Cities can be great places to live, especially if you are looking to reduce your environmental impact, as higher-density cities use less land per person, encourage methods of active transportation such as walking or biking, and offer pro-environmental businesses and services like carshare and cupshare.
Despite these benefits, cities are often missing a crucial element: nature! One of the biggest differences between rural life and city living is that nature is less accessible and less visible in urban areas. However, this doesn’t have to be the case!
As we have become more aware about the important role that nature plays in the human experience, it has become more common to include green infrastructure in our cities!
Green infrastructure can be defined as the natural vegetative systems such as green spaces and trees in towns and cities that provide us with environmental, societal, and economic benefits.
Different types of green infrastructure and their benefits
Green spaces in cities come in many different shapes and forms. While green spaces in rural areas are abundant and often composed of wide-open areas, cities have to get a bit more creative! After all, who wants to live in a city made up of endless concrete buildings?
Trees as infrastructure? Yep!
Trees are maybe one of the most common types of green infrastructure that you will be able to find in cities. As they don’t take up too much space and are relatively inexpensive, they can be planted all over the city. Although they might not seem like much at first, trees provide many environmental, social and economic benefits!
Most people are aware that trees and other forms of greenery help improve air quality. Trees help remove CO2 from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis and return oxygen back into the atmosphere. What you may not know is that trees are also able to remove other pollutants from the air through the stomata in their leaves! As cities produce numerous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, it is important to have a cost-effective way of filtering them!
Additionally, trees are great for filtering storm water runoff, as they reduce the amount of runoff that enters storm water and sewer systems. They not only reduce runoff by capturing and storing rainfall in the canopy, where water is released into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, but their roots also promote infiltration of rainwater into the soil.
Lastly, trees provide many benefits to humans. Big and beautiful trees can add so much aesthetic value to residential or commercial properties, which therefore results in increased property values. They also increase human comfort, by reducing noise and they are excellent at providing shade for pedestrians and shading buildings when strategically placed in front of windows to help reduce the need for air conditioning.
Green Roofs - the hidden potential
Green roofs are a type of green infrastructure that makes creative use of space. While it can be difficult to find space on the ground for parks and open green spaces, there are ways to work around that! Green roofs provide cities with the ability to introduce green spaces into underutilized spaces. If there are enough green roofs close together, they can become useful as habitats to a variety of species such as pollinators and migrating birds.
They also provide wellbeing benefits to humans! Imagine being able to take your lunch break surrounded by plants and a beautiful view on the roof of your office building!
Additionally, green roofs help to minimize the urban heat island effect that is created when dark surfaces such as asphalt or concrete absorb and trap heat. Vegetation reduces roof temperatures in the summer months by reflecting some of the solar radiation instead of completely absorbing it. This not only decreases the outdoor temperatures but decreases the internal temperature of the building as well, leading to energy savings in the building!
Parks improve lives and cities
Parks combine all the benefits of trees and green roofs with greater opportunities for recreation. While parks can be small, on a single city lot or expansive, when cities incorporate at least one or two big stretches of greenspace for everyone to enjoy. Think of Central Park in New York City! Of course, parks in your city might not be as big, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t massively important when it comes to the environmental, social, and economic benefits they provide.
One of the best things about parks is that they encourage people to be active by providing biking trails, walking paths, and wide-open spaces for playing sports such as soccer or of course - Ultimate frisbee. Sometimes the best way to get more physically active is by engaging in outdoor activities that allow you to enjoy nature and feel the sun on your skin.
Not only do parks and outdoor green spaces help improve your physical health, but they have shown to have mental wellbeing benefits as well! Being immersed in nature can reduce stress, reduce feelings of anxiety or depression, and overall increase one’s quality of life. For more information about the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of nature, check out these articles on community gardens, forest schools, and forest therapy.
Green infrastructure needs to be protected!
With some of the many benefits of green infrastructure mentioned, hopefully you are able to see just how important these spaces are to the wellbeing and functioning of cities and the people who inhabit them!
When we pass by these urban features in our daily routines, it can be easy to forget about all their contributions and think of them as simply part of the layout of the city. However, it is important to remind ourselves of their value, as they often need our protection! Increasing urbanization can threaten the existence of our trees and parks, as they can be lost to development.
Taking action to preserve green spaces and even create new ones can help keep your city green! This comprehensive guide to preserving and promoting green spaces from the perspective of a citizen or community group can help you guide your efforts! Although it is Canadian-based, broad ideas and concepts can be applied almost anywhere!
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