Greening our cities

On 24 th April we were joined at our Business Breakfast by Catherine Xavier, Landscape Architect and Director at GUARDA, Gabrielle Graham, Managing Director at SWT Ecology Services Guard landscape and Holly Copland, Showroom and Sales Manager at Designworks Tiles.

Hosted by Designworks Tiles, this event looked at the benefits of using landscaping and trees to build sustainable cities.

Catherine and Gabrielle began with their presentation on Greening our Cities. But first asked us why should we bother with sustainability? The simple answer is that the world’s population is due to hit 10 billion people by 2050

The UK government has published a 25-year environmental plan (LINK) aims to tackle climate change and improve the health of those who live in the city. There are simple ways we can improve our environment.

For example, urban trees look aesthetically beautiful but have many other benefits. Big trees and planting can provide wind buffer in exposed areas. Rain gardens can collect rain and runoff.

Key principles of sustainability are :

don’t be afraid to innovate and collaboration is key.

Don’t leave any of the team out. Get them on board early and strategically and carry this through to the end. Often ecologists are not brought in till the end. Getting them involved at the planning stages will make it easier to take environmental factors into account. It is also more cost effective. At work stage one, feasibility, collaborate to set firm strategy at outset.

Catherine shared a case study of project in Jersey, where she was brought on board at work stage 2, concept. She worked with highways engineers to look at how roads could be improved by greenery, without disrupting traffic.

The project was a success but only worked because the whole team worked together. Incorporating planting had the benefits of slowing traffic down, widening the road and improved pedestrian access.

When you reach work stage 4, developed design, you can often encounter push back from local communities.

The only way to get them onside is by working with them. In this case study, Gabrielle explained how her input helped an improved design which worked for both nature and humans. For example, encouraging walkways near a river but with enough distance to not disturb wildlife. These buffers protect wildlife but also make it visually attractive. This reduces conflict between us and nature. They installed bat and bird boxes and nectar-rich plants to encourage wildlife.

When planning housing developments, consider how green infrastructure such as pathways and planting can encourage walking and cycling. An additional benefit is that greener developments encourage community living.  From the developers point of view, these aesthetics help sell houses and increase value.

At work stages 5 and 6, we take a look at using green roofs to utilise space in cities. By including solar or m&e on a green roof you can better ways to utilise the space. However, it is important to make sure they are done properly, not cheaply. Green roofs can be important habitats, but to be successful they need to be planned properly and monitored long term. Ecologists and landscapers working closely with contractors to look at the right solutions and species for the space. It shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise.

There are some great examples of green roofs in London. Law firm Eversheds Sutherlands roof has an ecology based design and includes beehives.

The Nomura Building has a roof garden designed with both ecology and amenity in mind. Staff and clients can make use of the space as well as it being used for functions. It even includes a kitchen garden where vegetables are grown and used by the company chefs.

Looking to the future, there is a new report published this month, Living roofs and walls from policy to practice. And a new British Standard on green roof substrates is due to be published soon.

Finally Holly Copland from Designworks Tiles shared tips on making sustainable choices of materials.

She spoke about both the important of looking at life cycle costing but also things which are often forgotten such as toxicity, thermal resistance and, of course, DDA.

Looking at porcelain tiles, in particular, and comparing them to natural alternatives, Holly explained They can be cost effective too as can be expected to have a 50years lifespan. When finished to mimic marble, wood and natural stone they can help those and reduce quarrying and deforestation.

Holly also emphasised the need to go beyond the product and look also at process of manufacture and afterlife. This should include recycling of materials, packaging and the amounts of water used.

We would like to thank our hosts DesignWorks Tiles for supporting our endeavor, sharing their experience and providing us with such a fantastic spread and our speakers in particular for the work they put on making this a very successful event.

You can find the presentation HERE

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