Blog: Opportunities for green and blue infrastructure in climate action towns

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To Introduce Architecture and Design Scotland’s Climate Action Towns work we reached out to a number of partners across Scotland to write a blog post on how Scotland’s Towns can work to address Climate change. Here Deryck Irving of the Green Action Trust explores how we can use green space and manage water to make our towns climate ready…

Frequently, when considering a relatively new and unfamiliar concept, it is easier to define what it isn’t rather than what it is. Climate Action Towns may be a case in point.

So, what is a Climate INACTION Town?

It is dominated by cars and traffic. Roads, parking and other ‘car infrastructure’ make it difficult and unpleasant to move around and discourage people from spending any more time than necessary in the town centre. Air pollution is a major problem anywhere that traffic slows – especially in the most built-up areas of the town where pollutant levels concentrate between buildings.

The town’s carbon footprint is high. Transport is heavily based on fossil fuels and buildings are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. People choose to drive to town – even for short journeys – or go elsewhere to shop, driving long distances to get to out-of-town shopping or to other towns and cities with a better ‘offer’.

The town is hard and grey. Surfaces are sealed leading to flash flooding whenever there is heavy rainfall as water flows off buildings and streets too fast for the combined drains and sewers to cope (that’s right folks, that may not just be water flooding the streets and buildings!).

Streets have no shade making them unpleasantly hot during warm, dry spells. Homes, shops, and offices are increasingly having to use fans and air conditioning to keep temperatures at a comfortable level.

People have settled for a ‘business as usual’ approach – not changing actions and behaviours in response to global and national ambitions because it is ‘too difficult,’ ‘too overwhelming,’ ‘too confusing’ or ‘someone else will deal with it’ or because they feel personally and collectively disempowered.

Sound familiar? This clearly presents an extreme example, but all of these are real issues that occur in some combination in Scotland’s towns.

How can blue and green infrastructure contribute to the future success of our towns as low carbon, climate ready places where people want to be?

Greener streets and local greenspaces make urban areas more attractive and pleasant to spend time in – with an associated increase in use of shops and local facilities. They provide recreational and relaxing places for people working and living locally.

a green space (swale) with trees in the middle distance and grass behind intersperse by hard landscaping like paths
Image: D Irving

These spaces – particularly where they include street trees, wooded areas, and green walls – make surrounding areas cooler and improve air quality.

Sustainable surface water management features such as rain gardens in streets and public spaces reduce flood risk from extreme rainfall events – often more cheaply than traditional solutions.

Green roofs on buildings help with water management, and also reduce the need to heat and cool buildings.

Active travel routes through and between towns reduce our reliance on cars and make it easier to walk, cycle or wheel around.

A woman cycles along a path there are some recently planted trees behind her
image: Becky Duncan

Greenspaces can support local food growing – both community and commercial – creating a stronger and more resilient food economy.

Pre-installing green infrastructure – including surface water management, active travel connections and renewable energy generation opens up areas for other uses and generates development of vacant and derelict land.

An additional benefit is the empowerment of local businesses and communities. Blue-green infrastructure projects can often be developed and delivered by communities themselves.

What else can be gained from our Towns being climate ready places?

This isn’t just about carbon savings or reducing flood risk – there are many other starting points and rationales which will match with local placemaking and economic development priorities. For example:

Towns might prioritise green tourism and look to maximise biodiversity and walking/cycling.

Post-industrial towns might choose to prioritise tackling vacant and derelict land as a mechanism for providing blue-green infrastructure and improving quality of place.

Towns which act as dormitory settlements for our major cities might focus on creating attractive, green places and local digital hubs to support home working and reduce the need to commute and couple this with enhanced EV, active travel and public transport infrastructure for those who still travel to work.

The Green Action Trust

The Green Action Trust is Scotland’s leading environmental regeneration charity and supports towns in their journey in tackling the climate Emergency. We work in conjunction with local businesses, community organisations and councils and we are environmental partners for Scotland’s Towns Partnership. We support a wide range of potential actions to match locally agreed priorities, but our primary interest and expertise is in improving the blue and green infrastructure in our towns.

For more information on the Green Action Trust and how we can help your town in becoming a climate ready place, contact:

Deryck Irving, Director or Strategy and Development

Green Action Trust

deryck.irving@greenactiontrust.org

Main Image: Marc Millar
Updated August 2021

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