Plant green infrastructure

Energy Garden (London)
Urban living creates public health challenges. We suffer without sufficient access or interaction with natural or semi-natural environments, from reduced levels of physical and communal activity as well as from symptoms of poor mental health and stress. Our physical health can also be compromised, from high levels of air pollution to the urban ‘heat island’ effect from paved surfaces that retain heat on hot summer days.

Green spaces have been linked to positive effects on human health and wellbeing: physical, mental and social.
For example, research evidence consistently shows that exposure to green infrastructure improves our attention and mood. In more deprived urban populations, it has been shown to reduce psychological distress too.

Street trees, living walls clad with vegetation and urban planting all help tackle local air pollution as well as regulate and cool the air temperature during unbearable heatwaves. The use of vegetation, soils and other natural landscape features can also alleviate surface water flooding, sewer overflows and water pollution during very wet weather. Sheffield’s Grey to Green innovative drainage system is a fantastic example, reconnecting this part of the city with its waterways, flowing rainwater back to rivers in a way that mimics nature – cleanly, slowly, sustainably.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to take the lead or get involved at a community level. After all, green infrastructure is not only made up of parks and permeable pavements but also of gardens and urban trees and green roofs. Our efforts can strengthen this network immeasurably and connect these various elements.

Energy Garden is one such effort, helping communities to develop their own community gardening spaces at stations across the overground train network in London. These gardens are run by and for the communities that use the stations. Over 300 people are involved on a regular basis across 26 gardens that impact millions of passengers and commuters. These relatively small green spaces make a big difference to a lot of people: stations with Energy Gardens consistently have the highest customer satisfaction ratings across the entire network.

This kind of community infrastructure helps cultivate ties between people and creates a real sense of belonging. People see the station in a fresh light – they see it as ‘their’ station. It’s a concrete example of building green infrastructure that communities across the country can copy with their own transport operators.

Is your area deprived of green space and in need of better green infrastructure? Check out Friends of the Earth’s assessment of the green infrastructure in your local area relative to the best area that’s similar to yours. How much room is there for you to grow?
Grey to Green, Sheffield Grey to Green, Sheffield
Start something new…

Ready to pave the way for more greenery and the resulting health and wellbeing benefits? Visit Trees for Cities for help in starting your own urban tree-planting project. Join an Energy Garden or connect with their team for advice on growing one at your own station or taking this concept to another city.

Inspired by nature-based solutions? Check out more biodiversity & nature initiatives.

… or join an existing community project:

The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is the UK’s leading urban conservation charity, organising groups of people all over the UK who are greening the places where they live and connecting with nature on their doorsteps. TCV also runs the ‘I Dig Trees’ community tree planting scheme aiming to plant 1 million trees every year around the UK, as well as the Green Gyms which combine weekly exercise with caring for nature and growing food. Discover a group near you!

There’s a Wildlife Trust in each county, working with local people to protect and bring back wildlife. Nurturing these habitats helps by growing green infrastructure and tackling environmental issues in a more natural way. Visit The Wildlife Trust (the umbrella organisation for all of the county trusts) to find opportunities to get involved in your area.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in wildlife or sustainability: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Take flood action, Plant trees

What do we mean by community action?
23 community actions