Integrated Urban Design, Densification and Sustainability

A real "Green Building"

Resource scarcity, urbanization, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to make the provision of housing, resources, infrastructure and services to the world’s population increasingly costly and difficult. The issue is further compounded the unsustainable urban environments in which most urban dwellers live. Most urban environments are characterized by sprawling urban environments that require high levels of energy inputs to live and work in.  Examples of this include the dormitory suburb’s from which many city workers travel to and from everyday and the car dependant cities that are planned for the car as opposed to the pedestrian or cyclist. Dormitory suburbs and cities planned for cars facilitate the wasteful use of energy and time (spent commuting) and contribute to high levels of emissions. Add this to the increasing rates of urbanization and we have quite a large problem.

According to UN Habitat (2010) approximately 51% of the world population lives in urban areas. Resource scarcity, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to increase the rates of urbanization being experienced around the world and specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to approximately 62% of the world’s slum population.  

We therefore need to find a sustainable way to be able to accommodate the increasing urban population. The densification and integration of urban environments has and is being recognized as an efficient, effective and sustainable way to provide resources, housing, services and infrastructure to urban dwellers.  The concept is broadly based on the following:

  • Lowered infrastructure provision costs. It is cheaper and easier to provide services within a smaller area. E.g: providing water and energy reticulation across a smaller area with a higher density of inhabitants serviced as opposed to a larger area with fewer inhabitants.
  • Mixed-use environments where people have to travel shorter distances to and from work, shopping and entertainment.  This would reduce travel costs as well as carbon emissions etc.
  • Reducing urban sprawl and the maintenance of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are basically services that nature/ ecosystems provide.(Wetlands – water purification, Biodiversity-food, plants resources, trees and forest that clean the air etc)

The Verticle Forest or Bosco Vertical in Milan, Italy, is a great example of innovation, design and urban densification.

“Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. Bosco Verticale is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city. It is a model that operates correlated to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the large urban and metropolitan borders (Metrosbosco). Metrobosco and Bosco Verticale are devices for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities. Together they create two modes of building links between nature and city within the territory and within the cities of contemporary Europe.
The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants.
On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.
The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates and produces energy. The Bosco Verticale aids in the creation of a microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect from radiation and acoustic pollution, improving the quality of living spaces and saving energy. Plant irrigation will be produced to great extent through the filtering and reuse of the grey waters produced by the building. Additionally Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will contribute, together with the aforementioned microclimate to increase the degree of energetic self sufficiency of the two towers. The management and maintenance of the Bosco Verticale’s vegetation will be centralised and entrusted to an agency with an office counter open to the public.”  (http://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/)

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