From grey to green – building climate resilience into our streets

Cities around the world are adopting green infrastructure plans and policies that promote the use of nature-based solutions, writes Habib Khan

02 May 2023


Green infrastructure has the potential to help build climate resilience into cities. 

However, challenges remain, such as the lack of funding and poor awareness of the importance of ongoing maintenance. Having at least two years of maintenance for green infrastructure projects planned into any project, in order to help get planting established, is key for the long-term success of projects. 

Here at Meristem Design we are on a mission to bring more greenery into our urban centres. We’ve been working with local authorities to transform urban centres into desirable destinations for people to visit and socialise in. Last year alone we installed more 1,000 planters, 120 on-street parklets, 700 SuDS (sustainable drainage systems) planters and 2,000 square metres of rain gardens. 

We help to transform neighbourhoods from car-dominated streets into low carbon neighbourhoods using planters, parklets and rain gardens, trees, green roofs, green walls, living pollution screens and SuDS solutions. 

Embedding urban greenery into the design and management of built environments can enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, such as floods, heatwaves and droughts. Research has also shown that green infrastructure, including parklets, can increase the revenue of local businesses by 30% in the first year.

One of the key benefits of green infrastructure is its ability to reduce the urban heat island effect whereby urban areas experience higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to the absorption and retention of heat by hard buildings and surfaces. 

Green infrastructure can mitigate this effect by providing shading, evapotranspiration (where water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants), and cooling through natural processes. Green roofs and walls absorb solar radiation and reduce heat gain in buildings, while trees and vegetation can shade pavements, streets, buildings and provide cooling through transpiration.

Another benefit of green infrastructure is its ability to reduce the risk and severity of urban flooding, which is becoming a common issue in built-up urban areas. Interventions such as SuDS schemes which capture and store stormwater can prevent flooding and enhance water quality. Rain gardens and our SuDS planters are examples of green infrastructure practices that can reduce stormwater run-off and promote infiltration, thereby reducing the load on the urban drainage system. 

In addition to these benefits, green infrastructure offers positive environmental effects such as carbon sequestration, air purification, and biodiversity conservation. Trees and vegetation can absorb and store carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. They can also filter pollutants from the air, improving air quality and human health. 

Moreover, green infrastructure can provide habitat for wildlife and enhance biodiversity, which can have positive impacts on ecosystem functioning and human wellbeing.

Habib Khan is founder and director of Meristem Design

He will be on the climate resilience panel at Liveable Neighbourhoods 2023

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