19 Jan 2018
Greener City Strategies Set to Yield Economic and Social Dividends
- Photo: Singapore’s Supertree Grove: Is arboreal-urban synergy the way forward for the world’s cities? (Shutterstock.com/Chz_mhOng)
- Photo: The official government LUSH lodge.
- Photo: Green on-screen at GUSA 2017.
- Photo: Hibiscus high-rise: The world’s tallest buildings are set for a mowable makeover. (Shutterstock.com/pio3)
With urban planners across the world committed to promoting higher greenery ratios, it could be that such policies prove to be far more than cosmetic, with tangible economic benefits likely for those cities that strike the right balance.
With its extensive parks and tree-lined byways, Singapore has long billed itself as a true garden city. Now, though, it is on the cusp of embracing the logical progression of such a philosophy and becoming more of a 'city in a garden', an approach that will see new developments incorporating existing flora into their designs, while vertical and rooftop gardens will become common features of many of its commercial and residential properties. Given its commitment to such a citywide transformation, there was probably no more appropriate locale for the recently held GreenUrbanScape Asia (GUSA) Exhibition and the International Skyrise Greenery Conference.
During his opening address, Desmond Lee, Singapore's Minister for Social and Family Development, took the opportunity to launch the third phase of the city-state's Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-rises (LUSH) initiative, a programme aimed at encouraging property developers and owners to add vertical or rooftop gardens to the buildings under their custodianship. The success of the 2009-launched programme can be judged from the fact that Singapore is now home to 100 hectares of rooftop gardens, with plans in place to double that by 2030.
Outlining the importance of the scheme, Tay Yi Wen, an Executive Planner with Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority, said: "Essentially, LUSH is a modern-day reforestation scheme, with buildings now adding more greenery to the landscape than they remove. Such greening improves the physical and mental well-being of citizens, as well as reducing the impact of the urban heat effect, a phenomenon set to be only exacerbated by climate change. The provision of green walls and roofs, however, can reduce interior temperatures by as much as 12 degrees, potentially cutting air conditioning costs by up to 20%.
"In a place as densely populated as Singapore, LUSH helps to solve the problem of competing demands for more living space and for more green spaces. Already, two of out every three condos / flats and half of our commercial buildings have made use of funds provided by the programme.
"Following the launch of LUSH 3.0, we will now be working towards optimising our use of green space, particularly with regard to urban farms. In Singapore, just 1% of the land area is given over to agriculture, compared with 5% in Hong Kong. In light of this, urban farming is very much the way forward and, in fact, one such establishment – Comcrop – already supplies 60kg of herbs and vegetables to local restaurants and hotels every week."
For Rasmus Astrup, a Partner with SLA, a firm of Copenhagen-based architects specialising in urban-renewal projects, there were clear benefits – both social and financial – to be had from taking a greener approach to city planning. Expanding upon this, he said: "Such initiatives reduce air pollution, keep buildings cool and reduce noise pollution. At the end of the day, it's not about decoration, it's about biodiversity and working with nature.
"There is also a clear dollar value to be had. In the case of one of our projects, it was calculated that the US$2 million spent on greenscaping resulted in property values rising by $20 million."
Astrup was not the only European speaker at the three-day event, with a number of other delegates – including Professor Manfred Koehler, the German-born Founder of the World Green Infrastructure Network, and Penelope Komites, the Deputy Mayor of Paris – keen to provide a First World perspective. In Koehler's case, he could see clear parallels between the challenges facing Singapore and a number of other Asian cities with those being addressed by several European cities.
Citing three key examples from his own experience, he said: "In both Hamburg and Stockholm, they are re-purposing disused parts of the city and converting them into parks and landscaped public spaces. In the case of Hamburg, an abandoned railway depot has now been successfully converted into community gardens. Over in Berlin, meanwhile, the former Tempelhof Airport is now a green space the size of New York's Central Park."
Komites, meanwhile, was intent on outlining the achievements of her own city, saying: "By 2020, 100 hectares of Paris' roofs, façades, walls, parking lots and other urban surfaces will be covered in vines, creepers, shrubbery and other foliage. Of this, one third will be allocated to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. By that time, there will also be an additional 30 hectares of park space in the city, with plans in place to plant up to 20,000 trees.
"The hope is that every city-dweller will become a curator of Paris' public green spaces. In total, nearly a quarter of Paris is already green, with the extension of the program sure to improve the quality of life for residents, while enhancing the beauty of the city."
Clearly establishing that the move to create greener cities was now a worldwide phenomenon, Warwick Savvas, a Senior Associate with ASPECT, a Sydney-headquartered urban-design studio, looked at the lessons that could be learnt from Australia. Focusing in on one city in particular, he said: "Recently, Melbourne launched an Urban Forest Fund, an initiative intended to provide an initial $1.2 million of financial support for greening projects across the city, with a view to this rising to $10 million in due course.
"Among its key objectives are increasing canopy cover from 22% to 40% by 2040, while also delivering 10 tennis-courts-worth of green rooftops and 4,600 hectares of green building façade. As the population of Melbourne is still increasing and temperatures are still rising, it is hoped that this funding will ensure the city remains liveable and sustainable."
Switching back to Asia, Shoji Kaneko, Senior Urban Designer with Nikken Sekki, a Tokyo-based architectural firm, maintained that greenery levels now played a significant role in assessing just how attractive and liveable a city is. Citing recent research, he said: "A 2017 survey by the Mori Memorial Foundation [a Tokyo-based urban-renewal-focused research institution] ranked the world's cities across a number of indices, including economic performance, liveability, R&D levels, environment, culture and accessibility. Rating London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and Singapore as four the best performers, it identified greenery levels and overall landscape as among the key attributes that affect the perceived quality of a city.
"In recognition of this, many cities are now looking to private investors for green developments and to help create high-quality public spaces. This is not just because such assets ensure cities look good, but also because they attract creative and energetic people to live, work and visit, which results in considerable knock-on social, economic, and environmental benefits."
The 2017 GreenUrbanScape Asia Exhibition and the International Skyrise Greenery Conference took place from 9-11 November in Hall 3 of the Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore