economic vitality of the city.
Our newly published Area paper describes the impact of introducing a relatively small number of green infrastructure schemes around Victoria station in London. The findings illustrate that as well as the known environmental returns investing in urban green infrastructure within existing neighbourhoods could also make sound financial sense. The research provides new evidence that city greenery can increase customer footfall particularly for retail and leisure businesses, encouraging visitors to ‘linger-longer’ and potentially ‘spend more’ in a pleasanter environment. In our city workplaces the study found that investing in office greenspace improved staff member’s morale and work satisfaction. Greener workplace setting also seem to encourage staff to adopt more sustainable behaviours including better energy saving and recycling again potentially bringing both environmental and economic benefits.
This new evidence indicates that, alongside the London Mayoral investment, the city’s private enterprises should also consider financing the incorporation of more green infrastructure into new building schemes whilst retrofitting green walls and street trees into existing neighbourhoods where possible. These improvements could boost their economic value for retail and desirability for employers. A National Park City investments could not only make environmental sense but could bring sound financial and well-being benefits as well.
This blog post by Steve Cinderby (SEI Senior Researcher) and Sue Bagwell (London Metropolitan University) first appeared in Geography Directions, August 2017.
About the authors: Steve Cinderby is a Senior Researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), University of York. Sue Bagwell is Research Development Manager at the Cities Institute London Metropolitan University.
Source: Geography Directions, UK