Making the switch from Grey to Green

11 Nov 2009 03:17 PM

Green infrastructure does not receive anything like the investment or management that goes into grey infrastructure.

The High Line, New York

The High Line, New York. Photo by Iwan Baan © 2009.

CABE’s Grey to Green campaign, launched today in the run up to the UN conference in Copenhagen, will fuel the debate about whether this is smart, given the dangers of climate change and the opportunities to improve public health.

CABE argues that a switch is needed in public spending from grey projects, like road building and heavy engineering projects, to green schemes, like street trees, parks, green roofs and waterways.

Figures produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers show how a shift in spending from grey to green of just 0.5 per cent could increase investment in urban green space by 141 per cent.

The elements of green infrastructure are all around us but they don’t yet work together as a functioning system. The campaign report, Grey to Green: how we shift funding and skills to green our cities, argues for more people, with the right skills, to manage the living landscape of our towns and cities.

There is no official system for mapping green infrastructure, so to mark the launch of the campaign CABE has mapped Gloucester, Liverpool and the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington, picking out the green from aerial photographs. They challenge normal perceptions: normal maps show places as made of concrete and tarmac with some green punctuation.

A powerful argument for investment in green infrastructure at a time of austerity is that unlike most grey infrastructure, green infrastructure is multi-functional.

At present, for instance, flood protection requires supersized stormwater pipes. But a combination of living roofs, large trees and soft landscaping can absorb heavy rainfall, store and recycle it for summer irrigation; save energy through insulation; provide shade for offices to cut the need for air conditioning; and make cities more beautiful, so encouraging exercise and improving public health.

The £1.28 billion budget for widening a 63 mile section of the M25 could pay for 3.2 million trees to store three million tonnes of carbon, or 5,000 miles of greenways for cyclists and pedestrians

CABE argues that local government needs better skills to design and manage green infrastructure. Each local authority needs a cabinet member with responsibility for leading on green infrastructure in their area, and a landscape architect to coordinate the policy across departments.

CABE is proposing that each local authority appoint a City Gardener, in a nod to the original City Architects. Councillors should be encouraged to organise regular ‘green surgeries’, an alternative to gardeners’ question times for their wards.

At a national level, CABE would welcome the establishment of a green infrastructure taskforce. Just as the urban taskforce championed an urban renaissance for our towns and cities, a panel of national experts should be convened to shape environmental policy and delivery and to champion GI.

At the moment GI is hard to use because it isn’t mapped. There is no record of urban and suburban green spaces in England - where they are, who owns them or what condition they are in. CABE, with support from fifteen organisations across the sector, wants central government to coordinate a single, shared national information resource or ‘atlas’ so that green infrastructure can be planned and managed strategically.