2.4.4 City Comparison and Competition
Cities are in competition with each other on a European and global basis. This competition is for trade, investment, tourism and human capital. The quality and liveability of cities is fundamental to their attractiveness and creating a city environment with access to good parks and green spaces plays an important role.
The environment of cities is now becoming an important factor in making comparisons and rankings between cities. The Green City Index (Siemens/Economist Intelligence Unit), for example, evaluated 120 cities globally based on 30 indicators, one of which was green space policies. This 2009 study ranked Dublin in 21st position out of 30 European cities reviewed.
There is an opportunity for Dublin to learn from environmental best practice methods of other better performing countries to improve its environmental performance and endeavour to become an internationally recognised Green City.
Different city rankings, however, use different ‘green’ criteria and obtaining impartial comparisons may be a challenge. In response to this, the International Organisation for Standardisation has issued a new standard, ISO 37120:2018, which will allow cities to compare themselves with peer cities in terms of sustainable development for communities. This standard establishes indicators to measure the performance of services and quality of life in cities. Of particular importance to Parks Services are indicators for green area per 100,000 population and the number of trees planted yearly per 100,000 population. Such standardised systems are useful if comparing cities but can also help implement and formalise city plans and help streamline environmental programmes and resource management.
A number of cities are promoting and developing their green credentials, which sets an example for others to follow:
Singapore – A City in a Garden
Singapore has a small land area of just over 700km2 (less than the area of County Dublin) and a population of 5.4 million. Between 1986 and 2007, the population grew by 68%, yet the green cover grew from 35.7% to 46.5%.
It is the top performer in the Asian Green City Index. Since gaining independence in the 1960s, the government has strongly emphasized the importance of sustainability through high-density development, and green-space conservation with the idea of a green city environment that improves the quality of life for its citizens. This was the start of its development into a Garden City, strengthening Singapore as a destination for tourism and foreign investment.
The city has developed a 15-year vision, with one of the major themes being the importance of greenery for a quality living environment with a City in a Garden approach
Green Space can be everywhere
Engagement with the public and government has been key. The Public Utilities Board has opened up and developed its water bodies for recreational activities, developing an initiative that aims to transform the country’s water bodies beyond their functions of drainage and water supply into beautiful clean rivers and lakes with new spaces for community bonding and recreation.
Due to Singapore’s limited land space, rooftop ‘skyrise’ greenery has increasingly become an important component of sustainable ‘green’ urban development and is being incorporated into new iconic buildings, such as the Nanyang
Technological University’s School of Art Design and Media and the Solaris building.
A matrix of park connectors as green links and recreational corridors among parks is one of the ways Singapore is expanding its green space in the city. The park connector network is a series of seven connecting cycle or green paths.
Gardens by the Bay
One of the most iconic contemporary projects is the Gardens by the Bay, a development of three world-class gardens around the Marina Bay waterfront built on 250 acres of reclaimed land. This has attracted over 20 million visitors since its opening in 2012.
London – The All London Green Grid
London has developed the concept of a “Green Grid”, which integrates green, blue and open spaces. The All London Green Grid policy framework promotes the delivery of green infrastructure across London, conserves landscapes and environments through strengthening green infrastructure and urban greening, shifting the focus from grey to green infrastructure.
Key benefits are increased recreational space, reduced flooding, improved air quality and cooling of the urban environment, thus adapting the city to the impacts of climate change. Biodiversity and ecological resilience also improve.
In a city as large as London there is a large range of projects. The River Wandle Valley Trust is a project that coordinates four boroughs developing a regional park stretching from Croydon to Putney. A charitable trust coordinates the projects, leading the vision for the 830 hectare space, enhancing links and improving biodiversity and water quality. A key aim is that the environmental benefits improve the quality of life for its citizens and bring economic regeneration to the area.
In contrast the Victoria Business Improvement District, run by the Borough of Westminster, has an innovative approach, developing a Green Infrastructure Audit that is used as a baseline for “green” developments, where flooding and overheating are key issues. Completed projects include a large green living wall, bee-keeping on roofs, and a rain garden project replacing cobbled paving.
Copenhagen – Carbon Neutral Capital
Copenhagen has developed in a planned manner over the past 60 years with the suburbs developing in five fingers from the city centre palm as the transport system grew. Copenhagen has been at the centre of good urban design, in particular with the influence of Jan Gehl, the world renowned urbanist who developed the concept of Strøget – the car-free zone and walking street. 96% of the population live within15 minutes walk of a large green or blue open space.
In 2011 Copenhagen experienced major flooding from a sudden storm, causing $800 million worth of damage. A ‘Cloudburst Management Plan’ was developed to safeguard against extreme weather, and seek an holistic solution, incorporating the blue into the green infrastructure, similar to London, but for different reasons. The concept is to manage rainwater locally, using sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS),thus preventing the water entering the main sewage system.
Copenhagen intends to be carbon neutral by 2025, and has developed ambitious plans to achieve this target.
Cycleways are key to the carbon neutral plan, with a network of over 390 km green cycleways. In peak commuting hours, traffic lights are coordinated for continuous flow for cyclists, known as the green wave, which is reversed in the afternoon.
Barcelona – Nature and urbanity converge
The Barcelona Olympics held in 1992 started the transformation of the city with Olympic facilities developed in neglected urban areas. Realignment of the railways and the creation of artificial beaches changed the alignment of the city from the mountains to the sea.
Barcelona is creating a network of green spaces, ensuring they are part of the city infrastructure, serving an environmental and social function. The Barcelona Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020 is a strategic document that sets out long-term actions.
It is a compact and dense city bounded by two rivers, the coastline, and two mountain ranges, all of which create a wide variety of habitats. The various habitats and spaces were evaluated and a ranking system developed, which gives a structure to develop the plan. Other forms of urban green infrastructure, such as vacant spaces, roofs and balconies, were also included. A strategy was developed of strengthened environmental infrastructure, biodiversity appreciation and community involvement. The plan also allows the city rebalance urban density, using the green network as a guide.
A key project is the creation of six green corridors into a network, which create structural green fringes that interconnect with pedestrian and cyclist priority.
New York City – A strong and just city
New York City recently published One New York, which outlines plans to make New York a sustainable, resilient and equitable city.
The plan involves significant investment in revitialising existing parks and public spaces, and strategically planning new spaces. The plan targets the areas with growing population and changing needs and with areas of higher than average poverty.
An objective has been set that 85% of the population will be within walking distance of a public space by 2030. New York City’s Parks Without Borders program enhances neighbourhood access to parks and increases connectivity within areas. The plans also engage the citizens with a core plan of expanding the use of streets as spaces to play and congregate.
New York has been at the centre of innovative solutions for creating new green spaces. The High Line in Manhattan is a public led initiative that turned a disused railway line to an aerial linear park stretching 2.33 km. The popular park has had an economic impact on local neighbourhoods with reinvestment occurring. New York is also converting landfill sites into public parks, with the largest being Freshkills Park, which will be over 2,200 acres when completed. The city also facilitates urban agriculture and community gardening, with the city actively targeting vacant spaces for use as community gardens along with commercial and community farms on building rooftops.