13-04-2022 Green City

5 tips from landscape designers on how to improve urban life

Landscape designers Arnauld Delacroix and Michel Pena provided a roadmap to make cities livelier and more enjoyable.

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Perhaps what would make urban life sustainable would be to make it livelier and more enjoyable. During a Paysalia 2021 conference, landscape designers Arnauld Delacroix and Michel Pena tried to provide public authorities with a roadmap. Below we review the approach these highly skilled landscaping professionals adopt to change cities by adding vegetation and through sustainable urban planning.

The first step in making a city sustainable is to bring it alive 

Up until now, urbanization destroyed nature. Now the reverse is true! As Arnauld Delacroix explains, “When nature cannot find its place in agricultural land because of intensive farming, it goes back into town.” While waiting for nature to return to the countryside it is in the cities that it can play its role as the sanctuary of biodiversity by letting grass grow on the sidewalks, attracting birds into towns and giving wildlife free rein in parks and private gardens. And why not vegetalize cemeteries?

And if we learned to enjoy nature again?

The “enjoyable” becomes a factor because landscaping is not just about nature, but also the way we perceive it. Michel Pena says: “A landscape is first and foremost a significant and joyful relationship with the environment. A beautiful sky or a beautiful forest makes the everyday world more bearable! It is fun to turn cities into gardens.” 

Fun, yes, but within limits. “We do not intend to reintroduce vipers and wild boars in the Bois de Boulogne or Central Park. In Nantes, I proposed growing climbing plants on a frontage, but the inhabitants refused because of the bugs the plant might attract. The concept of nature is cultural.”

Read also: How to manage an urban greening project in your town?

5 ways to change cities into fun urban environments

1. No city is a lost cause

In his landscaping conference, Arnauld Delacroix shared experience feedback: “We turned a wasteland into a garden using rubble from the site in which we planted 1,500 trees to act as sponges and collect run-off water from the upstream part of a district.”

Michel Pena shares this opinion and tells the audience of public authorities and landscape designers about the need to give a little hope to abandoned places, like polluted grounds. Especially as solutions exist to clean up contaminated soils!

See two examples of industrial wasteland rehabilitation

In Dunkirk  In Taïwan

2. Make the sky touch the horizon

Landscapes are much more than green spaces. To let cities breathe, openings onto the countryside are essential! As an example, Michel Pena says that “in New York, the sky seems to touch the sidewalks due to the openings created by the wide avenues and cross-streets. You can almost see the cows grazing outside the city! This lightens the hugeness of the skyscrapers.” 

What do cities in which you can breathe have in common? Nothing blocks view – and, of course, there are enough plants to keep the air clean!

3. Create oases of greenery

Like Central Park, green spaces are true oases. They infiltrate run-off waters, store carbon via the trees and grasslands and cool the surroundings. Excessive heat will soon be a major problem for big cities like Toulouse, Nantes and Paris in which temperatures will probably reach 50°C in a few years’ time.

“It is a question of survival for the inhabitants! If the temperature can be reduced by several degrees, we shall have solved these problems and simultaneously recreated biodiversity,” explains Arnauld Delacroix.

Value of plant benefits can be measured!

4. Manage water to encourage biodiversity

Water is important downtown deep in the ground or in ponds. In hot weather, plants keep localities cool by evapotranspiration. And biodiversity thrives in the wet ground and ponds! Moreover, as Arnauld Delacroix emphasizes “when a project is environmentally well balanced, biodiversity is well balanced too with frogs to eat mosquitoes, a few grass snakes, etc. And remember that 30% of the world’s biodiversity is located in the soil!”

5. Build fewer car parks

“The fight is on to use land for gardens and not car parks,” notes Michel Pena, who illustrates his remarks with the Promenade du Paillon in Nice, France. He believes that it is essential to convince the general public and politicians that biodiversity is necessary.

Michel Pena concludes this landscaping conference on the sustainable urban planning by stating that “everyone should spend one night in the open air to get a poetic education about nature. And if we have to create more highly populated cities so as not to encroach on the beauties of the countryside, they must be more natural, pleasing and pleasant.” In other words, lively and enjoyable!

Listen to the whole conference soon

© Photo credit: Ljiljana / Adobe Stock 

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in co-production with

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Since its launch in 2009, Paysalia has been organized in co-production with UNEP which supports landscape contractors on a daily basis through its 13 regional unions. UNEP defends for the interests of businesses in the landscape and garden sector, develops social standards for the profession, and leads the creation of professional guidelines for the industry.