Green Infrastructure Planning
Ian Mell is an academic who works at the University of Manchester teaching environmental and landscape planning. He has a background in local authority and environment sectors and has worked for over a decade on greening/landscape projects in policy and practice. Ian currently teaches about the complexities of environmental policy and green infrastructure and is the author of a recently released book, Green Infrastructure Planning, which sets out how green infrastructure has been developed in a number of locations across the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, and is part of Lund Humphries’ Concise Guide To Planning series.
We first met Ian in 2018 to tour the Camden Highline route, and were chuffed when he decided to include the project in his new book. So we thought it was a good idea to ask him a few questions following…
CH: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what prompted you to write a book about green infrastructure?
IM: “Due to the growing awareness of the added value that high quality and multi-functional landscape can provide to our urban areas, regarding air quality, flooding, health & well-being and economic uplift, green infrastructure has a key role to play in ensure places are liveable, functional and profitable. The book reflects these discussions and uses examples of current projects to illustrate how urban greening can be used to meet a wide variety of issues simultaneously.”
CH: And for people that don’t know, what is green infrastructure?
IM: “Green infrastructure can be parks, areas of grassland, waterways, parks, gardens (household and formal), green belt land, woodlands and forests, as well as a whole host of other types of green, blue and open spaces. One of the positives of working with green infrastructure is its variability. For example investment in street trees can help alleviate air pollution, intercept rainfall and lower flooding, provide an attractive environmental resource, screen infrastructure, and help provide habitats for different species. Likewise, urban parks provide places for social interaction, reception, have health and well-being benefits, as well as meeting diverse ecological functions.”
“We can therefore look at green infrastructure as the locations, physical elements or places that provide us, as humans, with services and amenities. Some have called green infrastructure our life support system and this is fitting as it meets a varsity of social, economic and ecological needs.”
“In terms of described what green infrastructure is we could say that it is based on a small number of principles that include promoting connectivity between people and the environment within and across our landscapes, facilitate greater accessibility to formal and informal nature, supports socio-economic and ecological needs, and helps establish multiple functions in a given location. Moreover, green infrastructure is a concept that enables planners, designers and environmental sector advocates to work more holistically to align their various development/management agendas to promote more effective and sustainable forms of investment.”
CH: Looking forward what are the challenges facing green infrastructure?
“Currently in the UK — funding. Financial support is needed to help maintain the quality and quantity of our green infrastructure. Where a lack of investment or under investment occurs we see spaces lose their value or wow factor. Therefore we need to think carefully about how much we value green infrastructure and fund it accordingly. There is also a need to ensure that all stakeholders dealing with development are aware of the multi-functional benefits that green infrastructure can deliver.”
“We are seeing policy-makers in London, and elsewhere, start to push a greening agenda to promote urban sustainability but we need developers, construction companies and private investors to follow suit and give things back to the environment.”
“This can in the form of funding, volunteering or awareness raising of the added-value that environment quality can provide for business revenue/income and urban liveability. It would also be useful if the current political barriers to investing in green infrastructure were less adversarial. We should not be comparing the value of parks with the need for car parking spaces or housing. Alternatively we should view all as being of collective value and plan for each a a basin investment option. Currently green infrastructure is still an additional extra in many places but with political and financial support it can become a basic pillar of investment.”
CH: You cover various case studies in your book — which project (apart from the Camden Highline of course!) do you find most interesting, and why?
“The High Line in New York and the Promenade Plantee (the original High Line) are great examples, especially the latter, of what we can do with refurbished spaces that integrate or are based on green infrastructure ideas (connectivity, access to nature, multiple functions and amenities in one location, economic uplift).”
“The Park at Gleisdreieck in Berlin is another example how rehabilitation can lead to the creation of a really interactive and diverse public park that caters for lots of communities simultaneously. Each of these three sites also differ in their physical composition and aesthetic layout thus showing how green infrastructure can be delivered in different ways.”
CH: And which case study would you recommend people visit?
“I would recommend people spend time in the various parks and pubic spaces in Berlin, i.e. Park at Gleisdreieck, Tiergarten and the green spaces around the Bundestag. They could also visit the Atlanta BeltLine to see how former railway infrastructure has been redeveloped in a 20+ mile circular walking, cycling and urban greenway. The Bund in Shanghai is also a great example of how large-scale green infrastructure can act as a magnet for people bringing them into the city centre and providing them with a wide range of opportunities to engage with nature is a high density area.”
“Finally, I would simply recommend that people simply spend time in their local parks. They are mostly amazing spaces that enable people to relax, interact with friends, colleagues or neighbours, and have a greater positive impact on out health.”
“If we use these spaces more frequently then there is potentially less change that they will be sold or changed.”