City landscapes switch to green

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 10 minutes

“It's not easy being green,” Muppet creation Kermit the Frog lamented back in 1970. His was a simple song about dignity and worth. But it was also a statement about the value of being green that would quickly transmute into a global environmental movement for the future.

The ensuing ecological attention inspired a strong-willed worldwide passion for green, and 'going green' has since become a desirable destination and a global discussion.

Historically, that dialogue began in limited fashion well before Kermit so poignantly reminded us of its value some fifty years ago.

So when did the colour green mature from simple light pigment status to taking on a stellar role with the most powerful environmental forums in the world?

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 10 minutes

“It’s not easy being green,” Muppet creation Kermit the Frog lamented back in 1970. His was a simple song about dignity and worth. But it was also a statement about the value of being green that would quickly transmute into a global environmental movement for the future.

The ensuing ecological attention inspired a strong-willed worldwide passion for green, and ‘going green’ has since become a desirable destination and a global discussion.

Historically, that dialogue began in limited fashion well before Kermit so poignantly reminded us of its value some fifty years ago.

So when did the colour green mature from simple light pigment status to taking on a stellar role with the most powerful environmental forums in the world?

Green being equal to environmentalism made its presence felt in some shape or form during the medieval era. Forestry management in Europe was established around then, and in China, India, and Peru, sustainable agricultural practices such as soil conservation were developed.

After the Industrial Revolutions (there were two, though some would argue they overlapped: first, in the mid-18th, second, in the mid-19th century), public acknowledgement of the environmental fallout skyrocketed. Concerns about air pollution intensified as heavy industry impacted people’s health and calls for change became louder as middle-class lobbying groups expressed distress over land conservation, resource protection, and wildlife preservation.

There was a lull while the world focussed on dealing with The Great Depression and two wars. Then after World War II, industrialisation raced ahead again, wreaking havoc on natural heritage even while initiating productivity, confidence, and a better lifestyle for all.

The progress gained during this monumental phase also brought about mind-changing and conscience-creating books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb. This exposure of our planet’s fragility spurred on the official ‘Green Movement’, which took on an increasingly amplified life of its own around 1970.

New Zealand was at the political forefront of that acceleration when the Values Party gained a bigger slice of the greenie leadership pie; and April 22, 1970, saw the first celebration of Earth Day in America. Earth Day has since become the planet’s largest civic event and an environmental touchstone for three generations of eco-activists.

By the late 1980s, environmentalism was a global as well as a national political force. And by the ‘90s, the green movement had accepted that finding solutions to the world’s environmental woes lay firmly on its shoulders.

Going green is now recognised as part of our social evolution. Public awareness is strong, and ‘green’ has become an instantly recognisable buzz-word, a mantra. Even better, the resultant shifts in attitude and knowledge have inspired incredible technological advances in working smarter for the cause.

Working smarter means that some of the most vibrant yet polluted cities in the world are changing the face of their cityscapes to improve air quality: they’re switching to green.

What does ‘switching to green’ mean?

It’s the holistic strategy underpinning the entire green movement. It guides our architectural designs, business practices, infrastructure, and urban planning. It contributes to our culture and helps define our purpose. It includes practices like informed consumption, sustainable consumerism, conservation, investment in renewable energy, and reducing undesirable air emissions and waste.

Cities are notorious contributors to high-level carbon emissions, which the World Air Quality Index ranks from worst to best. Google the site; you’ll find that the cleanest air in the world belongs to the Antarctic Ocean, where it’s unchanged by human-related activities.

Sadly, the rest of the world is experiencing air pollution at an all-time high.

One city, however (amongst many others), has a brave and dedicated team preparing to make amends.

Gaudi architecture, Barcelona
Photo: Pexels

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia – a region of Northern Spain with its own unique culture, traditions, and personality. Barcelona’s character comes partly from the age-old beauty of its architecture – enhanced by the famous works of Antonio Gaudi – and the artistic endeavours of Picasso and Miro. The Mediterranean lifestyle is enviable and about to be even more so with the unleashing of a ten-year urban project to assist Barcelona’s Climate Plan objectives. Those ambitious targets include reducing air emissions by 45% on route to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Barcelona’s no newbie to eco-action. At the Rio Summit in 1992, the Citizen Commitment to Sustainability collective document was created as an outcome of global Agenda 21. Since then, Barcelona’s been working hard to deliver.

The plan is to carpet the city in 400 acres of new green space by 2030 to increase biodiversity in the city, reduce traffic, improve sustainable mobility, and encourage social cohesion and collaboration.

The project is known as the ‘superblock’ system and takes its lead from the existing grid layout pattern of the Eixample District, designed by engineer Ildefons Cerdà, b. 1815 d. 1876.

Cerdà’s approach was revolutionary for the 19th century. He focused on the need for sunlight, natural lighting, and ventilation in homes, for more greenery, the need for effective waste and sewerage disposal, and the need for seamless movement of people, goods, energy, and information. The superblock project expands Cerdà’s idealistic work by establishing ‘green corridors’ lined with plants and trees, green spaces and chill-out areas, and traffic flow confined to the periphery.

Some superblocks are already proving their worth because the concept was grasped in 1980, then implemented in 1993 by Barcelona’s resident urban visionary and head of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, Salvador Rueda.

The Les Corts, Plaça de les Glories, Sant Martí, Eixample, and Hostafrancs districts are all breathing easier now, as will the 495 more superblocks planned under the city’s urban blueprint. Estimated to cost 36 million Euros or about $NZ60 million, one in three streets will soon be greened up, and every resident will have a square and a traffic-free green street within 200 metres of their homes.

Barcelona is going green in a very dramatic way. With air emissions facing a slippery slope downwards while carbon-guzzling trees, grasses, and shrubs rise in public spaces, could we possibly uncover more benefits?

Well, let’s face it, trees are beautiful.

During Covid-19’s first lockdown in 2020, city dwellers confined to their own four walls (so to speak) realised that a room with a view is, after all, quite important. The 1908 E.M Forster novel and 1985 movie adaptation of the same name (A Room with a View), refer to the analogy that ‘a life free and open to adventure and possibility, one not too confined by the strictures of society’ is one to be desired. When Covid-19’s lockdowns enforced possibly the tightest controls ever known to the Western world, the psychological impacts were, and still are, huge.

In Barcelona, residents confined cheek by jowl to densely-packed apartments noticed their need for calming scenes to look upon, soothing spaces to refresh the intellect and the soul. They discovered that they yearned for nature.

Subliminally, we can sense that nature is vital for wellbeing; there’s a mutual dependence, a symbiotic relationship. In the scientific world, evidence from the N.Y Dept. of Environmental Conservation states that access to green spaces: boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases focus, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy levels and improves sleep. The benefits are bountiful, and green urbanism is emerging as the superhero of the 21st century – but not just in Barcelona.

In January 2019, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, ordered 7,000 trees to be planted by the end of the following year. Meanwhile, China’s Hebei Province has been working on a ‘green necklace’ of plants to reduce pollution from factories surrounding the capital. Paris is planning an urban forest that will encompass its most iconic landmarks and improve the city’s air quality. New York City has built The High Line – a 2.33km elevated linear park and greenway.

Greening up cities is a universal green prescription that dovetails perfectly with world efforts as we fast-track on the road to environmental recovery.

Kermit ends his song with the words: “It’s beautiful … and I think it’s what I want to be.” Yes, Kermit, being green is totally worth it.

Barcelona

 

Sources: 1. Medical News Today 2. The Conversation 3. Vox 4. Thomas Reuters Foundation News 5. The Guardian

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