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The challenge

Greening our cities

As urban populations expand, natural environments shrink, as land is used for the construction of buildings, amenities and industry. While 'grey infrastructure has traditionally been the main focus of urban development and management activities, ‘green’ infrastructure is increasingly considered a vital asset for liveable, sustainable and resilient cities.

Urban green infrastructure (GI) refers to all of the vegetation that provides environmental, economic and social benefits such as clean air and water, climate regulation, food provision, erosion control and places for recreation. GI includes urban parks and reserves, wetlands and stream corridors, street trees and roadside verges, gardens and vegetable patches, bikeways and pedestrian trails, wall and rooftop gardens, orchards and farms, cemeteries and derelict land.

Despite a growing interest in urban GI, there has been relatively slow uptake of GI initiatives within urban development. This is due to competition for space in cities, unclear economic costs and benefits of GI, the complexity of dealing with living infrastructure and slow adoption of new ideas.

Our response

Establishing clear research priorities

The cross-disciplinary nature of GI research and policy poses a challenge because practitioners from a range of fields, such as policy, planning, design, engineering, research and horticulture, have to coordinate their efforts in order to create effective GI systems.

To this end we convened a workshop, inviting urban GI specialists from across Australia to collaborate on a national GI research agenda. Workshop participants represented a range of expertise in fields of urban planning, water management, landscape architecture, horticulture, ecology, urban forestry, psychology, engineering and policy.

At the workshop participants were able to jointly address cross-cutting problems, identify challenges and opportunities, and prioritise GI issues.

The results

A national green infrastructure research agenda

We identified six priority research areas that are necessary to advance our understanding of GI design, implementation and assessment:

  • examining attitudes and perceptions towards the acceptance of green infrastructure
  • increasing biodiversity with green infrastructure
  • optimising spatial configuration and composition of green infrastructure for multiple benefits
  • determining economic valuation of green infrastructure
  • identifying and developing metrics, models and tools for the planning and assessment of green infrastructure
  • turning research into policy and implementation.

Within this framework, we can ensure that national efforts to bring GI into our cities will be coordinated and applied, and well placed to provide urban communities with the range of benefits that GI offers.

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