NEW eReport #93: Green and Blue in the Healthy City

This eReport, consisting of 7 papers and slide sets, presents some of the most innovative and advanced achievements worldwide for creating a healthy city through protection of green areas and waterways.

Deputy Mayor Tjasa Ficko explores how the City of Ljubljana, Slovenia is looking to create a “green living room” in the city’s center through transforming mobility. By limiting large segments of the city center to pedestrians only and few supplemental areas permitting limited local traffic, they are developing a human scaled city center that prioritizes the health and welfare of its habitants. Ljubljana is creating large swaths of green spaces through brown fields revitalization, green corridors, sustainable waste management and hi-tech bike share systems, transforming the way people connect with nature through everyday life.

In 1965, the City of Stavanger in Norway aimed to create a progressive urban green structure consisting of narrow green corridors with some bigger landscape parks in between. The goal was to make a cobweb of trails accessible for all inhabitants within 500m from their homes - an important contribution to public health. In 2012, the goal of creating, “probably one of the best urban green structures in the world” was almost reached, but the city needed to make people aware of these new opportunities and how they could use them.  As highlighted by Torgeir Soerenson, Head of Parks and Streets Department, the answer to this problem is the 52 Green Everyday Walks informational program, involving a book, local media, and several internet sites. This had such resounding success in garnering better quality of life that it has generated lasting effects on communities outside of Stavanger as well. Soerenson emphasizes one experience above all: Identify and preserve all possible public shortcuts! They are invaluable in establishing green, urban walks in every neighborhood!

Christine Bram, Executive Director of Zurich’s Parks and Open Spaces, focuses on the city’s relationship with waterways and nature.  As a city whose stated objective is to increase its density, it has been able to maintain its relationship with bodies of water as paramount to the social welfare of its citizens.  Consistently ranking at the top of international livability rankings, Zurich’s publicly owned open spaces, bodies of water, and pedestrian and cycling paths have been centerpieces to its success in this area. Switzerland’s direct democracy political apparatus has allowed its citizens to manifest the preservation and promotion of its prized waters through civic participation, all while maintaining ecological and natural considerations.

Dr. Peter Webber approaches the issue of greening a city and what is required to do so, coming to the determination that it requires time and patience.  His focus is on North Sydney, Australia and its development over the course of the last fifty years.  Through innumerable steps, North Sydney was transformed from a rundown harbor town into a green cityscape.  These steps ranged from reclaiming rundown industrial properties, to tree planting, to educational programs.  Additionally, new spaces were created, weaving works of art into the natural and urban fabrics of the urban landscape.  Through the persistence and determination of a community, it is exhibited in Webber’s paper that many little steps can lead to a large and lasting difference.

In examining the proposed Capibaribe Park in Recife, Brazil, Circe Monteiro examines the research methodology and interventions associated with the proposed thirty-kilometer park.  The park, slated to be along the main waterway of Recife, was commissioned by the local government and aimed at creating a plan to engage, “environmental, spatial and social issues”.  Led by a research group at the Federal University, the project takes on the challenge of reconnecting the local population to its river and creating greater accessibility to public parks in a municipality where only 0.5% of its area is devoted to public spaces and parks.  Monteiro’s paper focuses on the project’s desire to reinvent a 500-year-old city that has lost touch with public gathering spaces and place a new emphasis on alternative non-motorized forms of transportation, creating a more livable city for its inhabitants.

Randall Coleman and Ashleigh Uiska take on the issue of food supplies and “Low-Tech” vertical farming.  They note that while most of the developed world takes its abundance of food for granted, 870 million individuals across the globe are undernourished.  We are reaching a point in time where food insecurity is increasingly prevalent even in developed countries.  Coleman and Uiska believe the world is on course towards a “perfect storm” of pivotal issues where the demands for basic necessities of human life will increase dramatically over the next two to four decades. They present a model of vertical farms - growing pillars and growing walls - designed by their non-profit organization Can YA Love, using simple materials that can be found anywhere in the world.  They have been applied at the individual, neighborhood, and municipal levels in the U.S., Canada, Kenya, Colombia, Germany, and now Bristol.

Sustainability Consultant Elinore Huggett takes a critical look at what truly defines “green cities”, and the ways in which a “green city” is framed. She looks at the true benefits of the green city, beyond aesthetic and with a focus on sustainable land use and yield. Using London’s network of green infrastructure as a case study, Huggett demonstrates what types of green infrastructure are truly effective, possibly effective, and purely myth. Huggett uses science and reasoning to determine the efficacy of infrastructure that includes urban heat island mitigation, insulation, stormwater mitigation, air quality, acoustic attenuation, and food production and to what extent they can be effectively applied to truly enhance health and well being. 

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