Barber on ... Developing green infrastructure

My colleague Junfang Xie is researching the relationship between green infrastructure and the new urbanism or, as they are known in the UK, sustainable communities.

Can green infrastructure be designed to support the objectives of such developments? One element we are keen to explore is how different countries add green infrastructure to development. In the UK, central government dictates the minutiae of how this is done. In other countries, individual cities work it out for themselves.

In China, where new urban settlements are springing up all over, the authorities are pretty relaxed about making rules because developers vie with each other to provide high-quality green spaces with their developments - it helps to sell houses and apartments. Isn't it interesting how market forces seem to work so much better in a supposedly communist country?

We have sought advice from the Centre for City Park Excellence in Washington DC. Director Peter Harnik and Laura Yaffe looked at 12 American cities and their "developer exaction" programmes. On the whole, developer impact fees do seem to result in land acquisition, but half had not been able to substantively track their programmes' outcomes. Of the six cities that did track outcomes, most are not achieving the level of land acquisition that had been expected - only 60 per cent of it.

There is no nationally agreed standard for land (or dollar) donations by developers in the US and different city ordinances use substantially different formulae to determine the exactions. Chicago requires about 6,800sq m per 1,000 new residents while Austin mandates 2ha per 1,000 and San Diego asks for about 8ha.

Any UK-wide developer would drive a coach and horses through such a variation, using the courts to challenge the demands of individual authorities. The UK system makes more sense, but setting aside sums to maintain the new green space seems inadequate in both countries, as does the ability to aggregate capital receipts to create more substantial parkland. We will keep digging.

- Alan Barber is a parks consultant.

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