Andy Atkins, A Rocha UK’s CEO, looks at the urgent need to rethink our urban areas for people and nature.
The environmental crisis – from climate change, to nature loss, to air pollution – means we must rethink ‘urban’ or suffer. Just look at the devastation caused by last month’s floods in Sheffield and other towns. Four-fifths of the UK population now live in urban areas, increasingly affected by climate disruption but cut off from nature and its well-being benefits. So, whoever forms the new government must take the opportunity to get our urban areas working much better for people and nature.
A perfectly possible vision of urban Britain in 2035 would contain scenes like these:
> Multi-purpose green spaces – from landscaped parks to restored mini-wetlands – are a common sight, acting as amenity space for people, habitat for animals and critical ‘natural’ flood control mechanisms. In a time of now frequent, ultra-intense rainfall caused by global heating, they quickly soak up runoff and then release it slowly into the normal storm drainage system.
> Once-sterile parks and playing-fields routinely have a corner managed for nature – whether a mini-meadow, pond or small stand of native trees.
> With the creation of more space for nature, no one is more than a ten-minute walk away from a safe nature space, where their health and well-being is enhanced by more exercise and contact with nature.
> Buildings – from churches, to schools, homes to offices – have been fitted with bird, bat, and bug boxes where appropriate; new public and office buildings are designed with bird-nesting crevices and roof gardens, green walls and rainwater harvesting facilities to increase insect and bird populations, and combat the heat and water effects of climate change for nature and humans.
> Most people walk or cycle for short journeys on safe cycleways. Integrated public transport systems link bus, train, tram and cycle routes for efficient longer journeys. Nearly all motorised road traffic runs on renewable energy, removing climate-changing and asthma-inducing pollution from our roads.
> This has made a major contribution to the UK being back on track to meet its 2037 carbon reduction target. And the air pollution, which had contributed to the premature deaths of at least 40,000 people in 2019, is history.
A Rocha UK will be working with others to try to bring about such a restorative vision. With a rare December general election, all of us can help it come into being by asking our electoral candidates what action they are prepared to take on key environmental issues like climate change, air pollution and protecting nature. Re-thinking ‘urban’ is key to the fight on all three.
This is a version of an article from A Rocha UK’s latest Root & Branch magazine, which is sent free to regular financial supporters. Find out more about becoming a regular supporter here.
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