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As sustainable architecture becomes more prominent in cities across the globe, we’re learning more about how much it benefits the local environment and the people living there. As a new and developing industry, green city planning is still working to prove its worth over traditional architecture and city planning methods. However, these traditional ways have proven to be detrimental to the environment in many ways. In the United States alone, buildings account for:

  • 39% of total energy use
  • 68% of total electricity consumption
  • 30% of landfill waste
  • 38% of carbon dioxide emissions
  • 12% of total water consumption

Green city planning aims to reduce these high amounts of waste and create more pleasant and sustainable living environments. Three areas that show the biggest benefits from sustainable architecture are local health, economy, and environment.

Sustainable architecture has existed for much longer than you might think- one of the most famous historical examples of green building is Angkor Wat, a 12th century Cambodian temple built with local materials and green maintenance systems that still stand today.

Green city design as we currently know it developed from an environmental building movement that began in the United States in the 1960s. This movement combined an admiration for the Native American way of living among nature with a disdain for the urban sprawl that was happening across the country. These green architects experimented with living structures such as green roofs and living walls to create buildings that interacted with and benefitted the local ecosystem. From this point on, the popularity and capabilities of sustainable architecture have advanced enormously.

In the 21st century, sustainable architecture has become far more popular. What was once just done with individual buildings is now being done with entire cities. Green city planning focuses on the creation of new eco-friendly structures and how the carbon footprint of existing buildings can be reduced. Green city design looks at where and how these buildings will be constructed, and how surrounding green areas can be developed to create a more eco-friendly city. Cities around the world use the City Biodiversity Index (CBI) to measure their biodiversity and find out where they can improve their efforts. The CBI calculates a city’s biodiversity by looking at factors such as presence of native plant and animal species, ecosystem services, and how the city protects and manages its natural environments.

When it comes to the health benefits of green city design, several studies aimed at different demographics such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly have concluded that people with better access to green urban spaces have better physical and mental health. These studies also examined the effects of sustainable architecture and green building features such as living walls and green roofs, finding that this also had a strong positive impact on the people inside and in the vicinity of the green buildings. Green city design creates better air quality, more green spaces to promote physical activity and a greater connection to nature, which has shown to improve mental health.

Green installations filter air and noise pollution, creating a calmer and cleaner place to enjoy. By creating enjoyable green spaces, green city design creates areas in which local populations can exercise, feel calmer, and connect with nature. The wellness benefits of these features include respiration, cardiovascular, muscular, and mental health.

As with any urban development, it can be difficult to build a green city without evidence that it’s economically beneficial. Because of this, a lot of time and effort has been focused on exactly how an economy can benefit from green city design. In 2010, the United Nations Environment Program began developing a calculation model that a city can use to calculate the cost benefit analysis of its environmental plans. This system is called TEEB- The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. Green city design and sustainable architecture have become far more economic in recent years, with construction and building materials now at a similar price to traditional construction. Environmental architecture saves a lot of money on water and heating costs, allowing the owner to see long-term consistent savings within a short period of time.

The environmental impact and low utility costs of such buildings also give them higher property values, meaning every neighbourhood wants them. Studies have also shown that the positive environment created by green buildings and local green city design boosts the productivity of workers, so businesses are jumping at the chance to rent a green office space.

The environmental benefits of green city planning stretch to every aspect of the surrounding area- air quality, increased biodiversity, safer natural wildlife habitats, and restored natural resources are just a few. For example, a living wall or tree-lined path hugely increases a site’s positive environmental impact. These installations pump vast amounts of oxygen into the air around them, as well as absorbing equally vast amounts of carbon dioxide which would otherwise harm the life around it. When strengthening a natural environment, green city design takes all living things into account, not just the human population.

In recent years, urban greening has proven to be hugely beneficial for promoting the growth of local plant life that is often lost when urban areas are developed. In turn, this plant life sustains local wildlife. In particular, living walls have shown to be particularly suitable environments for promoting urban biodiversity.

Green city design and environmental architecture are revolutionising how we build our cities. For years, the growth of urban centres has meant environmental destruction- now, governing bodies are taking affirmative action and carefully planning their cities with the health, economic, and environmental impacts in mind. Structures such as the City Biodiversity Index and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity help governing bodies across the globe use environmental architecture to benefit their cities and populations. The body of scientific study into the effects of green city planning is growing, and every year we’re seeing more evidence of its benefits. Green city residents are mentally and physically healthier, builders of sustainable architecture have lower costs, and local wildlife has the opportunity to flourish. Environmental architecture is finally becoming a part of the mainstream in city building, and it will only continue to grow in the future.

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