Eindhoven. © Pixabay
Author profile picture

The Brabant city of Eindhoven, the Italian city of Genova and the Finnish city of Tampere have been appointed as demonstration cities for experiments on a major livability study to be carried out by UNaLab, the European Commission’s climate laboratory. This is evident from a report published this week on the European Commission’s website. The laboratory measures the results of all kinds of natural methods aimed at making cities resistant to excessive rainfall, extreme heat and drought during the summer as well as air pollution caused by industrial and motorized traffic emissions. The initial results will be presented as early as next year.

The solutions that the three cities are experimenting with are all based on natural, biological processes – such as the purification of air through cultivating plants on rooftops and walls, and planting different kinds of flowers and trees in the city. This should benefit biodiversity and the quality of life in the city. Other applications within the European Commission’s research are air purification via the installation of rain gardens in car parks and vertical gardens on buildings which are designed to absorb extreme rainfall.

Experiments with plants

UNaLab is currently rolling out a series of experiments in Eindhoven, Genova and Tampere which will be paid for by Horizon 2020, the EU’s current investment fund for innovation. “We hope this will prove that it is possible to improve the climate in cities by harnessing nature,” says Dr. Laura Wendling, who is the director of the Finnish laboratory involved in European research. Wendling is also coordinating UNaLab’s research program. One of the solutions that the cooperating cities have come up with is the construction of a bicycle path through green areas in the city. As a result, cyclists breathe in cleaner air than they do if they were to ride on the busiest arterial roads. Another experiment involves placing algae in ponds and waterways in cities. These are designed to naturally purify the water of waste materials such as nitrates.

The project organization of the European urban climate research will monitor the impact of the various experiments by measuring how far the temperature in the city drops, how much cleaner the water and the air become, and how many floods and water shortages have been prevented. This is done by placing sensors at certain locations that are to record this information.

Pressure on urban climate is rising

The need to improve the quality of life in cities will only increase in the coming years, according to research leader Wendling. At present, 70% of the European population are living in a city. By 2050, that figure will rise to 80 percent. This means that the pressure on space in cities will increase dramatically. In the view of the Finnish scientist, this means that there is an urgent need for reliable information on which basis nature should be able to take over great locations in the city instead of being driven out of it. And on top of that, this nature shouldn’t cost too much either. Because the idea is that those consumers who use it, should be able to afford it.

UNaLab will present its preliminary research results over the course of 2020. Then all other cities in Europe will be able to make use of them by applying the tried and tested methods within their own municipalities. Cities outside Europe have already shown interest, such as the densely populated Chengdu in China, Quy Nhon in Vietnam and Medellin in Colombia, as UNaLab reports.