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The greener your street, the healthier the environment you live in!

greener and healthier environment

© Berenika. Image used under Creative Commons Licence

According to a recent research by scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and Lancaster (UK) the ‘greening up’ of our streets could lead to a  massive 30% reduction in urban pollution.

Trees, bushes and other greenery growing in the concrete-and-glass ‘urban canyons’ of cities would deliver cleaner air at the roadside where most of us are exposed to the highest pollution levels, and could be implemented street-by-street without the need for large-scale and expensive initiatives.

The researchers have found that, since pollution cannot easily escape street canyons, ‘green walls’ of grass, climbing ivy and other plants have a better opportunity than previously thought to act as an air pollution filter.  Instead of reducing pollution by 1 or 2%, reductions of more than ten times this magnitude could be achieved, according to this study.

It is important!

Today three out of four Europeans live in towns and cities. Urban areas concentrate most of the environmental challenges that our society faces nowadays, but they also bring together commitment and innovative ideas to solve these problems.

Plants in cities clean the air by removing nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter, both of which are harmful to human health. These pollutants are significant problems in cities in developed and developing countries: the outdoor air quality database of the World Health Organization estimates at more than 1 million worldwide premature deaths per annum.

European initiatives

Since 2010, each year, one European city is awarded of the title of  European Green Capital.

The prize is ultimately about making cities more pleasant places to live and work in. The award is given to a European city that demonstrates a well-established record of achieving high environmental standards and  is committed to on-going and ambitious goals for future environmental improvement and sustainable development- In addition, it also leads the way in environmentally friendly urban living and can thus act as a model to inspire other cities.

Cities entering the European Green Capital Award are assessed on 12 indicators – climate change, transport, green urban areas incorporating sustainable land use, nature and biodiversity, air, noise, waste, water consumption, waste water treatment, eco innovation & sustainable employment, environmental management and energy.

Four cities – Stockholm, Hamburg, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Nantes – have been awarded the prestigious title so far. On the 29th of June, the European Green Capital award 2014 was given to the city of Copenhagen.

Beautiful

If adding green to our streets and houses is good for our health, it also adds to the beauty of our urban environment, thus stimulating our well being. As Keats said: “a thing of beauty is a joy forever, its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness”. Long live green cities!

Background information:

Interview with one of the authors (Rob McKenzie)

Article published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology: Developing a Science of Infrastructure Ecology for Sustainable Urban Systems (full text)

New green wall for London / Transport for London

World Health Organisation:

Methods used for compiling the urban outdoor air pollution database 

Go to the urban outdoor air pollution database, by country and city (corrected version)

See also latest analysis : EU plan to make cities greener out in July (internal EP library link)

About Geert Plas

Polyvalent information specialist at the European Parliament Library

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