Review: WGIC 2017, Berlin
Stefanie Rudolph reviews the 10th World Green Infrastructure Congress 2017
The timing seemed almost prophetic: a week before news-making flash floods in Berlin hammered home the urgency of the topic, the city hosted the 10th World Green Infrastructure Congress. A constant theme throughout, of course, were visions to help cities around the world deal with just that – extremes of weather, increasingly caused by climate change.
About 700 participants from 43 countries around the globe had the challenge of choosing from an excellent programme of almost 100 talks. Topics covered ranged far and wide: from the above mentioned rainwater management talks to research findings into the improvement of room climate by vertical indoor greenings. From case studies such as a survey of green roof vegetation 20-30 years after installation, to zero-acreage farming (urban food production which does not take up a separate foot print on the ground as it uses roofs, façades or rooms in existing buildings).
Other lectures dealt with the legal framework and financial incentives available in Europe, and IT tools designed to help landscape architects, developers and those responsible in local authorities work towards greener cities. And, of course, there were best practice examples and bold visions for the future.
Jaws dropped, for instance, when speakers from Singapore’s National Parks’ Department presented the city state’s ambitious “Greening the Skies” programme and what has been achieved already. While mindful of the more favourable climate for plant growth in Singapore, the general consensus seemed to be that there is a lot of catching up to do and much untapped potential in these parts of the world.
For Britain, Pete Massini spoke about “Greening a green city – the London experience” and Dusty Gedge, President of co-organiser EFB (European Federation Green Roofs & Walls) gave a ten-year review of “Delivering Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure in London”.
A sprinkling of “stardust” came in the form of a talk by pioneer of façade greening and artist Patrick Blanc (above) who has designed green walls in countries around the world for more than 25 years. One such example by Blanc was included in subject-specific excursions around Berlin offered to participants on Day 3, all of which had booked out well before the conference started.
Meeting environmental and economic challenges such as increasing urban biodiversity, improving air quality and reducing a city’s heat island-effect in times of rising temperatures were prominent themes, of course. But, unsurprisingly, a very large number of talks also focussed on the non-quantifiable benefits of getting more plants (and with them nature) into cities. The positive effects on human well-being, mental as well as physical, are well-documented by now.
Increasingly, the focus - not just of research - is on social cohesion, too. There also were speakers who argued that evolution had hardwired us to like certain natural features – such as water and a sheltered spot with a good view or vantage point – and urged architects, landscape designers and of course developers to turn to what is termed biophilic design.
Congress organisers FBB (the German national association for green infrastructure professionals) under its president Dr Gunter Mann, as well as Prof. Dr. Manfred Koehler, President of the World Green Infrastructure Network, encouraged everyone to “go and spread the message”, not just within everybody’s respective operating environment, but more generally and broadly - to raise awareness and ultimately enshrine the issue in the general public’s mind/conscience.
The public would then help put pressure on developers and authorities alike and thus turn the tide for greening cities for good. Encouraging signs are there: the number of scientific studies as well as work in the field have risen exponentially since 2006, the audience was told. But much more can and needs to be done. As one speaker had urged: We can’t afford to move at snails’ pace any longer.
The next World Green Infrastructure Congress will be held from 26-28 February 2018 in Bengaluru, India.