The green roof and wall industry, and the players within it, have experienced rapid growth over the past decade. This has led to improvements in technology and systems as well as large amounts of research into the benefits of plants for people and our environment. As demand grows for more plants in our cities, so does our expertise on where and how to grow them. However, in my opinion we should not limit ourselves to systems only focusing on roofs and walls.

I believe we can grow plants anywhere in our cities and we need to consider plants as living infrastructure and integrated systems that include walls, roofs, façades, planter boxes as well as trees and other types of deep ground planting. I also believe we shouldn’t limit our thinking to just the built environment, and should consider how we might grow more plants along our highways, roads and bridges, particularly in dense residential areas. I have even seen plants used in rivers to help clean pollutants.

I believe we need to re-imagine the complete infrastructure of our cities as places for plant-life and bring back our connection to nature.

With the population in Australia projected to jump 60 per cent to 37.6 million by 2050, human health problems associated with rapid urbanisation such as air pollution and heat island effect are also expected to increase. Over the past 30 years, researchers have unearthed a wide array of health effects, which are believed to be associated with air pollution exposure. Among them are respiratory diseases (including asthma and changes in lung function), cardiovascular diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes (such as preterm birth), and even death.

According to a report by the Victorian Department of Health in 2012, there were 62 per cent more deaths during the severe heat waves of January 2009 than would have been expected on average for the same time of year, mostly for the age group 75 years or older. The report states that “keeping our buildings cooler through increased shading is likely to contribute to reducing the loss of human lives, and the demands on health services associated with extreme hot weather”.

The situation is far worse in countries such as China. I mentioned in one of my blogs a study by Berkeley Earth, a group of physicists from the University of California Berkeley who reported that air pollution kills 1.6 million people in China every year. That equates to one in six premature deaths, an unbelievable 4000 people every day, and approximately 17 per cent of all deaths.

We must fast track the introduction of more plants into our cities in every possible way. The research into the benefits of plants in cities is irrefutable.

In summary, research proves that not only do plants increase the overall aesthetic of urban areas through the reintroduction of nature, they also filter pollutants and particulates from the air, meaning cleaner, healthier and more breathable air for all of us. In addition, research has identified the ability of plants to help both mitigate the loss of biodiversity that follows rapid urbanisation, as well as reduce the “urban heat island effect”, which stems from increased human activity in highly populated city centres.

There are numerous examples, both in Australia and abroad, of projects that I believe exemplify the creative and large-scale adoption of living infrastructure into our cities.

Milan’s Bosco Verticale (“The Vertical Forest”) designed by Stefano Boeri, embodies all aspects of the living infrastructure concept. It has been credited for adding over 15,000 plants to Milan’s skyline, and “represents a model for the development of densely populated urban areas”, providing all the functional benefits of plants while adding to the overall aesthetic of the popular Italian city.

Another is the Clearpoint Residencies in Sri Lanka where architect Milroy Perera together with Maga Engineering will completely wrap a high-rise residential tower in vegetation. Not only do the garden terraces offer a striking aesthetic, they will also cool the building and provide shade while operating as a natural filter for apartment dust and for their acoustic benefits.

Closer to home, we have the award-winning One Central Park development by Frasers Property Australia and Sekisui House Australia. Located in Chippendale, Junglefy worked with world-renowned French botanist Patrick Blanc, as well as Watpac, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, PTW Architects and Aspect Occulus, to deliver what was judged the world’s best tall building in 2014, largely thanks to it’s unique, thoughtful design based on the essential naturalisation of the built environment.

The newly opened Goods Line and Barangaroo Reserve in Sydney are also attracting people in droves back into the city and are a true showcases of urban renewal and how living infrastructure is about places for people and connectivity. The Barangaroo South development has a strong focus on long-term sustainability with the aim of creating the world’s first climate positive urban renewal project of its size. Lendlease has endeavoured to incorporate plants into the very fabric of its buildings.

As developers, designers and building owners adopt more innovative approaches to incorporating plants into our built environment, so will our industry continue to evolve, which makes me ponder our use of language. I believe it is vital that the language we use better reflects the scalable and more creative application of growing plants in our cities and the terms “living infrastructure” and “living architecture” should be more widely adopted. I feel strongly that these better describe the functional importance and necessity of incorporating plants and nature into our cities in order to develop places for people and achieve greater resilience against rapid urbanisation and population growth.

Personally, I like the word “infrastructure”, which, according to Google, our modern day dictionary, is “the basic physical and organisational structures and facilities… needed for the operation of a society or enterprise… the social and economic infrastructure of a country”. I believe plants and trees are our “living infrastructure”, and thus an essential ingredient to the operation of our cities and health of our people.

As a horticulturist I am passionate about the benefits plants can bring to cities to clean the air. I therefore urge anyone that is involved with city planning, designing and construction to work creatively with specialists in living architecture and infrastructure to find new and inventive ways to introduce plants into our cities – inside, outside, on-top-of and everywhere in between.

Jock Gammon is founder and managing director of Junglefy.

 

This article was first published in The Fifth Estate.