Green Infrastructure was highlighted as a key driver in how cities should be developed in the future at the Canadian Brownfields Conference 2010: Making Great Places held in Toronto

Jonathan Buckley (CMLI), Landscape Architect and UK Land Development Sector Leader with Golder Associates presented a keynote seminar on this subject and how a holistic concept for, and delivery of, a networked system of multi-functional spaces helps address the issues of climate adaptation, food security and energy provision around the triple bottom line for sustainable development.

Here, Buckley summarises the highlights of the Conference and sounds a clarion call for a new landscape urbanism in the UK.

Recent research and policy thinking from a number of sources including the Landscape Institute’s position statements on Green Infrastructure and Climate Change, CABE Space report Making the Invisible Visible (The Real Value of Parks Assets), Natural England /Faculty of Health, Natural Health System report and Golder Associates own research for the London Sustainable Development Commission concerning Sustainable Cities, help to build up a convincing argument about the importance of GI in making cities competitive on the global stage.

Cities around the world are increasingly planning to use green space, often developed from previously developed land, for the provision of renewable energy sources, water management and for heating and cooling. This is in addition to the well known (but largely still un-quantified) benefits to the physical and mental well being of city communities, as an educational resource and, lastly, but perhaps most importantly for me, economic benefits.

Without the evidence base of financial return on investment there will not be the evolution in thinking that is needed to tackle these big issues and make meaningful change. Legislation that drive up ‘green’ standards help, but only work so far. If, as the Coalition Government hopes, the private sector is to lead the UK out of the recession, then there needs to be ‘carrots’ worth growing. It is interesting to see how many of our most important green spaces and communities in UK cities came about – in particular the establishment of large new communities during the industrial revolution when the financial return of investment in green and public open space was a good investment  for many of the same reasons that cities, globally, face today: rapidly increasing urban populations driving density, transport needs, access to fresh food, water, recreation, education and (most influentially) changes to how cities conduct commercial activity.

Some cities are embracing GI more than others in recognising that good green and public spaces bring economic value to homeowners and businesses. It is these cities that are taking a more holistic, long term view of investment, in thinking about people first, that will emerge as the most competitive in the globalised age and ascent of new economies, while at the same time leaving a legacy that is more sustainable for our cities. In the UK, if we are to compete on a global stage then a new landscape urbanism needs a chance.

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