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Living Cities: Urban Greening and the Future of Sustainability

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Freya Harrod discusses the impacts of urban greening as well as examining its potential.

Image credit: Igor Ovsyannykov on Pixabay

We’ve all seen it: you’re walking through a concrete-ridden City Centre, you turn a corner and suddenly you’re face-to-face with a wall of green. More and more we see cities opting for these little sanctuaries, with flowers and shrubbery bursting out of the tiniest little gaps, rooves and grooves. But why is this happening? Is it just to give our cities a spring cleaning – in the most literal sense – or do these splashes of green function more than on an aesthetic level? Turns out there’s more than meets the eye to this trend!

What is Urban Greening?

First of all – what actually is urban greening? Generally, it is defined as greenery being “more and more incorporated in the built environment”; effectively, the addition of anything natural to our urban cityscapes.

Of course, this takes form in many ways; we’ve come far from Urban greening consisting of the occasional line of saplings or a new park. The climate-concerned are constantly innovating new ways to regreen and revive our cities and towns. For instance, the Liverpool Living Wall does more than just add plants to the place it also hosts 20,000 bees!

Image credit: Jon Sullivan on Pixnio

These unique residents do more than just keep the wall looking lush and lovely – they also travel as far as three miles to pollinate the city’s natural environment! This greatly improves the ecology of the local area and is more important than some might think; adding a tree here and there may spruce the place up, but without habitats for the pollinators who keep that ecology thriving, these efforts quickly lose their sustainability and begin to look more and more like greenwashing.

Greening or Greenwashing?

With climate anxiety growing just as fast as these greenwashing movements, we need to make sure that Urban greening is not just done to appease the masses – but also with real sustainable intent in mind. It’s all well regreening our concrete cities – but that concrete was also built on top of the eco-systems that lived there before. Rebuilding this ecology is essential to bringing nature back into our cityscapes.

But, of course, pressure from climate activists can encourage councils to regreen for the wrong reasons. However, in the issue of urban greening this isn’t always that problematic. Although councils may construct a green wall for economic benefits, or reduction of protests from residents surrounding pollution levels, the multitude of environmental, health and social benefits to urban greening are still effective.

The core issue greenwashing raises in this topic is the longitudinal nature of these structures. They must be built to survive and last, otherwise there’s simply no point! Councils spending huge amounts of money on green projects may seem good, but if these structures aren’t carefully thought out, they simply cannot be relied on as a sustainable future method of regreening our urban landscapes.

Islington council exemplified this problem and were slammed by the Press in 2009 after spending £100,000 of taxpayer money on a living wall which dried out and died after a failure of the water system’s engineering! Council slammed for spending £100,000 on ‘living wall’ of plants – which dried out and died.

Urban Regreening: What’s the point?

But, other than this, what does regreening really achieve? Well, there’s more than one benefit there:

- Urban greening makes cities more beautiful

- It helps reduce air and noise pollution

- It can help to improve the mental health of residents

- It can even reduce crime!

That’s right – one study found that being around natural landscapes reduced the reports of domestic crime in public housing residents by 25%. Even minor crimes such as vandalism, graffiti and littering were found to decrease noticeably with the introduction of more green spaces.

So not only is Urban greening more sustainable – but safer as well!

Image credit: Martino Phuc on Pixabay

Greening and our Sustainable Future

In a world that is exponentially growing and becoming more distant, the upward trend in Urban greening can remind us how interconnected we really are.

Constantly new structures are built, and new people move in; when life is so fast it can be hard to see or care about our neighbours. Both the human ones – and the animals and plants that struggle to survive in this hectic world just as we do.

Pumping out plastic and pollution we forget about those who breathe it in, who live beside us.

Perhaps when you drive to work you don’t notice that occasional bush, or tree, or wall of plants. But they are keeping you alive. And with every new person and bit of green, the balance between these two in the fight for our health, the planet, and everyday life becomes ever more crucial. Sometimes it may just seem like a makeover for our grey cities and towns, but Urban greening is a necessity if we humans want to have a happy, healthy, and sustainable future!

About the author: Freya Harrod is a second-year student at Loughborough University studying English Literature who loves all things natural; whether that’s walking in the woods, making mossy plants at work or helping out at Loughborough’s Landscape & Gardening Society.

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