The social, economic and environmental benefits of Green Infrastructure (GI)

My interest in Green Infrastructure (GI) (see my three previous posts) in an urban context is in the potential to revalue places differently. That this should be a concern from (combined) social, economic and environmental perspectives. The need to revalue places differently by incorporating the multiple benefits GI brings, is an issue at all levels, for place-making and regeneration professionals, and also crucially at community level.

Many people don’t realise that green space where they live is vital to biodiversity (and pollination and therefore food production), flood alleviation (affecting their risk of flooding) or soil quality in the UK is crucial for food production etc. Even their garden or a grass verge can have positive GI benefits on where they live.

Here’s a slightly reworked set of benefits presented by Tom Armour (Landscape Architect Arup) at the recent TCPA GI conference:

GI BenefitsI very much liked Tom’s description of GI as high performance infrastructure.

He presented on a Green and Blue (water) Infrastructure focussed Climate Change Adaption plan for Madrid, outlining the potential for positive GI impacts across the city.

Arup GI #2

Arup GI #3

For more information on this Madrid Plan go to:

I’ve been thinking about where we live and work as a balanced patchwork of interconnected elements; grey buildings, road surfaces etc, green (as in GI, including blue which is water-focussed) that all contribute to one system; our places and neighbourhoods. We need to be more explicit about what GI can do for individuals, communities, businesses, institutions and systems.

More GI is needed in every area, especially those which are very grey. Also, green space itself isn’t necessarily multi-functional GI, such as a grass verge. However, with some commitment and energy positive GI impacts can be retrofitted, so that for example biodiversity can be encouraged with different planting, or a managed mowing plan.

Overall, we need more GI in our urban areas, for example green rooves, vertical green walls, green planting under tramlines/railway verges (esp. where electrified) or replacing a few roadside parking bays with a pocket park(let) – this changes would benefit us triple-fold; environmentally, socially and economically.


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Enhancing public green space: biodiversity and community participation in Cornwall

Another of the GI projects outlined at the recent TCPA conference was delivered by Robert Lacey, Principal Development Officer Strategic Planning Cornwall Council. He described a large-scale research/pilot project (mainly EU funded), and with TCPA as lead principal partner to:

  • Increase biodiversity across 35 hectares of public green space
  • Increase the use of and local perception of these spaces
  • Reduce the council’s on-going maintenance costs
  • Increase knowledge of ecosystem services
  • Engage with communities and parish councils
  • Increase opportunities for life-long learning
  • Devolve and manage the resulting assets with a maintenance plan

Following a contextualisation of issues of high levels of deprivation in some neighbourhoods, some years of environmental decline and crucially pointing out that conventional approaches to economic development have ignored the value of what the environment contributes – Robert outlined how Cornwall Council aims to be the most environmentally friendly planning authority in England.

This project which began in January 2017, plans to take green spaces, for example a simple playing field type space in Treskerby (on the outskirts of Redruth) and enhance and upgrade it, making it useable across the generations by adding pathways, seating, picnic areas, bins, a football pitch, cycle stands signage, enhanced shrub and tree planting for insects, birds (biodiversity), managing parts of grassy areas as meadows, making swales (a low area of land, which is moist or marshy, that will allow water to run off a site), and adding grassy mounds for visual interest.

Cornwall Council #3

Cornwall Council IMage

At the conference, I noted that both Nigel Dunnett and Robert Lacey referred to their programmes as either action research, or pilots. I believe that this iterative, always learning, through doing and then reflecting, the doing again approach, is key to making real change happen.

Bearing this in mind, whilst Cornwall is a less urban area than I mainly work in, I can still see a lot of relevance to this research project in some of the places I’m currently working in. In the UK there are many playing field type spaces that are mainly just mown lawn, that could benefit from some simple inputs to upgrade and enhance them into better quality functional, socially and environmentally beneficial spaces. And when these spaces are considered in terms of their broader linkages to other social and economic infrastructure in a locality, their value is strengthened even further.

Image credits: 1 Google Maps, 2 Cornwall Council

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Beauty, form and function: Sheffield and London

Following on from my previous post on the recent TCPA GI conference which had a large number of presentations (around 12), I’m going to focus on the issues and ideas arising from just a few of  these.

Nigel Dunnett is Professor of Planting Design and Urban Horticulture at University of Sheffield. Describing himself as an ecologist and plant scientist, his presentation was entitled ‘Urban Planting for Beauty and Function’.

Having undertaken my undergraduate degree in Sheffield, and having lived there for several years afterwards, I retain a keen interest in all things Sheffield. Nigel’s focus was on how to make GI work in cities, and in particular approaches to planting (what types of plants are used where) which are both functional and beautiful.

He outlined a SUDS Scheme (sustainable urban drainage system) he worked on outside Sheffield’s law courts (West Bar) in the city centre. A SUDS scheme is a natural approach to managing water drainage (for example storm water drainage).

Dunnett #3

This scheme included storm-water basins (which store storm water and remove pollutants) and bio swales (which slow down and filter storm water), as well as a strong planting design. This scheme is not only very beautiful enhancing the city for its inhabitants and workers as they walk by this busy area, but it is designed to alleviate flooding. It is low maintenance water-wise due to the planting scheme and retention of water in the basins and swales.

Dunnett #4

Dunnett #2

Nigel explained how the scheme is being maintained by Green Estate, a specialist landscape management company (a social enterprise), who are trained to know how to maintain the planting scheme. He highlighted how this is a particular issue for these type of schemes where conventional urban public landscaping companies don’t have the expertise to manage these sites well. To my mind it seems there is a considerable need for new jobs and skills in this area.

I’m particularly interested in how less affluent communities can also have access to the positive health, environmental and economic benefits that GI can bring communities. And have found a particularly interesting project in inner London, led by Groundwork and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, where working with local residents on three social housing estates, they have designed and implemented climate change adaptation measures. Including green walls, rain gardens (SUDS) and green rooves, to help reduce the risk of flooding and help cool the city during summer heatwaves (the image here is of Richard Knight House).

Groundwork #2

Image credits:  1, 2, 3 Nigel Dunnett, University of Sheffield, 4 House Groundwork, London





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What is Green Infrastructure anyway?

This is the first post of several on the subject of Green Infrastructure, as I recently attended TCPA’s (Town and Country Planning Association) conference entitled ‘Small scale, big impact – retrofitting and enhancing green infrastructure’, which has stimulated a thought process connecting previous interests, some of which have featured in this blog.

I’m going to use the process of writing these posts to think some ideas about Green Infrastructure (GI) through, making connections on the hoof, to see where I end up.

In the October 2017 edition of the TCPA Journal, Peter Neal describes it as a term which ‘purposely reframes landscape and the natural environment, elevating it a similar status as other essential infrastructure providing power, water, communications and transport‘, emphasising it’s ability to enable us to tackle challenges such as environmental equity, public health and carbon capture (Vol, 86 p.397-398).


Conference speaker Tom Armour (Arup, Director of Global Landscape Architect) described GI as including permeable spaces, green rooves, high level green terraces, cooling rooves, brown habitat rooves, urban farming, wider stream restoration, living walls and urban forests.

I am excited about the possibilities of this reframing of our green spaces, especially in understanding them as multi-functional, providing value across the three key areas; the social arena (better place-making, food production, health and wellbeing, leisure etc), the environmental arena (poor air quality, biodiversity, improving water quality, flood mitigation etc) and the economic arena (jobs and training in the green economy etc).


I’ve posted a few blog posts that highlight projects and landscapes featuring, what I now know as GI.

On the Urban Food Justice programme, Leeds

On Stave Hill Ecology Park, Rotherhithe, London

On mapping green space

Image credit 1: Sarah Spanton, of speaker Imke van Moorselaar, Amsterdam

Image credit 2: Sarah Spanton, of Nigel Dunnet’s urban meadows, Sheffield

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Levenshulme Close Up #1

Having become a resident of Levenshulme recently, I’m going to undertake series of blog posts over the next year or so, that look at the neighbourhood in close-up, in detail, at textures, patterns and surfaces.


I saw these collages on Albert Road, opposite the train station. I don’t know who made them, but I really enjoy their placing on the railings, like an impromptu art gallery, and their juxtaposition with other posters about local events.



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Intimate photography exhibition – ‘Separate + Together: bringing June Street to Miles Platting’

On Friday 16th June, I attended the opening day of a significant photographic exhibition Separate + Together: Bringing June Street to Miles Platting taking place in the church hall of Church of the Apostles in Miles Platting.

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It brings together photographic works by Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr taken in 1973 of people in their homes in Salford, alongside photographs of the local area and new portraiture of local people in Miles Platting, taken in 2017 by David Jones (who is also the curator of this exhibition).

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There are some powerful portraits in the exhibition: a fascinating glimpse into a moment in time in 1970s Salford, alongside intimate of portraits of local older people in the Miles Platting area in Manchester. The event was attended by a gathering of local people, some of whom were in the recent portraits by Jones.

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Image credits: Sarah Spanton, showing works by Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr and David Jones
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InspiralLondon – re-imagining the built environment #4

This is the fourth and final post from InspiralLondon Festival, held in September 2016.

Another presentation at the Friday event was French architect Julie de Muer. Julie and her two colleagues Baptiste Lanaspeze and Paul-Herve Lavessiere came over to the festival to speak at the Deep Topographies event at Swedenborg House, Bloomsbury on the Thursday evening.

Julie talked in detail about the artist-led Metropolitan Trail which links Marseille and the Provence region, formed of a figure of 8 shape, linking countryside and coastal areas. Julie described how citizens should have the right to practice the city in a certain way. Linking to Alberto Duman’s talk on marketing the London Borough of Newham to foreign investors, Julie described how during the Marseille Capital of Culture year, the Metropolitan Trail – which artists developed – allowed inhabitants to tell alternative narratives of the city and wider area. She highlighted how walking can be a methodology for creating these narratives from and with local people. A publication accompanies this project, and InspiralLondon has also become a Metropolitan Trail.

Julie de Muer speaking at Stave Hill Ecological Park

Julie went on to describe a second project she’s been part of, alongside a group of young architects, planners and landscapers entitled ‘Dimanche a Foresta’, after the land it has taken place on. The land is a 26 area of open land, known as a park (although not officially) between the sea and a ‘deprived’ area of Marseille. Most of the area has been bought by developers. Much of it can’t be built on as its during WW2 the land was bombed and parts of it have collapsed. It is also contaminated from earlier industry (including clay tile making), however for years local people have hunted and foraged there. The area around the park land has serious social issues.

An unusual partnership between artists, architects etc and local developers has been formed. A project called ‘Yes We Camp’ collective –  is inviting people to walk in, picnic in and explore the land together, finding the commonalities, shared histories and stories in order to create a new kind of urban park together.

Foresta image 1

Image of ‘Foresta’, from

Image credits: Sarah Spanton and Yes We Camp




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