As we look to at how we build back after the pandemic, we asked our board members to reflect on the recovery from their personal and professional experience. In this blog Sue Evans looks at the impact on landscapes, infrastructure and climate.
I have spent my career as a landscape architect raising awareness of the importance of landscape and nature and the need to deliver strategic and widescale regreening across urban Scotland. A particular focus has been around the role of the natural environment in supporting physical activity and mental wellbeing.
2019 was filled with news of our climate emergency; of fires, storms, floods and droughts, and of the loss and, in some cases, extinction of plants and animals at startling rates. Earth Overshoot Day was on July 29 last year, the earliest ever, highlighting how our economic systems and consumerist behaviours mean we are living well beyond the capacity of the world to renew itself and to support us going forward.
Green and Blue Infrastructure
So, for me, 2020 got off to a momentous start with the publication in January of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland’s Phase 1. Key findings report – A blueprint for Scotland. Importantly the Commission broadened the definition of infrastructure to take in more than traditional “grey” infrastructure (transport, energy, telecoms, water and waste, housing) to include the broader components of social infrastructure – education, health, justice and culture – and, critically, the role of natural assets as “green and blue infrastructure”. The recommendations in the report encourage the Scottish Government to put “place at the heart of coherent, infrastructure prioritisation and planning” and to “develop a clear implementation plan, to address critical natural and built infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation needs” to help us adapt to the climate emergency.
Role of Natural World
Then came Covid-19 and, for a while, development and consumerism appeared to grind to a halt. If anyone needed any convincing of the role of the natural world in underpinning our wellbeing then the pandemic that we are still gripped by has provided that evidence. For the lucky – those with security, a good home and environment – the experience of lockdown has given us time to be with family and to appreciate the natural world around us; we have enjoyed our gardens, local parks, area of woodland or shoreline. We have been able to escape from the fears and sadness of the Covid-19 pandemic by growing our own food, watching wildlife and learning how to cycle.
However, for the disadvantaged – those without security, in substandard accommodation and surrounded by poor environment – lockdown has been far more difficult. The Glasgow Centre for Population Health has been reviewing earlier work on housing and the built environment in response to the pandemic and has provided thought leadership on public health policy that might support our recovery. Recommendations [I] developed in consultation with housing organisations, public health professionals and tenants include the following place-based recommendations which can be adopted across Scotland:
- Strengthening the impact of the Place Standard for Scotland by: providing ongoing support for its development and delivery; making it a ‘material consideration’ in the spatial planning system for private and public sector development; and investing in support for communities from deprived areas to use it.
- Improving greenspace access and quality in deprived areas by: providing access to good quality greenspace within 300m of the home for all; addressing current inequalities in greenspace quality; and supporting engagement in outdoor activities (including spaces for all to support intergenerational mixing and spaces to play that challenge children and allow for risk taking).
- Improving neighbourhood maintenance according to need and deprivation levels by ensuring that Community Planning Partnerships, Local Authorities and Scottish Government work together to identify mechanisms to support the ongoing maintenance of streets and open, green and public spaces, and ensure that environmental incivilities, crime and anti-social behaviour do not act as disincentives to their use and enjoyment.
- Improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists by establishing 20mph zones, area-wide traffic calming schemes, and segregation of pedestrians, cyclists and traffic, as the norm for residential and urban areas.
Route Map to a Greener Future
In late July, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland published its Phase 2: Delivery Findings Report 1. It sets out how Government can deliver “an inclusive net zero carbon economy, at the core of (a) 30-year vision for infrastructure in Scotland” providing a clear route map towards a greener future. For me, this must include well connected green infrastructure – more street trees, sustainable urban drainage, green roofs and green walls, deculverting and depaving to increase space for water and nature, more allotments and informal growing spaces, and the conversion of vacant and derelict land and buildings into green uses (like flood management, urban farming), and the better management of our parks and public realm so any investment is sustained.
We are at a tipping point about how Scotland’s economic recovery is shaped; we have political choices to make. Do we rebuild the way of life we knew, or do we seek to establish a new normal? A normal that is built on a greener way of life that is respectful of our world and where we take more care of each other and the soils, air, water, plants and animals that we depend on for our food, raw materials and medicines. A normal where we seek to live well but within the capacity of our world.
We have come to understand and value the outdoors and nature for community cohesion, physical health and mental wellbeing, food growing, learning and play, and as a means to moderate climate change. This year Earth Overshoot Day will be on August 22, three weeks later than predicted due to pandemic. This shows that change is possible. If we go forward on the basis of a planned green economic recovery, we can use technology and our creativity rather than crisis management to deliver a just transition. It is time to bring nature back into our lives; green and blue infrastructure delivery is vital to our national recovery.
I – History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality in Scotland and Glasgow – Section 7: Policy recommendations (pages 75-81). David Walsh, Gerry McCartney, Chik Collins, Martin Taulbut, G David Batty, May 2016.
(Published July 2020)