28th May 2021
The pandemic has brought home to many urban dwellers, the challenges inherent in our cities. And no more so than that of inequality. The London Mayoral Election campaigns, although relatively muted in tone, responded to this, proposing initiatives that sought to deliver a green recovery for London, reducing carbon emission and enahncing existing green space, alongside jobs and housing. With Khan victorious though, where should he be investing his efforts to make these ambitions a reality?
As a Landscaper Designer, I see all these issues, and therefore our bid as a city to reduce inequality, as being intrinsically linked. Through Greenkeeper we have been able to prove that by ‘building back greener’, we can directly tackle health inequality for communities, but we can also make serious steps in facilitating and encouraging active travel and enhancing air quality. But how do we maximise investment and ensure the capital projects Khan or local Borough’s support are securing maximum return for everyone? The pandemic has enabled the introduction of controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Khan’s ambitions for more tree-lined, green streets are admirable, but how do we know where best to put them to ensure everyone benefits from them?
Earlier this year, the Greenkeeper Team were approached by the GLA to work with three London Borough’s on this very problem and our findings, although not yet published, are already throwing up some interesting pointers for anyone considering the future of our towns and cities.
Fortune favours the brave. When looking at the figure ground of a classic patch of urban London it is easy to see how many feel the opportunity for adding meaningful greenspace is limited. But if we can embrace the thought of modal shift and therefore the huge opportunity transforming our roads into greenspace presents, there is so much more we can deliver. I am by no means naïve about the transition to active travel, but by reducing road surface, delivering shared surfaces and rethinking the green within this, we are proving that we can not only transform key routes within urban areas and enhance connectivity but also deliver the green immersion we know delivers strong health benefits. It is therefore the brave Borough’s and towns/cities who will deliver meaningful change, over bollards and blockades that inconvenience and frustrate.
Consider green space as an infrastructure network. By understanding urban patterns of movement and the strengths and weaknesses of existing greenspace that good urban design combined with Greenkeeper delivers, we can make proposals which connect and enhance them. Existing open spaces can become even more accessible to the wider community, spreading the health benefits further and even targeted specifically deprived communities. Thinking strategically about where these green corridors are placed, can connect key community infrastructure through green and again maximise the return on investment they deliver.
Consider green infrastructure’s role in high street rejuvenation. Yes, tree-lined streets are important to deliver a shot of greenery to places, but shared surfaces and considered green routes, which enhance a community’s access to their local high street and deliver safe and desirable spaces to visit and dwell, will also have the potential to deliver huge additional economic benefits to a failing town centre.
By using the Greenkeeper model to test and inform the moves we are proposing, we have been able to open-up hugely exciting conversations with the London Borough’s we are working with, and several other towns and cities across the UK. By monetising the benefits change delivers we can demonstrate an understanding of the speed of return on investment for communities. But more importantly, we can demonstrate the greater return alternative options can deliver to properly inform the discussion and decision. green infrastructure investment goes from being a costly and even whimsical Mayoral fancy (think Garden Bridge!) to a community investment programme with a 2-year return. And immediately we can drive more constructive and ambitious conversations as well as provide a platform from which to secure support and funding.
I believe this work demonstrates there are some hugely exciting opportunities for our re-elected Mayor to proactively deliver a green recovery for London that is real and truly serves its communities. And I look forward to publishing these latest case studies to prove it!
Author: John Haxworth
John Haxworth, Landscape Partner