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In pursuit of the Blue Green Dream

SWIG calls for vital coupling of water and green infrastructure

Yesterday Footprint attended a meeting of the Sustainable Water Industry Group (SWIG), the main topic of which was ‘Beyond this drought – Moving forward without the panic’, hosted at Imperial College, London. The audience was a diverse mix of academics from UCL, Middlesex University and Imperial, along with water industry representatives and local authority planning departments.

The scene was set with the recent back-and-forth hose-pipe ban and drought affecting the UK, to ask the question: can we avoid a water crisis when we are sat at the confluence of reduced availability due to pollution and demand driven consumption? Further to this, attention was drawn to the need to deal with recent | occurances of fluvial and pluvial flooding in urban areas.

Fullest reach of this year's drought. Credit: EA via BBC - click for article

Fullest reach of this year’s drought. Credit: EA via BBC - click for article

Professor Čedo Maksimović, Head of Imperial’s Urban Water Research Group (UWRG), presented the recently approved European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)-initiated Climate-KIC ‘Blue Green Dream’ (BGD) project. The initiative hopes to couple the development of new paradigms in urban vegetation and water infrastructure and aims to transfer leading ‘blue’ and ‘green’ scientific research from participating European universities into environmental action and green products.

William McDonough's famous early green roof on Chicago City Hall

William McDonough’s famous early green roof on Chicago City Hall, an early study into negating the heat island effect

Prof. Maksimović believes the UK industry should lead by example and tackle water issues on their own doorstep, mentioning issues local to Imperial that include flooding in the University’s Skempton Building and withering trees that are losing out to the efficient drainage of Exhibition Road.

This demonstrates the effect of urbanisation on water runoff, Prof. Maksimović offered solutions such as green roofs and swales that might deal with run-off more effectively and help prevent urban pluvial flooding in the UK.

New drainage on Exhibition Road - almost too efficient. Credit: RBKC

New drainage on Exhibition Road - almost too efficient. Credit: RBKC

Pluvial flooding is also exacerbated by the phenomenon of urban creep. According to Prof. Maksimović, many UK cities are losing green space at a disturbing rate, in London green area almost the size of Hyde Park is paved over every year.

London loses green space equivalent to the area of Hyde Park every year

London loses green space equivalent to the area of Hyde Park every year

Looking again at Imperial’s doorstep, projects demonstrating an effort to combat urban creep include the Natural History Museum’s plans for potentially installing a green roof and David Morley’s Isis Education Centre which uses a green roof to offset its built footprint. Both are instances where sustainable design is attempting tomake a difference.

Indeed, part of KIC’s deliverables for the BGD project includes multimedia education and training products for the projects main targets, which include architects, planners and city authorities, with an emphasis on the need for integrated and collaborative teams.

The vast roof of the Natural History Museum could be 'greened' in the future. Photo: David Iliff

The vast roof of the Natural History Museum could be ‘greened’ in the future. Photo: David Iliff

The audience agreed with Professor Maksimović’s claim that vital changes must be made in legal, institutional and management settings at both national and municipal levels, his vision being that the Green Deal might incentivise sustainable green and blue infrastructure.

David Morley Architects' Isis Eduction Centre in Hyde Park

David Morley Architects’ Isis Eduction Centre in Hyde Park

Aside from the vision of a lush, green urban landscape, achieving the Blue Green Dream’s design combination of blue-green infrastructure would bring multiple benefits, including green job creation, noise reduction, reversing the heat island effect and creating ecological complexity.

This combined approach to urban water and vegetation might go some way to increase resilience to climate change and natural disasters in the UK and beyond.

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