Angus Lindsay considers the benefits and the technological logistics of greening our urban areas.
I was interested to read a couple of months back that Camden is considering its own version of New York’s High Line, where a redundant industrial structure has become a garden in the sky. Last year I was lucky enough to walk
the length of the High Line, and you cannot fail to be impressed by the power of nature in turning an eyesore into a haven of peace and calm above the bustling streets. More of this in our cities, please!
Nature can’t take all of the credit though, as the High Line has been ably supported by a large group of volunteers and artisans who ensure that it is maintained and continues to provide an area of tranquillity away from the madness of the city.
The use of volunteers and user groups to maintain our greenspaces is also on the increase here in the UK. As local authorities struggle with budgets, teams of individuals with a passion for the outdoors are keeping our greenspaces alive by taking on more responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of a variety sites – from pocket parks and railway stations to canal sides and riverbanks.
With parks and open spaces under increasing threat from building, transport links and industrialisation, could there be a future in greening the industrial arteries of the past, transforming them into linear parks, satellite recreation sites, green walls and coppices? Will we see more greenspaces maintained by enthusiastic and passionate volunteers,
supported by local government and private enterprise? Look around most cities and large towns and you’ll spot redundant industrial sites, railway sidings, dark corners in the shadows of urban structures, roundabouts beneath flyovers, roofs of tall buildings, redundant canal basins and locks. The options are considerable, and in many cases, nature has already reclaimed them in its unruly way.
So where would you start, and can technology help this new breed of green warriors? For many of these sites, you’d want to maintain peace and quiet with minimal mechanical intrusion, so robotic mowers would be a good starting point as the areas could be specifically configured to the needs of the machine. Robotics are quiet, self-sufficient and
emission-free, and the work could be done at night, leaving the area free to be enjoyed by the public during the day.
Electric power tools also make sense, not least because you don’t have to drag fuels and oils around. They are quiet, lightweight, emission free and easy to use for tasks such as hedge cutting, shrub pruning, sweeping and grass
maintenance. While nature takes the lead in 90% of cases, there will be sites where it may struggle. Shade, high footfall and poor drainage will all stifle nature’s attempts to establish a foothold – so why not consider artificial options to green these spaces? Not only would they bring colour to shaded areas, they’d help to soften the cityscape,
and who’d be able to tell it wasn’t real as they drove past at 40mph?
So, could this ideology become reality? Well, it’s happened in New York, and, hopefully, we’ll soon see Camden’s project take off. There are many examples of people power, seen through friends and user groups around the country. In our busy world, as we check our emails, it’s all too easy to become oblivious to what’s around us and
just accept the demise of flowerbeds, floral displays and once landscaped roundabouts – now litter-strewn and unkempt, destined to become tarmac. Maybe we should all give up some of our time, and get back to greening