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Sustainable Urban Landscapes


Secret Agent recently reported on sustainability and looked at various ways sustainable features can be incorporated in the design of commercial or residential buildings. In this post, we take a look at sustainability from an urban planning perspective. Sustainability in the urban setting is about “finding new and better ways to achieve the same or better functionality, new materials and new technologies” as demonstrated in the following emerging trends.

Pervious Sidewalks

Pervious sidewalks are made from a highly porous form of concrete which contains lots of tiny holes so that water can seep through. They prevent heavy rain water from pooling on the pavement, improve the ground water supply and assist in reducing the volume of storm water run off and risk of flooding. They are also said to improve water quality by trapping pollutants within the pores, allowing microorganisms to break down some of the pollutants. On a tree-lined street, porous pavement allows for water to filter through the ground to the tree’s roots, reducing the need to water them during the summer months.

Glowing Trees

Glowing trees would replace the need for street lamps during the night by automatically illuminating when it gets dark. The developing technology is based on bioluminescence; a natural feature found in many jellyfish, insects and bacteria whereby the organism can light up autonomously. Plants have been successfully genetically engineered to be bioluminescent, however further work is necessary to improve their longevity. Another potential option without the need for genetic modification is using luminescent paint and spraying this on trees so that they glow in the dark.

Smart Highways

Roads may also assist in reducing the need for street lamps. Using photo-luminescent paint, road markings would be charged by the sun during the day and glow at night. Unlike regular glow-in-the-dark paint, the light from photo-luminescent paint can last for up to 10 hours. The technology has been piloted on a motorway in the Netherlands, but requires further improvements before it is implemented on a larger scale. Glowing roads are a part of a greater plan to build smarter highways that can communicate with drivers, for example, by having snowflakes appear on the road when it reaches a certain temperature to alert drivers of slippery conditions.

Vertical Farms

Vertical farms offer a way to cope with the rapidly growing population’s demand for fresh produce whilst eliminating the need for distribution and transportation, reducing its carbon footprint. The crops are grown in controlled environments in vertical layers so that greater yields can be obtained on a smaller plot of land. Vertical farms require less water and less fertiliser; there is also no need to use pesticides. Some systems require the use of LED lights to provide the energy needed for the plants to grow, and other systems use rotating troughs to ensure uniform exposure to sunlight. There are various commercial vertical farms already established in Japan, Singapore and the United States with many more expected to arise in the near future.

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