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6th April 2018

What are Blue-Green Cities?

Terms like “green living” and “green architecture” are growing more popular every day, but have you heard of “Blue-Green cities” yet? This relatively new idea is changing the way the world looks at environmental urban planning. Blue-Green urban planning combines all our knowledge of green living with new research on how to restore an urban area’s natural water cycle. This results in a Blue-Green infrastructure that provides even more benefits than green architecture. Blue-Green cities are an exciting and fast-moving development based on ongoing research that has been conducted in the University of Nottingham, England, since 2013. This research is currently in its second stage and Blue-Green infrastructure will continue to evolve as more knowledge is uncovered. Blue-Green infrastructure is being implemented in cities across the world as more is understood. A huge focus in this style of urban planning is flood prevention and risk reduction. Cities across Britain, where this research began, suffer from extreme flooding every winter and spring so it makes sense that local academics pushed to find long-term solutions to these annual dangers. As climate change affects cities across the world and flooding becomes a larger issue, city governments, and urban planners are turning to the Blue-Green city as an ideal that can keep their residents safe.

A definition of Blue-Green cities

According to the Blue-Green Cities Research Project’s website, a Blue-Green city “aims to recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together. This is achieved by combining and protecting the hydrological and ecological values of the urban landscape while providing resilient and adaptive measures to deal with flood events.” This means that a Blue-Green city is designed around the area’s natural water cycle in order to create a sustainable, eco-friendly city that has a lower flood risk. Blue-Green urban planning takes what is already known about green architecture and combines it with the latest knowledge from hydrological research. The “Blue” side provides flood peak reduction, sediment trapping and storage, sustainable water drainage systems, and collection of the natural water supply (e.g., rainwater). The collection of water allows for less waste, an eco-friendly water supply, and pollution control. The “Green” side provides biodiversity, cleaner air, wildlife habitat, shade, and aesthetic improvements. Because green infrastructure has already been studied for years, the Blue-Green Cities Research Project uses what is already known and researches what can be implemented within the framework of Blue-Green infrastructure. You can read more about the benefits of green urban architecture here.

Where did Blue-Green cities come from?

The term “Blue-Green city” was first used in the Blue-Green Cities Research Project, which was led by Professor Colin Thorne from the University of Nottingham. The research project ran from 2013 to 2016 and involved nine UK universities as well as other academic, industry, and local government partners. This research project came from a fear of the damage caused by regular flooding, both during and after the flooding took place. Blue-Green urban areas have been designed to deal with floodwater at its source, prevent flood damage, and work with the local water system rather than fighting against it. By combining water management and green infrastructure, Blue-Green cities are better equipped to prevent floods and deal with any reduced flooding that may still occur. The Blue-Green Cities Research Project began in February 2013 and concluded in February 2016; its key project outputs report can be read here. The report outlines the aims of the project, the three case studies used, the project results, and questions that will be applied to the second stage of research. A second project entitled “Achieving Urban Flood Resilience in An Uncertain Future” is currently underway and will conclude in 2019. This project is building on the results of the Blue-Green Cities Research Project and focuses on how Blue-Green urban planning can make cities more resistant to flooding.

How Blue-Green cities are changing the world

Because the idea of Blue-Green urban spaces is so new, it’s difficult to say that any city is entirely Blue-Green. However, cities like London, New York, and Los Angeles have already implemented initiatives to support the transformation into a Blue-Green city. In 2016, the Los Angeles chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council chose to focus on urban water resilience, using Blue-Green infrastructure as its inspiration and goal. These large cities are always growing, both in physical size and population. By introducing Blue-Green infrastructure now, they are helping their future as well as present situations. However, it’s not just individual cities that are turning to Blue-Green infrastructure. The Holland Water Challenge is a Dutch competition that challenges students in the Asia Pacific region to take an active role in developing innovative water solutions for their home cities. This project was born from the challenges that the Netherlands share with this region; rising sea levels, extreme weather, and freshwater scarcity are becoming more prevalent in coastal cities around the world. The Holland Water Challenge works with young people from Singapore, Australia, China, Indonesia, and Myanmar. In each of these countries, the challenge participants are learning about Blue-Green infrastructure and how it can be implemented in their communities.

Blue-Green cities are a relatively new idea, but they’re building momentum. As communities grow weary of fighting floods and dealing with the aftermath, research groups and government structures are examining what exactly can be done to change how our cities are built. One day, the term “Blue-Green” might be as common as “green” is now. Water is at the centre of all life, and working with its natural formations in our cities is the logical step in sustaining these huge centres of human, animal and plant life. Since the University of Nottingham’s project began in 2013, we have learned a huge amount about Blue-Green urban planning, its effects and its potential. With cities across the world creating ecologically sustainable defences against climate change, flooding, and pollution, the next Blue-Green city might be yours.

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