Trees and plants instead of parking lots in the city: the study on "Nature"

Trees and plants instead of parking lots in the city: the study on "Nature"

Nature-based Solutions can make our population centers more resilient to climate change: a scientific study supports the thesis

Parking and green areas
Replacing parking lots with green spaces allows cities to become more resilient, giving them the ability to adapt to climate change (Photo: iStock)

They are called Nature-based Solution (NBS) and their potential is enormous, above all in the city. In fact, urban centers and megalopolises must work to return to being livable and hospitable, adapting to the climate crisis and quickly mitigating its negative effects.

task ofecology and become inclusive, even in the most “human” places by definition: city and nature must learn to coexist. In the past, in fact, nature was literally swept away from man's inhabited places or, at most, compartmentalized into very specific areas.

Today things must necessarily change, above all to make the places in which we live more resilient. A research published in "Natures” suggests that also streets and parking lots can apply for acapture the natural element: making space more efficient, it is in fact possible to free up entire areas to allocate them to trees, flowers, hedges and shrubs.

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Illustration of Nature's case study on converting car parks into green areas
On-street parking adjacent to garages with vacant spaces are identified and reassigned; the redundant street parking lots are then replaced by biodiverse green spaces equipped with a street tree (1), habitat resources such as undergrowth plants (2), the infiltration of rainwater thanks to a "raingarden" project (3) and the effective depaving of the parking area (4); the benefits of this land use change in the city of Melbourne are estimated in terms of tree canopy, ecological connectivity, stormwater flow interception and treatment, and total area of ​​impermeable asphalt removed (Photo: Nature)

What are Nature-based Solutions

But before discovering the theses exposed in the research published on !Natures”, it is good to take a step back to understand better what are Nature-based solutions. The concept is quite recent and was mentioned for the first time in 2015 by the European Commission, which defines them as follows:

“a useful tool for pursuing objectives such as increasing the sustainability of urban systems, recovering degraded ecosystems, implementing adaptive and mitigating interventions with respect to climate change and improving risk management and implementing resilience. For the IUCN (European Union for Conservation of Nature) Nature based Solutions are also actions to protect, manage or restructure ecosystems in a sustainable way, which provide benefits for human well-being and biodiversity”.

Concretely, these are mainly actions aimed at improving,expansion and enhancement of green areas which, altogether, they can take with them environmental, social and energy efficiency benefits. Simply put, NBS has great potential to bring so-called ecosystem services also in the city.

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Nature based solution: the advantages for cities
The infographic created by the European Commission highlights the advantages that nature-based solutions bring with them when applied in urban centers (Photo: European Commission)

Nature also enters the parking lots

In any city, car parks occupy a considerable part of the urban area.

And in the collective imagination there is nothing further from nature than a parking lot. And if not?

The study published in "Nature" took into consideration the Melbourne city, demonstrating that half of the cars housed in street parking can be directed to specific garages located a maximum of 200 meters from the existing parking lots, thus freeing up large areas to be allocated to public green areas and their care.

The resulting advantages are many: increase in trees, improvement in the recovery of rainwater, regulation of the microclimate and so on.

And since, as stated in the study, many cities in the world operate in the same way (large on-street parking accompanied by the neighboring presence of as many garages), thesuggested approach can be applied to many municipalities, who will thus be able to "free up" space for nature, finally making it return to the city.

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Trees and plants: an example of landscaped parking from China
An example of a landscaped parking lot from China
(Illustration: Lin Chen Zan)

What happened to our cities?

Cities grow and consequently the need for space increases.

At the same time private green spaces are decreasing which, however, are not replaced by corresponding public green areas: in a few years the our cities they have become one concrete pouring where biodiversity does not seem to be welcome.

And the lack of nature has made itself felt, bringing with it consequences that we all experience: floods, floods and heat islands in the summer are phenomena on the agenda today. In short, the climate crisis is clearly evident before our eyes and the need to fight it becomes urgent even in urban centres.

Yet today very little has been done to create a change of course, thus allocating a different land use, today occupied entirely by buildings, roads, concrete and asphalt.

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Trees and plants: Massachusetts is also dealing with extreme heat
Massachusetts is also dealing with extreme heat, and it is a novelty brought about by the climate crisis: in fact, in the summer there is the phenomenon of heat islands, which transform some areas of the city into real hot spots (Photo: Sean Peacock/iStock)

How much space do streets take up in the city?

The study published in "Natures” mainly focused on the so-called road landscapes, because a large percentage of the urban surface is destined for them. A little data will help us better understand the situation.

Roads occupy 26 per cent of the surface area of ​​Melbourne, Cape Town and Sydney; on the 30th in London, Barcelona, ​​Hong Kong and New York. 21% of these streets in Melbourne are reserved for parking, 28% in Vienna.

In many cities like Melbourne, on-street parking comes with the presence of free parking spaces in the garagerequired by various city regulations when new commercial or residential buildings are built.

"Nature" estimates that, only in the Australian city, they are present ben 4 million square feet of garage, which could therefore accommodate most of the cars parked on the street.

And nature, in all its forms, could finally take possession of this "liberated" space, finally returning to coexist with human beings, even in the city.

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New York seen from above
In New York, the roadway occupies about 30% of the entire surface of the city (Photo: Frankreporter/iStock)

The expected improvements for the urban fabric

The case study presented in the magazine “Natures” it also places the accent on the species used for the conversion of the car parks.

The autochthonous species and suitable for the context for which they are intended, in addition to improve ecological connectivity contribute to attract animal species present in the area, i.e. woodland birds and pollinating insects.

This contributes to increase biodiversity city ​​to improve food security. The increase in green areas, then, allows you to create the so-called rain garden, perfect areas for receiving rainwater by making it flow correctly into the ground, consequently avoiding flooding or, worse, floods.

Furthermore, greenery helps to combat the phenomenon of heat islands, thus reducing the mortality of the city's inhabitants.

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Trees and plants: a graphic representation of the urban heat island
A graphic representation of the urban heat island: during the day buildings and paved areas absorb solar radiation, the heat of which is then released at night. The result? Urban areas are consistently warmer than rural or peripheral areas (Image: Valentina Kruchinina/iStock)

Sustainability today travels by road…

The study of "Natures” it gives new hope to the city arteries in relation to their co-existence with the natural element. But a lot can be done not only on roadsides and parking lots, but also in terms of paving.

Le natural, permeable and draining floors and above all, recyclable, allow you to give a new ecological look for our citieswithout losing functionality, strength and durability. There are many companies that are moving in this direction, e Solid Earth is one of the market leaders: in fact, it deals with realisation natural and ecological roads which, living perfectly in contact with the vegetable soil, become a real second skin: in addition to not polluting, they allow rainwater to infiltrate easily, so as to then be dispersed into the underlying soil in a totally natural way.

These solutions, then, allow you to create parking integrated with the landscape. This single example shows us that even technological innovation, if environmentally friendly, can travel alongside Nature-based Solutions, which are necessary today to make the cities in which we live resilient.

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A car park created by Terra Solida
A car park built with Terra Solida natural paving: it allows water to naturally infiltrate the ground, thus meeting the principle of hydraulic invariance (Photo: Terra Solida)