Can green building infrastructure help city workers feel safer?

Australian cities are being encouraged to introduce more green roofs, walls and facades in a new report, which sets out a roadmap to beat the pandemic and enhance lives

A roadmap to speed up the flourishing of green roofs, walls and facades in Australian cities has been released, and it features six action strategies to help grow green cities. Researchers collaborating on the project also say the recommendations could provide stimulus and support recovery post Covid-19.

Along with a proposal to establish an industry knowledge hub, the guide, A roadmap for green roofs, walls and facades in Australia’s urban landscapes 2020-2030, calls for strong government leadership, policies combining incentives and regulation, and education and advocacy to ensure standards in design, installation and maintenance.

Compiled by the University of Melbourne and the UNSW Sydney with funding from HORT Innovation, it draws on the collective knowledge of more than 60 experts in the building and horticultural industries, government agencies and universities.

Potential to bring benefits

Its author Nick Williams, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, says that while Covid-19 was not part of the core research, learnings from the pandemic illustrate the potential for green roofs, walls and facades to bring environmental, economic and social benefits, including adapting cities to climate change, bringing nature back to city centres for workers and residents, and importantly, creating jobs.

‘The upheaval brought by the pandemic to the way we live and work is an opportunity for developers and building managers to rethink apartment and office building design,” he explains. ‘Rooftop and podium-level green roofs, viewed through many building windows but easily accessible from lunch rooms, could help alleviate the high demand for inner-city green space seen during the pandemic and, along with good hygiene practices, help office workers feel safer in communal areas.’

Creating new jobs

Co-author Professor Leisa Sargent of the UNSW Business School, adds: ‘Retrofits of this type could receive a business tax incentive to stimulate the construction industry, as they create workplaces that improve employee productivity and wellbeing. Green roofs, walls and facades require a diverse mix of professions and trades to build them and many jobs will be created as the sector grows. In Toronto, a 2009 bylaw that made green roofs mandatory on large new buildings is estimated to have created 1600-plus jobs in their construction and 25 jobs annually to maintain them.’

Researchers say Australian cities are lagging behind many of their international counterparts in the implementation of these green infrastructure technologies but point to the City of Melbourne as an example of government that promotes green cities. The city is tailoring policies to encourage green infrastructure through a planning scheme amendment and its ‘Green Our City Strategic Action Plan’. Melbourne also recently released a tool to measure and improve vegetation cover on new developments, particularly on private land.

‘Designing in more green spaces in our city…’

‘We want Melbourne to remain a place where people want to live and work,’ says City of Melbourne Councillor Cathy Oke. ‘This means planning for a city with health and wellbeing of residents and workers front and centre. One way that we can do this is through designing in and encouraging more green spaces in our city. The City of Melbourne’s Green Factor Tool will assist developers to increase greening within proposed new buildings, by measuring the quality and quantity of green infrastructure, such as green roofs, walls and gardens.’

Andrew Samson is editorial director of SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange. This article was first published on the SALUS Global healthcare knowledge platform
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