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Blog - Green infrastructure in the Smart City Agenda

This blog post is the third in a series of guest entries written by the winners of the Catapult’s Future of Planning Open Call. Between February and April 2017, nine teams are developing new technologies and prototypes to create a more data-driven and digitally enabled planning system. This week, we feature a blog post from Heather Hodgins of The Behaviouralist who are working with Green Infrastructure Consultancy to develop ‘Gronby’, a tool that applies satellite image recognition and machine learning to identify opportunities for green infrastructure.

Follow @Tbehaviouralist to learn more about their project.

The Behaviouralist is unique company comprised of world-class economists with behavioural expertise, creating research and technology solutions to solve some of our biggest problems – these include smart water pricing systems, aviation efficiency and urban commuting sensors. We’ve partnered with Green Infrastructure Consultancy, a leading green infrastructure design company who specialize in ecosystem services on buildings. Their knowledge of mapping and assessing roof space provides a platform for local authorities, businesses, and estate managers to gauge the extent of and potential for urban Green Infrastructure on buildings. Together, we are working on Gronby, a new and scalable solution to help us understand and predict with high probability where and how we can achieve the best investments for valuable green infrastructure.

The Smart City agenda aims to use technology to rewire the urban realm. The main intention behind this is to enable us to make smarter decisions by creating value from large data systems (aka ‘big data’). A brave new world of sensors and instant data can modify processes through the city. For the environment, this means providing potential solutions to inefficiencies, energy and water.

The Green infrastructure (GI) agenda is a parallel agenda.  The aim is to move away from grey infrastructure solutions and work with nature to help transform our cities, bringing significant economic, social and environmental benefits. In doing so, GI should make our cities more resilient and healthier places to live.   These nature- based solutions are a key approach in dealing with problems, such as those associated with stormwater in cities across the United States (link).  Nature-based solutions are also a key element of the European Union’s Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services strategy.

There is, however, a slight disconnect between the two agendas. GI is notoriously difficult to measure and predict – especially with a changing climate – and thus, it is quite difficult to extract value at the granular level.  Therefore, despite the best ‘macro’ intentions, GI has largely been the preserve of intrinsic motivations in the UK. However, the economic benefits of GI are now the center of urban focus.

For planners in London, elsewhere in the UK and beyond these shores, green infrastructure will become increasingly important. And our challenge in the Future Cities, Future of Planning Programme is to create a mechanism to plumb green infrastructure into the high-tech world of the smart city agenda

London and Urban Green Infrastructure

Although green infrastructure is often associated with parks, green spaces and river corridors in cities, buildings with vegetation are an increasingly important element within planning. In London, green roofs and walls are, in fact, flourishing.

Livingroofs.org and the Green Infrastructure Consultancy have mapped the total area for the Greater London Authority. While London is not seen as a GI global player, it is. Currently, outside of the German-speaking countries (with a long history of green roofs and walls), London is, in fact, among the Top 10 world cities for area of green roofs installed per citizen (unpublished data livingroofs.org). This data has been created following the same process as was used to create the Central London Green Roof Map.

Many neighbourhoods in London have also been mapped to show existing roofs that can be greened immediately. This has been done through the Green infrastructure audits funded by the GLA.

Green infrastructure – planning for the future of cities

Imagine a future where data is collected on the performance of GI in cities. To do this, we need to wire in the locations of existing GI on buildings. Green roofs and walls are known to provide benefits. However, if the benefits can be constantly monitored and can reflect significantly to the building owners and the local community, we can really make the case for greener cities. Monitoring and mapping existing GI on buildings should be part of the Smart City agenda. Additionally, mapping areas of deficiency in and potential for green buildings will help planners, facility managers, estate managers and the construction industry to come together to upscale the amount of GI in cities.  Real time data can help inform:

  • Energy savings
  • Storage of water
  • Air pollution absorbed
  • Biodiversity delivered

Wiring in these benefits will help us make better GI decisions, both in terms of planning and how we develop our cities, which is a great economic and social benefit.  

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