Paint the town green: Part I

Living in urban Britain, it can be hard not to just feel helpless when faced with endless documentaries and news stories about shrinking ice caps, growing deserts, and the lengthening list of species going extinct (both plant and animal). Rather than throwing up our hands and sticking our heads in the sand, I want to focus on ways in which we can make a difference, within the confines of our own homes and lifestyles.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, green space (including gardens) make up 25% of the land in cities in the UK. When you consider that 80% of the UK population lives in cities, you can start to see that there is some real potential here. If we each take responsibility for our portion of that green space, we can make a substantial difference.

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So what does urban greening do? The answer is, pretty much everything that you’s like to do to a city’s climate! The air quality is improved, the more growing vegetation you have, while the air is also cooler, counteracting the heating effect in city centres. If cooling things down sounds like the last thing you want, green your walls as well as your lawn – good wall cover can improve your insulation.

Greener spaces mean more biodiversity, and crucial habitats for our own endangered wildlife. Of course the most important wildlife are the pollinators, and you can see more detail on encouraging them in your garden in my earlier blog posts here and here.

Organic cover also helps to offset the water run-off problems caused by vast expanses of concrete and tarmac, helping not only the drainage of your own land, but that of land around you, and even (when seen collectively) the land around the city or urban space you’re in. This has a knock-on effect for waterways, which carry the impact of the city out into the wider country, as well as being depended on by more wildlife than you can shake a (leafy green) stick at. Not to mention reducing flood risk for the habitat of those pesky homo sapiens.

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A community garden on campus at UC Berkely. Photo by Hfordsa

A fantastic example of urban greening being put to many, many uses is the Incredible Edible project in Todmorden, founded by the inspirational Pam Warhurst, who’s done so much for greening and gardening, as well as food habits and communities. The Todmorden initiative was a catalyst for education, local business, and access to local, healthy food, as well as providing all the benefits of urban greening that we’re talking about here.

Finally, and importantly for many people, greening is aesthetically transformative. Instead of just ignoring the empty space between front door and car door, you can make it something pleasing, welcoming, relaxing… anything you want it to be!

Watch this space for ideas and tips on how best to greenify your outdoor space, coming soon.