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A city full of green is not valued enough

Jos Hesselink • 04/02/2021
A green environment or fresh air is not often a reason to live in a city, rather the opposite. It is often a reason to escape the city at the weekend and visit nature, or even to live elsewhere.
Especially in this day and age, now that all urbanites are forced to get their exercise and fresh air by taking a walk in one of the busy city parks. And because there are few other things to do outside the home, we join the string of people who walk there at the slightest ray of sunshine.

Greenery in a city plays an important role in an urban ecosystem for several reasons: it contributes to liveability, comfort and attractiveness. City parks and green areas offer residents the opportunity to relax outside and also fulfill an important function. They are the lungs of the city, they counteract air pollution, provide cooling and contribute to biodiversity. But due to the growth and densification of cities, greenery is increasingly being squeezed.

Part of the discussion about climate change is the growing awareness of the impact of green and blue on the quality of life in cities. To make cities climate adaptive and to reduce climate risks, they need to be flexible, robust and resourceful. Introducing or reintroducing greenery and properly managing water in the city makes an important contribution to the resilience of a city.

Making a city resilient requires large-scale changes in economic, ecological, social and technical systems. Not only to combat climate change, but necessary changes to ensure its future-proofness - economic, social and sustainable.

More and more (international) cities are committing to the Paris climate agreement and are joining initiatives such as "1000 Cities Adapt Now". In order to systematically look at the development and layout of our cities in a different way, initiatives such as "15minutecity" are interesting; an initiative aimed at increasing the accessibility of a city for pedestrians, reducing car traffic in a city center and creating more space for greenery. Copenhagen's ambition to be the world's first CO2 neutral city by 2025 will lead to a different approach to urban development and structure at different scales.

In the Netherlands, several municipalities have ambitious plans in the field of sustainability and therefore future-proofing. Grants are available for 'greening' roofs and gardens, there are innovations in the field of buffer storage of excess rainwater and there is technology that is used to apply smart water management. There are good examples of plans for more greenery in the city such as the Coolsingel in Rotterdam and vertical forests in the form of green buildings such as The Valley and Wonderwoods. Unorganized and preferably not raked mini nature areas in the city such as "Tiny forests" and many initiatives such as roof gardens and vegetable garden roofs also contribute to the further growth of greenery in the city.

The question is: is it going fast enough? We certainly did not start on time, but are we able to make up for lost time? We cannot combat climate change with a single, pre-determined plan. It must be done step by step and "agile", but it is time to take big steps now. Let's use the lessons learned from this COVID-19 crisis to tackle the global crisis of a different order, the climate crisis. One of the priorities is to allow high-quality greenery in the city to prevail over greenery on the outskirts of the city. In this way we limit further densification and the growth of high-rise buildings and we use nature to restore the quality of life in the city. During this lockdown, let the crowded city parks be an extra reason to appreciate greenery in the city, at whatever scale level.


Every month a column is published on a topic related to the value of the city. This vision is based on internal research and dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, in close collaboration with consultants and analysts from our Real Estate Strategy & Innovation team. More background can be found in the similarly named Insight: the resilience of the green city (in Dutch).

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