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Our urban green spaces will work harder – and we’ll be working in them

The public realm in our towns and cities will be increasingly influenced by Biophilic concepts and the requirements of Smart Cities.

In response to the growing challenges of climate change and the demands of agile working environments, the public realm will need to respond positively in terms of its design and delivery, especially for future outdoor spaces.

1. The shock of recent climate change events will spur on a more holistic approach to the design of our urban environment.

I think the game changer this year around climate change has been the realisation – at last - of the magnitude and extremeness of changing weather conditions. We’ve seen more heatwaves, increasing water stress, higher rainfalls, wildfires.

Storms, flooding and the frequency of extremes of weather are generating real challenges for our towns and cities in terms of the public realm. We also have a lot of quite poorly designed urban environments at the moment. I think 2019 will see an increasing emphasis on the need for a more holistic, multifunctional approach to them – what we would term Biophilic interventions through urban design and green infrastructure strategies. 

Just one example would be better rainwater harvesting so it can be used for drainage, irrigation, trees, green walls, green roofs and all the other vegetation that’s being introduced to urban areas.

2. Our green spaces will take on new responsibilities.

I’m really interested in the spaces between buildings and what they can do. We’re starting to think much more carefully about how future outdoor spaces will need to provide micro-climatic amelioration for the urban heat island effect, as well as urban greening and biodiversity enhancements. We’ll see Biophilic interventions occur at all scales in our towns and cities – not just major parks or urban squares, but in the form of small ‘pocket parks’ too. This squares up with our understanding that there is an innate connection between human beings and other living systems. There is now a great body of scientific and empirical work to show that humans are more productive and healthier when they have a daily contact with nature. Patients recover faster in hospitals that overlook green areas. Children progress better at school in daylight learning environments.

3. The public realm will accommodate new ways of outdoor working.

This is partly in response to climate change, but also the requirements of the Smart City movement. Modern outdoor spaces will need to embrace the requirements of new technologies, digital transformations, external sensors and multi-media advancements, and be designed to deliver working environments.

Because people will want to get outdoors. They’ll want to congregate. They’ll want to work externally as the weather improves. It’s a movement that started with ‘hotdesking’, then mobile working and now it’s about agile working. The public realm will need to deliver the appropriate agile working conditions outdoors - including shelter, security and amenity facilities – to enable that to happen.

We all need to take our screen breaks, so where are we going to go? Why not outside, to look at a big plasma screen, make calls, check emails, have a Skype conference, engage in Yammer and all the other social networking that’s important to us? We’ll need spaces that are conducive to that and there are great opportunities here. Perhaps we could call it ‘hotparking’…

Photo of Martin Kelly

Martin Kelly

Land Planning Director, Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure

Martin is a qualified landscape architect and urban designer and is a fellow of the Landscape Institute, of the Institute of Highways and Transportation and of the Royal Society of the Arts. Following three years in the public sector, Martin joined Derek Lovejoy Partnership (now Capita) in 1979, where he became a partner in 1986 and managing director in 1996. During this time, he has specialised in environmental land planning for major landmark projects on behalf of public and private sector promoters in the UK and overseas. Martin is the Chairman and Founder of the Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG) and Chair of the TDAG Trust.

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