In major cities across the world, school grounds are being used to address climate change. Mary Jackson, Head of Education and Communities at Learning through Landscapes, highlights existing programmes in other nations and asks how the UK help schools become ‘climate ready’

    Public Elementary School Maryse Hilsz Public Elementary School Maryse Hilsz, Paris. © Council of Architecture, Urbanism and the Environment (CAUE)

    Can school grounds be a tool in addressing climate change? The simple answer is ‘yes’ – but landscape change alone is not enough. In this blog, I highlight existing programmes in other nations and ask how we in the UK can work with schools to help them become ‘climate ready’.

    Major cities across the world are using school grounds as a means to address climate change. In Paris, where the city’s high density has magnified the intensity of heatwaves, school grounds are becoming ‘cool islands’; places of refuge from the heat. As part of its long-term resilience strategy, the city is piloting a scheme to transform ten school grounds into community green spaces, making them publicly accessible outside of school hours.

    In Toronto, the non-government organisation Evergreen is beginning a new programme focusing on making ‘Climate-Ready Schools’. Improvements in the overall design, management, and educational use of school grounds will help to mitigate flood risk, adapt to climate change, and encourage community use outside of school hours. Changes in the grounds to moderate temperature and wind speed and manage water on site will also help to increase outdoor learning and play.

    Berlin has been developing its school grounds for over 30 years. Today, stormwater fees, payable by private and public landowners, are significantly reduced when permeable surfaces replace non-permeable surfacing; so school grounds are being developed by changing topography, introducing permeable paving, sand, and vegetation. The two priorities of natural play and water management come together, creating school grounds that support good mental and physical health, as well as costing less to install than the traditional asphalt playground.

    Using school grounds to address climate change is happening around the globe, with projects as far apart as Sweden, San Francisco, and Taiwan. Permeable sports courts and paving, SuDS, rainwater collection to flush toilets, and new wetland areas are all features that help to address climate issues and also educate pupils.

    This is key: that changes to school grounds are about more than just creating spaces that respond to climate change. School grounds are places of learning and play. And the potential for learning doesn’t just realise after changes take place – it can, and should,be part of the design process too.

    This type of large-scale programme is yet to be seen in the UK. Individual schools have started to address climate issues, from pollution mitigation to incorporating SuDS into designs, but much more could, and should, be done. At Learning through Landscapes (LtL), we are keen to find partners to work on this type of project, and we are looking for funding to engage young people in the design process.

    If you’d like to hear first-hand from designers and authorities looking at large-scale, climate-focused school grounds projects, do join us this September – in person or online – at the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) Conference in Stirling.

    We’ll also touch upon climate change within our online accredited training programme for designers, Transforming Spaces, that starts on 28 April 2021.


    We are delighted to announce that the Landscape Institute is supporting the Learning Through Landscapes course, Transforming Spaces, starting on Wednesday 28 April 2021. Places are available exclusively to LI members at 10% discount – secure your place now at ltl.org.uk.

    For more information or to discuss partnership working with LtL, please email Mary at mjackson@ltl.org.uk.

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