Sustainable BuildingsGreeneryThe Challenge to Making Cities Greener

The Challenge to Making Cities Greener

Metka Novak
Metka Novak
Nature lover who finds excitement in exploring new cities, discovering new things, and writing about sustainability. Also in eating ice-cream — ice-cream's good. In my free time I enjoy travelling, running, and walking in nature. in

The thing about greenery is there’s more to it than just planting a bunch of trees. Peeking behind the scenes, a lot of urban planning, designing, technical research, and policy writing goes into realising each and every one of the projects. Find out what the most common challenges are, and what you need to look out for.

Every project has its own ups and downs. Obstacles await even on the most amiable paths. Whilst talking to the experts, we’ve compiled a list of the most common barriers ahead – so you’ll definitely feel more prepared.

Challenge 1: Limited Amount of Space

There’s only so many surfaces one can use up in a crowded city. With a rising number of newcomers moving to the city centres, the need for housing becomes prioritised over the need for green areas.

The ‘problem’ is everyone wants to use the free space (no matter how small) for something else: from gardens to parking spaces. We’re not saying anyone’s at fault, but it’s important to prioritise what’s actually needed over what would benefit only a certain group of residents.

Ownership of the place is another matter – there are certain regulations developers need to follow. Green Space Factor (GSF), for one, with its pointing system determines green infrastructure requirements.

With the smaller availability of free space at ground level, resourcefulness is definitely required. Luckily, roofs have proved they can efficiently serve as a replacement for green areas on the ground. Green roofs can hold much-needed vegetation, even urban gardens.

Multifunctional roofs are a step forward – by combining different functions, they use up the limited space even more beneficially, for everyone. Within a restricted area, they can produce energy, serve as a relaxation haven, and even a social setting. 

Challenge 2: Changing Minds

It definitely isn’t easy incorporating something new into a society of habits. Even by just creating a small park, people need convincing that it’s going to actually benefit them, and the space won’t be wasted on something unnecessary.

When trying to implement green solutions in our urban environment to benefit our changing climate, you will meet resistance. That’s why a lot of expert organisations focus most (or all) work on changing guidelines, policies, and regulations. Changing people’s minds is the first step towards creating good green infrastructure.

Challenge 3: Work, Time, and Energy Input

Image credit: Unsplash / Masiyah

When it comes to realising the idea, a lot of energy, time, and work is required. Consequently, the majority of the projects never see the light of day.

Effort needs to be put in, and a lot of planning goes into the smallest of greenery projects. It sometimes can feel as though it’s a hassle without any real benefits. However, it’s important to remind ourselves why and for whom we are doing it. Green spaces add a lot of value: for us, for the city, for nature, and for the climate.

When it comes to green roofs, for instance, the building first needs to be thoroughly inspected to make sure it can support the weight of the roof; and if not, it needs to be upgraded – not very time- or cost-friendly.

This brings us to another challenge…

Challenge 4: Expenses

No matter how good an investment a climate solution proves to be in the long run, at the outset, it’s no doubt more expensive than the conventional greenery developments (of whatever that may be – green roofs, facades, etc.).

Even with financing and subsidies programmes, it still costs money, which comes out of the individual owner’s pocket. Therefore, if it’s not necessary (in a legal term), many will opt out of doing it.

For example: green roofs. It’s a challenge enough to convince someone to implement a relatively new thing on their beloved building they own or call home; now try adding their personal money into the equation. Not a good match.

To put it simply: the price of a green roof can range from €12,000, all the way to €170,000, and greening a wall costs around €150 per m2.

The challenge to greening cities
Image credit: Pexels / Brianna Martinez

Challenge 5: Maintenance

Like with many things, it’s easy to set something up, and then not think about the upkeep needed. However, with green areas, the question arises: whose responsibility is it to take care of it?

And when it comes to green roofs, green facades, and greenery in cities in general, there might be a lack of properly trained staff in the following decades to accurately maintain it. On the governmental level, there might be a different dilemma: who’s going to manage it, who’s going to pay for its maintenance?

When sustainable buildings first gained recognition, the most important thing was to show that this ecological development could work, and the focus wasn’t on maintenance in the long run – read more on the opinion from one of the experts we’ve spoken to.

It’s Going to be a Challenge.

But It Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Do It.

It’s easier to back away from the project and say “hey, at least I’ve tried,” but many don’t realise, it’s not so much about being a visually pleasing addition anymore, as much as it’s about being a necessity – the climate is changing, no doubt about it, the heat island effect is real, and our cities need help – green help.

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