Until recently, fighting climate change had been the biggest goal of smart cities. Some cities showed visible progress while some were lagging behind. For the latter, we could say that the mindset of urban leaders was still not tuned to focus on the climate crisis.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, all of a sudden. Things changed permanently and so did the mindset. Introducing car-free zones, encouraging cycling and walking and making public space safe became a top priority for all.
Experts say that the COVID crisis has brought a major shift in how we see our future cities. This is especially true when it comes to following social distancing.
But even if we talk about introducing a bit of greenery on the road, there are changes being seen. Read on to understand this more clearly.
Roadblocks As Plant Pots And Rainwater Reservoirs
Recently, two busy retail streets in Chiswick, West London, received their first six green roadblocks. This is an initiative by the London Borough of Hounslow to create safer road space for shoppers. It is a part of the mayor’s Streetspace for London Programme.
These roadblocks are not ordinary. They are the newest innovation from climate action charity Possible to help cities with their COVID-19 emergency transport plans. Each roadblock is designed to prevent the expected rush in motor traffic post-lockdown from flooding the UK city streets.
In collaboration with specialist civil engineering firms and horticultural experts, Possible innovated self-watering roadblocks. It modified regular concrete roadblocks to install high-tech rainwater reservoirs. These reservoirs are integrated below the section where selected drought-tolerant plants are rooted. The planting scheme is designed in a way to attract pollinators such as bees.
Touted as the ‘Concrete Jungle’ blocks, these can capture and store rainwater naturally. Moreover, it can keep the plants supplied with water for up to six weeks between rainfalls. The green roadblocks are a low-cost way from Possible to include urban greening in new legal measures to change road layouts. It focuses on making cycling and walking safer and rather attractive after lockdown is released.
Possible adopted a greener alternative to plastic roadblocks. The charity is now exploring the potential to build cement-free blocks which will have a much lower carbon footprint. The inspiration to create such green roadblocks came from the concept of crevice gardens. It shows certain plants’ capability to grow in cracks of walls and rocks without soil.
The reservoir, on the other hand, is built by civil engineering manufacturer Polypipe. Its design allows rainwater to get collected in geocellular voids below the plants. Over time, the water steadily reaches back to the plant roots via capillary cones.
Many of such changes required today are to keep cities and streets moving safely. This is in response to the COVID crisis are changes that we need to tackle the climate crisis. Leo Murray, director of innovation at Possible said in a statement.
Transforming Bus Stops Into Bee Stops
Frankfurt in Germany recently announced a trial project that will plant greenery on the roof of bus stops. The decision was followed by a proposal submitted by two local councils for the creation of green bus stops. The inspiration comes from the ones developed in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
Utrecht is the first city to implement 316 one-of-its-kind green bus stops for public transport. The initiative soon became successful making the surrounding areas cleaner, healthier and more beautiful. After it attracted a large population of bees it became popular as a bee stop.
Hence, the Frankfurt government quickly accepted the submitted proposals. However, the city is facing the challenge of growing plants on the existing bus stop shelters. According to reports, the existing shelters cannot support the extra weight that will come from creating rooftop greenery. The roofs would have to support a minimum of 75 kg of more weight which is impossible.
Therefore the local government came with an alternative solution. It proposed to replace the existing bus stop shelters with new ones that are specifically designed to support green roofs. The total cost of the initiative will be around €25,000 per bus stop replacement. This does not include the maintenance costs that the new stops would require.
As one more alternative, the city is carrying out a detailed inspection of the existing street furniture. They are finding out whether the bus stops can be converted. And if yes, how much would each one cost.
Rainproof Tram Shelters
Walking and cycling through Amsterdam means having a breath of fresh air amidst nature. You can find plenty of green facades, green roofs, and lines of trees. But the city is not stopping here. In January 2020, Amsterdam tested green tramway shelters on Weteringcircuit and Marnixplein. The tramway stops’ roof and walls have been covered with greenery, as per the municipality.
The new tram stops have their own irrigation system that operates on rainwater. A pump cellar is embedded in the ground beneath the shelter. It collects and stores rainwater. An automatic mechanism enables the water to reach plants in the wall – making it the first rainproof shelter in the Netherlands.
The collected rainwater also has an environmental purpose. It can be employed in summers to provide a cooling effect when rain is scarce and heat is more. Just like the bee stops in Utrecht, Amsterdam’s tramway green shelters attract a variety of insects. Butterflies and bees are a common sight which is helping increase the biodiversity, as per the city authorities.
These green shelters are being deployed as a trial initiated by the municipality of Amsterdam in collaboration with JCDecaux. Over a period of one year, the cooperation will monitor the greenery and see if the results meet their expectations. Once the experiment is successful, they will look into the possibilities to deploy such tram shelters at different locations across the city.
The path on the side of roads is often left ignored by municipalities. However, today, as the time demands, these sidewalks are worthy of a green transformation for the health and safety of pedestrians.
A well-planned sidewalk is without abrupt road crossings and obstacles. It has plenty of space for pedestrians to move around, sit, eat and meet people. In this period of COVID-19 focusing on social distancing, wide sidewalks are needed with all the mentioned elements.
A pedestrian pathway must include greenery, signage, smart city furniture implemented using strategic planning. For example, it can include trees with a surrounding seating arrangement for pedestrians.
A similar initiative will be taking place in the city of Leicester in England. The city has launched a new street design guide that focuses on the principles of healthier streets in future. The guide emphasises on prioritising people-friendly public streets which promote walking, cycling and use of public transport.
It will also work on the city’s recently published COVID-19 Transport Recovery Plan. It sets out plans to create space for social distancing and safe travelling. Cities need places to sit, trees for shade, better air to breathe and noise pollution-free environments. This is as per Deputy city mayor, Cllr Adam Clarke.
Hopefully, the future design and planning of Leicester’s streets will provide best-practice examples to other Smart Cities. Climate change did not apparently force cities to become sustainable as much as COVID-19 is currently doing. So, it is anticipated such green and safe initiatives will stay here forever.