Perhaps the greatest obstacle to understanding our cities in terms of green infrastructure is the challenge it poses for ‘business as usual’. This kind of soft engineering is in stark contrast to a more orthodox, capital-intensive, technologically based approach to the way you design and manage a place.
Traffic planners and highway engineers, for example, are used to tackling congestion with road-widening schemes and sophisticated traffic management systems. Now they need to provide green routes to school and networks of low-key interconnected cycleways. Flood defence may still need concrete flood barriers and energy-consuming pumping schemes. But green infrastructure offers a more sustainable alternative of wetlands for flood defence, sheltering tree canopies, absorbent green spaces, and living plants in the streets and on the buildings themselves.
Thinking in terms of green infrastructure will therefore mean change. It may involve teaching students out of doors on a regular basis, planning short journeys more thoughtfully, growing local food in public spaces, managing wetlands and accepting gradual environmental improvement instead of high-cost quick fixes. Some people will find it difficult to work with nature after years of working in less sustainable ways, while others are likely to embrace the idea much more readily.
As a result, we need not only a shift in investment strategies but a change in culture. Indeed, the one depends upon the other.
Green spaces create a civilised city.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
Green infrastructure needs to be championed at the highest level. It demands fresh thinking, refined technical skills and visionary political commitment.
For far too long, a shortage of committed champions has meant that the benefits of green infrastructure have been routinely undervalued. Joined-up policy making is hard for big institutions to achieve and needs endorsement at the highest level.
CABE believes that every local authority should aim to weave functional green infrastructure throughout its services, from education to development control and from transportation to environmental health.
A strategy for green infrastructure should sit comfortably at the heart of a local authority’s sustainability portfolio, reinforced with a commitment to the necessary skills training and career development.
It will help to deliver the vast majority of a council’s national performance indicators. And just as important, it will create the kind of places where people love to live.