Plans are afoot to change the grey winter days of London. The City of London Corporation has this week published its City Plan 2036 for public consultation.
Urban greening is one of the proposed policies. All new developments will be required to include a greening element to the building or public realm. This signals a shift in how planners think about the built environment and could have implications not just for the City of London, but across all London boroughs and UK cities.
There is a subtle but important nuance to the City of London policy which distinguishes it from existing London Plan greening principles. The policy aims to use urban greening to maintain the City as a competitive business environment. The outlook is informed by biophilic design concepts, which state that humans have an innate need to connect to nature for a sense of well-being. It is an idea that has become increasingly popular across the world as a method of improving business.
Biophilia focuses more on the use of natural elements and building layout as much as planting. The argument is that biophilic spaces will improve staff retention, workplace health and productivity. Companies would therefore financially gain from fewer working days lost, better employee health and reductions in crime. That’s before the gain from energy savings, increased property values, and increased footfall for businesses.
The City of London Corporation’s development of a policy to use urban greening as a critical economic contributor as well as a mechanism for environmental improvement is most likely to be reflected across London boroughs eager to entice office users and residents alike.
However, there is a risk that if green infrastructure is viewed predominantly as an economic boost, the important site-by-site environmental research may not be undertaken. This could lead to urban greening aspects being inappropriately implemented, undermining the environmental benefits and potentially increasing costs for building owners in the long run.
Most importantly, successful urban greening must be well integrated into the urban environment and frequently used by local employees and residents, rather than visited as a special attraction. Whilst projects like the High Line in New York are dramatic features, they have become tourist sites as much as amenity spaces for everyday users. If the City of London Corporation want to use greening to retain office workers and business, it must ensure that the type of greening will provide a benefit for them as much as for visitors to the City.
Green infrastructure already provides considerable benefits to London. It will be interesting to see how policy aiming to better integrate and connect city users and nature could further help London adapt to climate change, residential change and changing work patterns.