The future of Maderia Drive – it’s in all our hands…and an important clue

Building Green attended an important first meeting about the future of Madeira Drive recently.

The Council hosted the meeting, and invitees included a number of community organisations like ours, local businesses, interested residents and others. There were some big names in the room, which bodes well for the level of interest in regenerating the neglected East Brighton seafront.

Building Green spoke about the value and importance of the Madeira Drive Green Wall, which contributes vital natural heritage alongside the built heritage of the seafront. We will be offering the expertise the support of our volunteers to ensure the green wall is protected and enhanced as part of any future development.

The meeting discussed the new crowdfunding appeal – to be launched soon – plans and suggestions for future development, and ‘meanwhile’ uses to bring much needed life, recreation and business activity to Madeira Drive.

On our way to the meeting, we stopped off at the Fishing Museum and found a woodcut that offers an important clue to the founding of the green wall. For some time, Building Green has been looking for evidence of when the wall was first planted (with Japanese Spindle). Our hunch was that it was earlier than 1880, though the only documentary evidence points to 1882 (JB Evison 1969 ‘Gardening by the sea’). Well, I know you’re holding your breath, so…the woodcut print was published in 1872 and seems to show evenly spaced shrubs planted along the footing of the cliff. How exciting!

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For a full history of our wonderful Madeira Drive, visit our unique page.

Who’s got the biggest green wall?

Is this a very male question? Maybe, but I was struck by the claims from the National Grid that their new car park green wall is the largest in Europe! Is our very own Madeira Drive green wall bigger and better?

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National Grid car park, Warwick

The National Grid boasts “a living wall of 1027 sq.m, making this Europe’s largest. The Living wall is home to over 97,000 plants of over 20 different species“. Undoubtedly impressive stuff.

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Madeira Drive’s green wall by comparison – planted by the Victorians along the East Cliff in c1880 – was approximately 20 metres high and 1.2 kilometres long when at its very best in the 1980s. 24,000 m2 in extent.

Now, substantially diminished with gaps where plants have died and not been replaced, the wall is – and I’m guessing here – very approximately a quarter of its former extent. Still 6000 m2 though!

Building Green and the Ecology Consultancy surveys have found 100 species of plant on the wall.

So sorry, National Grid – it appears our green wall is bigger than yours after all!

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Maybe we need to amend the flyer now to say ‘The oldest and longest green wall in Europe!’.

Make a little bird house in your soul – another successful green roof course!

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Happy green roofers – with Building Green and Organic Roofs

Building Green and Organic Roofs hosted another crew of enthusiastic eco warriors in May, on the green roof training course we run with Brighton Permaculture Trust.

We had talks, project consultancy, green roofed bird house building, and tours of Madeira Drive historic green wall, Crew Club wildflower green roof and Level Cafe green roof in the centre of town.

Here are some pictures – they speak for themselves!

We are planning something even bigger and better next time, so watch this space.

 

The future of greening is plastic

I was struck by this news release from Scotscape this week.  A ‘hybrid’ green wall involving artificial and natural plants. The future of greening is plastic. Isn’t it?

 

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I remember over 10 years ago, the Argus reporting about a planned green roof at Brighton University in terms of the roof being special because it was ‘painted green’. An innocent mistake, but are we really advocating artificial plants as part of our towns and cities? Ever felt the disappointment of sniffing a convincing flower arrangement on a restaurant table?

Let’s not pretend this is real greening. We need more, not less nature in our towns and cities. More plants, habitats and natural landscapes to deliver multiple benefits – to improve our mental wellbeing, for wildlife, rainwater management, urban cooling and even sniffing.

It’s not just walls that are at threat from artificial greenery.  Research in 2011 revealed that 3,000 hectares (12 sq miles) of garden vegetation had been lost over eight years in the UK – which amounts to more than two Hyde Parks a year. Much, if not all, of this loss was down to decking, concreting over gardens, and the use of artificial grass –  with consequences for nature and urban flood risk and the disposal of recyclable waste. Praise be to muddy knees, worms, blackbirds, and daisy chains (John Terry take note).

Scotscape, by the way, do do some great stuff – ivy screens, for example, and wire trellis for climbing plants. Shame about the plastic.

Air quality – the role of greening

50,000 people a year die from poor air quality in the UK, so it’s right that we look for every possible solution. What have we got to lose? However it pays to be cautious and sceptical when it comes to claims made for the contribution that urban greening could make to air quality.

Prof David Dawson – formerly of the London Ecology Unit and Greater London Authority – always used to say the biggest air quality  benefit of open space is that it doesn’t have cars running around it, and he’s probably right!

But there are some interesting findings emerging of the role of the right greening in the right place in helping manage urban air quality.

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National Grid car park, Warwick

Various projects are claiming air quality benefits. This headline in the Evening Standard makes some overly bold promises and there is a high degree of unevidenced hyperbole out there if you take a look.

But there are some very large scale investments taking place, especially in London where projects have attracted Mayoral air quality funding. The green walls at Marylebone, one of the worst places for air quality in the UK, do look lovely though it isn’t easy to find evidence of any air quality benefit. Yet.

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Promisingly, a study in the Journal of Environmental Technology showed that increasing deposition of the kind of pollutants and fine particulates that harm lungs (nitrous oxides and particulate matter) by the planting of vegetation in street canyons can reduce street-level concentrations in those canyons by as much as 40% for NO2 and 60% for PM.

Interestingly, trees were found to be less effective – whilst they help reduce air pollution and clean the air, they can keep street-level air from mixing with the air above.

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A separate three year study by Middlesex University on the air quality benefits of green walls started in 2014 so we await the results with interest. The project supervisor hints at the complexity of issues like this, where we need to consider the whole life costs and benefits of the technologies we are using, and their sustainability…”We know that PM10 and NO2 particles stick to the leaves, but what happens afterwards? Some molecules might be absorbed by the plants and others get washed off when it rains and go into the soil. However, they could get washed off onto concrete and then when it dries potentially be re-suspended in the air“.

This Italian study in 2013 on the cost-benefit of green walls found that the only really sustainable technologies – when you consider their whole life across a wide range of benefits – are the simple green walls involving climbing plants (‘direct green facade’ in their terms).

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Jakob green wall system – climbing plants

Here in Brighton & Hove, the air quality management plan points to a number of priority locations that remain despite considerable advances in traffic calming, zoning and cleaner bus technology.  Of course, traffic management must remain a priority. However, some of these places may meet ‘street canyon’ criteria. How about New England road, for example – what could we do with some greening technologies and lateral thinking?

And some of our hotspots are in relatively traffic-free, pedestrian heavy places where street greening would have other benefits:

“The most concentrated pollution is not always found adjacent to the highest volumes of traffic. Road intersections and enclosed streets have a limited spatial capacity before air quality is likely to become an issue. Relatively few vehicles with modest emissions totals can cause long term ambient nitrogen dioxide concentrations to exceed legal target levels in confined spaces. Most of these urban street environments have very high population density with considerable retail activity and associated frequent pedestrian foot fall.

Could we trial some vertical greening in some of these targeted locations? Aside from some cost – which could be modest if pre-grown screens could be effective rather than the highly engineered wall type used in the Marylebone project?

What have we got to lose?

Talk on history of Brighton & Hove parks and gardens: 17 May

Coming up on Wednesday next week, an evening talk on the history of Brighton & Hove’s parks and gardens.

Robert Jeeves of Step Back in Time, Queens Road, Brighton will give an illustrated talk from his extensive old photographic and postcard collection on

Brighton and Hove Parks and Gardens 1890 to 1960
Wednesday 17th May, 7.00pm
The Temple, Brighton and Hove High School, Montpelier Road, Brighton
Limited parking available.
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Charles Barry’s scheme for Queens Park, 1834. Reproduced by kind permission of Howlett-Clarke, solicitors, Brighton.

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Historic stereo images of Queen’s Park, Brighton

Organised by Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission.

Depave our city? A lesson from Portland, Oregon

We know that some parts of Brighton & Hove are ‘risky’ when it comes to flooding and depaving may provide part of the answer. Don’t worry, we aren’t advocating digging up the whole city! 

Building Green was speaking on the subject recently at a Hove Civic Society meeting, and reflecting on the July 2014 floods – 100 properties flooded in Portslade and 300 emergency calls to East Sussex Fire and Rescue in a single morning. Now, this is ‘surface water flooding’ we are talking about – the kind where very heavy rainfall runs and collects in the hollows in the hard surfaces in our towns and cities.

Cities tend to be impermeable places – and we know that where we can increase permeability at scale, for example through landscaping, retaining front and back gardens, green roofs and other ‘sustainable drainage’ approaches, we can reduce the risk of flooding.

Come and learn more about it all this weekend – and how you can help by ‘doing it yourself’ at the workshops run by Building Green, Organic Roofs and Brighton Permaculture Trust. Not too  late to book a place!

Portslade is home to two of the first ‘rain gardens’ in Brighton & Hove. Building Green and partners have completed a study that has found enough flat roofspace in 9km2 of central Brighton – 87 football pitches worth in fact – to hold back 100 Olympic swimming pools of rainwater that our street drainage networks might struggle with during heavy rainfall events.

As we’ve reported before, there are other places that do this much, much better. Let’s learn from them.

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Victoria Recreation Ground rain garden, Portslade

One such place is Portland, Oregon – and in this blog Dusty Gedge writes about a new initiative to ‘depave Portland’ – ripping up the hard surfaces and planting stuff.

Good for sustainable drainage – but also good for visual amenity, and even crime rates potentially. A study in Chicago Illinois in 2001 in one public housing development found that robberies were down by 48% and violent crime by 56% in areas where buildings had been ‘greened’ with green walls and landscaping. Poster below. Those are big numbers – what if we could achieve 1 or 2% – still worth doing? Building Green thinks so.

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