Cities need to work with their local ecosystems and not against them. This is evidently true when it comes to waste management and overt displays of green initiatives. There is a harder aspect of ecological thinking for cities and it’s usually beneath our feet: water.
Water systems are complex in every direction – getting drinking water in and storm water out. The way cities plan for water issues is more important than ever before as we enter a time of water scarcity and extreme weather. What we should be doing (and smart cities already are) is designing our urban spaces with the flow of water in mind.
“We need to acknowledge that the water is eventually going to do what the water wants to do, and shift our approach, as human populations living on the Earth, from one of trying to dominate nature to one that acknowledges the power of nature and works in synchrony with that,” says English. “We’ve already set ourselves down this path of dams and levees and water control systems, and it’s really hard to turn back. But we don’t need to keep replicating that. We don’t need to make the situation worse. It’s time to step back from the approach of control and fortification.”
“Cities that today start to embrace water and take advantage of the skills of water, will be the cities that have a better performance economically and socially and politically in 20 to 30 years,” says Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch firm that has found designing around water to be more than a niche market. “When situations change—and that’s happening now, the environment is changing, the climate is changing—cities have to react. You have to change the skills and the performance of the city to give a reaction to this situation, and the reaction should be not fighting it, it should be living with it.”
Back in 2006 we first looked at how green roofs were becoming a development issue in Toronto, in 2009 Toronto implemented that green roof bylaw. Then in 2014 we took a look at how North America’s green roof industry is growing.
This year, Toronto has become the hub for green roofs! Torontist took a look into what made this happen and why green roofs are perfect for cities.
There are approximately 500 green roofs, big and small, in Toronto. This is thanks to a 2010 bylaw [PDF] requiring all new developers to cover between 20 and 60 per cent of their buildings with vegetation. It’s the first (and, for now, only) regulation of its kind in North America, making Toronto uniquely positioned for environmental design.
The bylaw is why the 41-story RBC WaterPark Place [PDF] at Bay Street and Queens Quay has three green roofs that together could fill a NFL football field.
Developers can opt out of installing anything remotely grassy for a fee. But Jane Welsh, City Hall’s project manager for environmental planning, told Torontoist only five per cent of buildings choose to go sans-green roof.
Welsh also says municipally-owned buildings install a green roof anytime there’s a repair or replacement to the top of the building, when feasible.
If you’re in Toronto or visiting you can now go on a special tour of the city that will reveal all the cool living architecture! It’s a free tour that you can download and go on anytime you’d like.
Toronto abounds with green roofs and walls, but most people aren’t aware since living infrastructure is often hidden atop buildings or behind closed doors. This tour reveals our city’s vegetative roofs and walls.
Living architecture offers a cornucopia of benefits, which you can experience by looking, smelling, touching and listening. #LivingArchTOur helps Torontonians and visitors to our wonderful city experience these benefits for themselves.
Try the tour!
The urban environment can benefit from more, well, environment. More research is coming out that proves something that many urbanites already know: where there is green there is more peace. Cities with good access to nature and have more trees spread throughout the urban space are better places to live.
Urban neighbourhoods with more green space have lower crime levels and interpersonal violence, according to research from the University of Washington. The study shows that public housing residents with trees and natural landscapes nearby reported 25 per cent fewer acts of domestic violence and aggression, as well as roughly 50 per cent fewer total crimes than other buildings with sparse green space.
Green space doesn’t just help people shake the blues: According to a major British study, people who live near forests or the ocean live longer than those in urban centres, even adjusting for other factors.
Prof. Ellard, who is working on a book on place and psychology, recently conducted a set of experiments in New York, Berlin and Mumbai. People were asked to walk a specific route while giving self-assessments of their moods and feelings, while their heart rate and sweat levels were measured for signs of stress.
Earlier this year, Toronto suffered some severe flooding and city planner Jennifer Keesmat composed this great tweet:
One of those programs she is referring to is the tower renewal program which helped energy conservation, local ecologies, and improve housing conditions. Toronto’s mayor ensures these programs don’t get funding.
Here in Toronto where we have a druggy mayor who hates the environment who also sat in an idling SUV during the flooding (idling is illegal in the city). The mayor has gone out of his way to ensure that Toronto treats the local environment worse than it did the year before. I mention this as a contrast to what is happening in England’s biggest city.
In London, they have a mayor who actually knows that climate change is happening and the city is doing something about it. London is no stranger to threat of flooding, indeed the Thames barrier’s lifetime has been reduced due to the increased pace of climate change. With most usable space already consumed, what is the city to do?
London has turned to constructing green walls! The walls absorb water that would otherwise contribute to flooding within the city by soaking up rainwater.
The wall captures rainwater from the roof of the hotel in dedicated storage tanks; the rainwater is then channeled slowly through the wall to nourish plants, simultaneously reducing surface water on the streets below. “The plants themselves will take up rain too, so the rain doesn’t fall on the street below,” says Beamont.
During the design process, Grant picked out native ferns, English ivy, geraniums, strawberry and primroses for the living wall, using the Royal Horticultural Society’s pollinators list as a guide. “My approach is to use native species in natural associations, however sometimes it’s not practicable because of problems with availability or a lack of visual interest or late flowering,” he says. “It’s still necessary to choose plants that are known to thrive in living walls, or are likely to thrive in living walls, and are suited to the aspect and microclimate.”
Read more at Co.Exist.