A sustainable neighbourhood is one that has value as a place to live over many generations. This entails four key areas: safer streets and living place, a greater choice of homes, environmental features that add value to living in a new neighbourhood and healthier and stronger communities. A sustainable neighbourhood encompasses the following attributes: neighbourhood definition, neighbourhood compactness, neighbourhood completeness, neighbourhood connectedness and neighbourhood connection to nature. The focus of this article will be on how the neighbourhood can be connected to nature.
Humans within a neighbourhood can be connected to nature through provision and design of open spaces. The open spaces can be at building scale, neighbourhood scale and also at a citywide scale. Humans can be connected to nature at an individual building scale through interior plantscaping, green roofs and green walls. This is with a view of improving air quality and building energy efficiency, water management, space efficiency, sound insulation, Increasing roof/wall lifespan and vertical urban Farming. Interior plantscaping is the practice of designing, arranging and caring for living plants in enclosed environments. Similar to outdoor landscapes, interior landscapes provide spaces with ornament, colour, sculptural elements, focal points and overall pleasant environment.
Interior plantscaping can be achieved through the following: Pot plants in buildings, indoor living walls, including pots within a frame, indoor planted vegetation, such as atriums and large planted installations. This is with a view of reducing illness increasing productivity and improving air quality in the building and neighbourhood at large. Sustainable neighbourhoods can also be connected to nature by incorporating green roofs in the design of individual buildings. A green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. There are two types of green roofs: intensive green roofs which are characterised by soil deeper than 200mm and vegetation up to the size of trees. They are heavier and require more maintenance. On the other hand extensive roofs are shallow, with soil up to a maximum depth of 200mm. They are lighter than intensive green roofs and require minimal maintenance.
In addition, green walls play a fundamental role in ensuring a sustainable neighbourhood at and individual building scale. This is by connecting humans to nature through vertical landscapes. A green wall/ vertical garden/living wall is a wall partially or completely covered with greenery that includes a growing medium, such as soil. Green walls may be indoors or outside, freestanding or attached to an existing wall, and come in a great variety of sizes. The vegetation on the green wall can be directly attached to infrastructure (such as ivy), panel systems with substrate (such as pre-planted panels with soil), and container or trellis systems.
In order to achieve sustainable neighbourhoods, it is imperative to design the open spaces within the buildings and transportation corridors. This can be achieved through provision and design of green verges within the neighbourhood. Green verges are strips of grass or plant material located between the roadway edge and the boundary of the road. This is basically the articulation of the street to connect humans to nature. Green verges can be achieved through: street trees and canopies, shade planting for buildings, green streets and alleys that create cool pervious greenways, rain gardens and bio-swales integrated into stormwater management plan and green permeable sidewalks. This is with a view of encouraging walking, and cycling, reducing building cooling energy use, stormwater management and food production.
Lastly, provision and design of green islands within a neighbourhood goes a long way in ensuring humans are connected to nature. Green islands include: urban parks and gardens placed close to transportation routes, community farms close to homes, residential backyards and lawns and gardens (public and private). These spaces if well designed; they encourage walking and cycling, ensure food production and increase community cohesion.
The ultimate reason for provision and design of open spaces within a neighbourhood is to connect humans to nature and thus ensure sustainability. There are however other benefits such as increase in property value, revitalised urban environments, reduction of urban heat island effect, improved air quality, improved microclimate, sequestered carbon/ reduced greenhouse gas emissions, increase in biodiversity, improved water cycle management, amenity provision, enhanced well-being, stress reduction, provision of recreation and reconnection with nature, revitalised cities and enhanced tourism.