It may take a climactic disaster to spark a green infrastructure revolution in London, a leading academic has suggested.
Speaking at the Sustainable Green Infrastructure Conference at the British Library in London (23 October), leader of the Urban Water Research Group at Imperial College London Professor Cedo Maksimovic said both central and local Government are too slow to take green infrastructure seriously and London is missing out.
"We have to start now," he insisted. "In 10 years' time we will be buying the technology from China or Holland, while we lead at the moment. We would have to have a major disaster which killed thousands of people before we do something. New York had three major disasters in one year - a freeze, a heatwave and a flood - and then the city acted."
Maksimovic shared his "blue green dream" and said landscape architects are increasingly working with other experts on the problem. Multidisciplinary "blue green dream centres" have been established in London, Berlin, Paris and Rotterdam, with more being worked on across Europe.
Dr Ian Mell From the department of geography and planning at the University of Liverpool complained that "money is nearly always missing from the process". He devised a beer mat equation that breaks down people's willingness to pay for good landscape.
"You have to be specific, which is what the environmental sector is not keen to do because numbers are scary," he said. "We can't just invest in biodiversity for the sake of it - that doesn't sit well with politicians."
A lack of decision on what landscape is worth and a plethora of sites, landowners and planning authorities were cited as problems. "As a practitioner, it's very difficult to have a coherent message to take to members," said Mell.
But he said politicians would go for landscape improvements that are an easy sell. For example, maintenance at privately owned but public access Chavasse Park in the Liverpool ONE shopping centre is part funded by the car park underneath it.
Economist Professor Walter Distaso of Imperial College Business School agreed that green infrastructure is a multidimensional problem with a definition that is not precise. Distaso said there is evidence that green infrastructure is linked to growth, especially locally, but it is inconclusive. He also argued that current UK economic growth is neither resilient nor robust.
Government view - Change of perspective
Greater London Authority urban greening team leader Peter Massini said a change of perspective is needed to focus on what green infrastructure does for the capital.
"London is a green city - one of the greenest there is in terms of the quantum of space. We've got a lot of green space which is arguably just that, just green. We're thinking: what does it actually deliver?"
Massini said there are lot of small landscape interventions - pocket parks that function as sustainable urban drainage systems, for example - but they were usually paid for by the public sector, rather than those who benefit most.
One scheme to naturalise a culverted stream in Lewisham Park stops town centre shops flooding but it was funded by the Environment Agency, he said.