Blue-Green Infrastructure Makes for Solutions that Are Better, Healthier, Happier – and Less Costly, If You Count Correctly

Bishan-Ang_Mo_Kio_Park

Our green areas are devoured chunk by chunk through urban creep. Population growth and urbanisation are drivers, but old-fashioned thinking is the villain. Green and blue infrastructure represents the preferable alternative: a bright future that, according to panelist Bettina Dreiseitl-Wanschura, Managing Consultant, Ramboll Liveable Cities Lab: “I think will really lead to happiness”.

(Session name: Designing with Nature: Global Examples of Holistic Ecosystem-Based Adaptation. Facilitator: Sarah Birch, Climate Risk and Biodiversity Program Manager, ICLEI Africa Secretariat, Cape Town. Picture credit: Wirbel1980)

If Dreiseitl-Wanschura’s unfortunately failed attempt to accompany her remark with the “Happy” tunes of Pharell Williams wasn’t enough, another exemplary, high bar was set earlier in the session:

“We are trying to change the basics of the architectural process”
Ivana Mirosavic, PhD Candidate, University of Bonn

In the most upbeat and positive session I’ve attended at Resilient Cities, six panelists (see bottom) collectively declared gray business-as-usual approached as violently violating their expiration dates. They also presented projects from around the world at the forefront of Green-Blue city planning. Attracting the audience’s liking, panelist Professor Cedo Maksimovic, Imperial College, London, and of the Blue Green Dream, set out the ambition:

“Humbly, we want to conquer the world.”

Singapore’s Garden by the Bay project and the Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park (depicted above and consulted on by the Ramboll Liveable Cities Lab”) are great examples, turning domestic water deficits and concrete drowning-traps for floodwater into tourist-attracting self-sufficiency and much-needed green leisure areas in the space-constrained city-state. Equally brilliant projects were presented on London, headquarters of the Blue Green Dream organization and site for the wetland project in the Olympic Park, on which Atkins consulted via the Future Proofing Cities collaboration, and on Copenhagen, with its Cloudburst Management Plan.

As these presentations showed, evidence abounds on how blue greening can create nicer, healthier and more mobile cities, conducive to biodiversity, urban agriculture and housing, and making the latter into ecosystems in themselves that also provide energy, cooling, insulation and freshwater. Most importantly, blue-greening mimics nature in designing ecosystem-based, smart adaptation solutions.

And the usefulness of blue-green infrastructure is not limited to adaptation. Maksimovic:

“Adaptation is not just a negative measure, it can also create opportunities for the city.”

Opportunities as for example significant tourism proceeds and economic injections through raised property values. These can be hard to calculate, however, and even more so is the case for costs for flooding, health problems, noise pollution, exacerbating heat island warming and water pollution, etc. I used to harbor doubts on whether or not it is smart or even ethical to put a value on nature, but, for the sake of speeding up our transition, the questions from the audience regarding these calculation problems helped me make up my mind: they asked about costs and jobs, and the panelists answered that decisions on blue-green are almost always no brainers. Maksimovic again:

“To blue-green or not to blue-green, that is not the question.”

But with business cases lacking adequate bases for decisions, most projects sadly will not come to pass. However, Dreiseitl-Wanschura gave a prime argument to utilize here:

“If you do blue-greening in integrated ways, you don’t eventually have to pay for all of the simultaneously addressed challenges individually.”

Members of the audience also wondered how to best tackle political realities hampering transition and adaptation efforts. One noted:

“Sometimes I pray to God for a small disaster, so that the people in my city can understand the need for adaptation and resilience.”

Following the rest of the audience’s nervous laughter to this, Lykke Leonardsen Head of Climate Section, City of Copenhagen, answered that:

“Outright bans of for example cars in favor of bikes is probably not the way to go, less conflict-provoking compromises are better”

Leonardsen also stood behind the call for voters to change their ways, nicely summed up by Maksimovic as:

“We need to elect mayors that are more proactive, that don’t consider going for blue-greening a re-election risk but rather as a bid for promotion.”

Underpinning the feasibility of such approaches, the much-inspiring session was concluded with the following statement from quote-machine Maksimovic:

“We are very humble, we only think that the next phase in human evolution is blue-green.”

Jonas P. Svensson, Senior Advisor, Atkins, Malmö, agreed:

“It is possible to do things with nature. [...] The problem we face now is the old way of calculating costs and benefits.”

Tim Isaksson
Student, Lund University

Tim Isaksson