Liverpool was recently rated the least green city in the UK by The Ecologist
. This city also has some of the highest depression rates in the UK
. It's possible the two are related.
Consider America's least green city, Detroit, which has suffered from record unemployment and underinvestment. Much like the Liverpool of today, it has many derelict buildings and vacant land with all but redundant infrastructure.
Detroit has begun to turn itself around through on-the-ground action. Organisations like Sustainable Detroit and Greening of Detroit have turned vacant lots into community gardens and micro-farms, increasing the city's sustainability. This cultivation also stops land from becoming dumping grounds before regeneration eventually takes place.
There is much work to do to make Liverpool more sustainable, and the city can start by leveraging infrastructure more effectively: Although the city itself is far from "green," 62 percent of Liverpool is classified as green infrastructure -- 30 percent of which is in the public realm. This is clearly an unused asset. Architecture critic Ian Nairn once said that Liverpool's "centre is humane and convenient to walk around," so why is the city performing so poorly in the green department?
It may be partly that most of the green infrastructure is not in the city centre where it is needed but on the outskirts, and it is therefore underutilised. One of its largest parks, the beautiful Victorian Newsham Park in the East, has been placed on the English Heritage at Risk list because there's an expectation it will deteriorate.
If the focus of regeneration up to now has been mainly on buildings, then the future must be on restoring the environments that serve them. Liverpool has the opportunity to lead the way. Its city parks were the inspiration for Central Park and Prospect Park in New York and were once the envy of the world. A renaissance in Liverpool's parks could make these vast green lungs the hubs around which a green network is created that permeates the city centre and enables truly sustainable living.
Perhaps this renaissance is beginning: Liverpool One, the biggest redevelopment of the city centre since the Second World War, has seen the creation of a new urban park, Chavasse Park, which has won national awards for its multi-functionality and quality. The park has become a vital link between the city centre and the popular historic docklands on the River Mersey.
In fact, a three-year study of green infrastructure, entitled "The Natural Economy Northwest" demonstrates that these multifunctional environments are the keys to Liverpool's sustainable future, as they perform several sustainability functions simultaneously. For example, successfully-designed Green infrastructure can increase physical activity and improve residents' mental health, as it provides spaces for social interaction. It also improves air quality, reduces flooding, provides space for urban farming, improves biodiversity, and reduces energy use via urban cooling. With all of these benefits it is no wonder that smart cities are opting to invest in green infrastructure to enhance sustainability and promote "green jobs" and growth.
Conservation campaigner Richard Louv says in his seminal book Last Child in the Woods that access to nature is actually essential for wellbeing and a lack of exposure to nature can lead to "nature deficit disorder."
Could the lack of successful green infrastructure in Liverpool's city centre be partly responsible for such high levels of depression and other health problems? It seems green infrastructure could be a very successful way to improve the health of Liverpool's economy and the health of its residents. At the start of this year, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Liverpool, Richard Kemp, made the case for a super-sustainable city, following the European Capital of Culture triumph, saying in March that "the big statement for our city must be to make it the greenest city in the country and become the European Green City."
Alas, he was not elected as mayor in May 2012. But let's hope enthusiastic voices like his gain more support so that Liverpool can break new ground and redefine what it means to be a truly global, sustainable city.
— James Byrne, Sustainability Advisor