New research will improve city life with green infrastructure
7 March 2016
NERC is investing around £1·2 million in innovative projects designed to improve urban life and create sustainable cities by helping us make better use of 'green infrastructure' – natural spaces from roadside verges to parks and gardens.
Cities contain a lot of these green spaces, but many of them could be managed more effectively to improve the lives of local people.
Green infrastructure can provide a host of benefits - from absorbing rainwater to help reduce flooding to improving local people's wellbeing by giving them regular contact with nature. But putting a concrete economic value on these benefits is difficult, and this has tended to mean they haven't been given enough weight by decision-makers in government and industry.
The work funded under NERC's Green Infrastructure Innovation Projects call will help planners, policymakers and business understand the true value of green infrastructure, and make decisions accordingly.
The projects NERC has funded cover a lot of ground. Many seek to provide decision-makers with better tools to get a more accurate sense of the value of green infrastructure. Others focus on particular aspects of the topic, such as finding better ways of choosing trees to plant in various urban situations or encouraging the use of sustainable drainage systems in new developments.
One project, led by the University of Manchester, will investigate how making better use of green infrastructure can make cities more resilient to environmental change and enable sustainable growth. Another, led by hydrological consultancy HR Wallingford, will explore how 'green engineering' - clever use of natural vegetation – can help prevent riverbank erosion and control flooding.
A project led by the University of Leicester aims to build understanding of the wider benefits we get from the ecosystems supported by people's gardens. It will use Manchester as a test city, and is supported by organisations including Manchester City Council, Red Rose Forest, Southway Housing and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.
Another, involving the University of Oxford and Forest Research, is looking in detail at Bicester in Oxfordshire, which is set to double in size over the next two decades, becoming the UK's first eco-town. This will provide opportunities to create large areas of green infrastructure within new developments; researchers will look at how to make sure this links with existing green infrastructure and with the countryside, forming connected networks that provide the greatest possible benefit for people and wildlife.