Green Infrastructureglass Office Buildings

Green is the new grey. Or at least it is when talking about our towns and cities. With increasing importance being given to the development of green infrastructure and greenspaces, the urban landscape is slowly turning from grey to green. But what is green infrastructure and why should we be trying to green our cities?

What is green infrastructure?

In towns and cities, areas of plants and trees are known as greenspaces. When there is a network of greenspaces and other environmental features like rivers or ponds, they are described as green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure includes parks, playing fields, tree-lined streets, allotments, private gardens, river banks, wetlands and woodlands, as well as green roofs and artificial structures that include vegetation such as green walls, rain gardens and sustainable urban drainage systems.

Have a look at our greenspaces photo gallery for more examples.

Why is green infrastructure important?

Good quality greenspaces and well planned green infrastructure can improve the health, happiness and prosperity of urban communities.

Green infrastructure is multifunctional. Unlike grey infrastructure, such as roads, power lines and pipes, which only serve one purpose, green infrastructure usually has more than one use and can bring additional environmental, social and economic benefits to an area.

When properly integrated into urban planning and design, green infrastructure can also help our towns and cities to become more sustainable, support more wildlife and respond to the challenge of climate change.

How can it improve air quality?

Increasing the number of trees and plants in towns and cities, especially along transport routes can help improve urban air quality.

Plants and trees act as natural filters. The surface of leaves absorb carbon dioxide, tiny dust particles and other gases from the air, including harmful pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Recent studies have reported that roadside trees can trap up to 90% of traffic related air borne dust particles.

Different types of trees and plants can remove different levels of pollutants. Research in the West Midlands by Lancaster University has shown that trees are more effective at removing pollutants than areas of grass, and that evergreen trees and those with a large leaf surface area are better at removing pollutants than others species of tree. The Scots Pine, Common Alder and Silver Birch are all examples of trees which are good at removing air pollution.

Green spaces and street trees in towns and cities also help keep them cooler in summer. Research has shown that 12% of urban air pollution comes from the ‘urban heat island’, the higher temperatures that result in hot weather in urban areas without trees. These higher temperatures increase the rate at which some pollutants, such as ozone, are formed. Shade from trees can reduce the over-heating and less pollution results.

What other benefits does it bring?

But green infrastructure doesn’t just help improve our air quality; it can bring a number of other benefits to urban areas.

Health and well-being

Physical and mental health can be significantly improved by quality greenspaces. They provide places for play, exercise and sport, encouraging people to lead more active lifestyles. People who are physically active are less likely to suffer from obesity and other related illness. Allotments and community gardens can also encourage and support healthy eating initiatives. Creating a connection with the natural environment can also improve mental health and reduce health inequalities in deprived areas. Quality greenspaces provide places to unwind and escape the stresses of day-to-day life, and if people feel good about where they live their outlook on life is generally improved.

Stronger, safer communities

High quality greenspaces help promote a sense of pride and belonging amongst local residents, as well as connecting communities by providing places for people to meet and develop informal support networks. They also help to develop a sense of local ownership which can lead to reduced anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti and vandalism, creating a safer environment to live in.

Wildlife and provision of habitats

Green infrastructure brings biodiversity to urban areas by helping to maintain existing, and creating new, areas of habitat. It also plays an important role in connecting fragmented habitats and creating wildlife corridors that allow animals to migrate. This is particularly important for species that are vulnerable to the changing climate.

Economic growth and investment

People want to live and work in attractive areas. Quality greenspaces promote a positive image of the surrounding area, which encourages economic activity and investment, and can increase local land values, residential property prices and rental values for commercial property. The development and management of greenspaces can also create jobs and training opportunities.

Land regeneration

Turning brownfield sites or stalled development spaces into temporary greenspaces can improve the appearance of an area, which has positive impacts on community pride and economic development. Choice of such sites needs careful consideration as brownfield sites can also be very valuable urban wildlife habitats , particularly for invertebrates.

Meeting the challenge of  climate change

Open spaces and vegetation can counter rising temperatures and the heat island effect experienced in urban environments; open spaces allow air to circulate, while trees provide shade and cool the air through evaporation of water. The risk and impacts of flooding can also be reduced by using green infrastructure; the creation of urban wetlands allows natural flooding without damage, trees and other vegetation alongside river banks can slow the flow of flood waters, and the creation of vegetated land helps absorb excess water, slowing its entry to the river system.

Green infrastructure in Scotland

The Scottish Government has recognised the importance of green infrastructure and has taken steps to embed it within the strategic planning system. In the second National Planning Framework (NPF2), published in 2009, the creation of a Central Scotland Green Network was identified as one of 14 National Developments that supports the strategy for Scotland’s long term development.

The Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) was established in 2009 with the aim of transforming Central Scotland into “a place where the environment adds value to the economy and where people’s lives are enriched by its quality”. Key to its success is the improvement of existing green infrastructure and the identification of areas in towns and cities where new quality green infrastructure can be developed

The work of the CSGN is supported by partner initiatives, projects and organisations that aim to create and improve greenspaces and green infrastructure across Scotland. For example, the Glasgow Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership (GCVGNP) has developed its Integrating Green Infrastructure (IGI) Approach  to ensure that opportunities for delivery of green infrastructure, and better designed places, are realised primarily through the planning process.

Find out more about the Central Scotland Green Network  on their website.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a third National Planning Framework (NPF3), which continues to support the development of green infrastructure.

The Scottish Green Infrastructure Forum is a group of organisations, businesses and individuals interested in promoting and encouraging the building of green infrastructure. Find out more on the Scottish Green Infrastructure Forum website.

More information and getting involved

If you would like to know more about green infrastructure or get involved in a project near you, you can find further information from the following: