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Beyond sustainability

Perhaps you live here: An urban environment blended with nature that improves the wellbeing of citizens by reconnecting them with the natural environment and supporting biodiversity.

A place with good air quality and beautiful green, semi-wild spaces that are safe, inclusive and accessible to all – improving people’s physical fitness and mental health. Nature-based solutions combined with conventionally engineered ones deliver greater resilience to the physical impacts of climate change, keeping communities safer. Buildings are a model of eco-friendly design, using zero-emissions materials, generating electricity and harvesting rainwater.

Outside, biodiversity is thriving, and techniques for managing water are integrated with urban gardens, even in densely populated areas to reduce the risks of both flooding and drought. The reintroduction of nature to the urban landscape has grown rapidly from experimentation by a few daring developers into a mass movement as the social and economic benefits, as well as the environmental ones became clear.

This is our vision for 2035, where regenerative design and rewilding are transforming our towns and cities.

This is how.

Counting the costs and benefits

Counting the costs and benefits

Evidence that connecting people with nature is good for physical health and mental wellbeing, student learning and workplace productivity has led to regenerative design being heavily promoted by public authorities.

At the same time, natural capital has become mainstream, ensuring nature’s resources and services attract a value and receive equal weighting with commercial interests in the local and national economic decision-making process.

To drive the shift to regenerative design and to secure long-term positive social, economic and environmental benefits, projects now routinely factor into their whole life costs positive and negative outcomes. This makes polluting and damaging developments more expensive and incentivises projects that store carbon and water, and filter air and de-pollute environments.

Being part of the solution, rather than incurring the financial and reputational cost of being part of the problem fits with the values-based approach being adopted by many in the private sector. It’s based on the proposition that values drive value and profitability.

Incentives mean that developers and landowners receive payments for habitats that increase biodiversity, alleviate flood risk and for vegetation that stores CO2. Regenerative neighbourhoods also enjoy a ‘placemaking dividend’ – people visit, stay longer and come back often, boosting local economies and creating jobs.

Project delivery: Smart map of natural capital in the UAE

Inspiring change: Nature-based solutions – cost savings and a greener future

Inspiring change: The triple bottom line: Grey versus green infrastructure – what’s best?

Inspiring change: Carbon reduction using natural solutions

Driving change

Driving change

National planning frameworks state that the purpose of the planning system is to achieve regenerative development and deliver inclusive social outcomes.

In practice, this means that planning permission for new infrastructure and buildings rests on their ability to reverse the degradation of the planet's natural systems and ensure human and natural systems can coevolve for mutual benefit.

This goal is re-enforced through local building codes, internationally recognised regenerative assessment frameworks and commitments by industry and investors to do positive good.

Some countries have introduced regulations that require projects to achieve at least 10% biodiversity net gain or invest in local habitat creation of equivalent value. A robust biodiversity metric is available to enable developers, planners and other interested parties to assess changes in biodiversity value (losses or gains) brought about by their proposed developments.

Project delivery: UK guidance on natural flood management

Inspiring change: Let’s think holistically to improve water quality

Integrated design and development

Integrated design and development

Designers, planners, developers and owners at the forefront of regenerative change act as champions and their goal is to deliver restorative systems that are beneficial to both humans and other species.

Regenerative design and development principles, and how to effectively measure the wide outcomes, are taught as standard to engineering, planning and architecture students, and promoted by professional institutions.

Local knowledge and local decision-making are important for project success, and planning and design teams include ecologists and specialists in social inclusion and heritage. These diverse and integrated teams, together with collaboration between all stakeholders, develop a thorough understanding of the human aspirations for a project and the unique ecosystems, character, culture and conditions of its location. And, by adopting systems thinking and focusing on the intended outcomes from the outset, projects deliver symbiotic benefits between biodiversity, climate resilience, social inclusion and economic strength.

This ensures that multiple long-term benefits are factored into the design and development process, helping to maximise the positive outcomes – in terms of accessibility, inclusion, empowerment, resilience and wellbeing. It also ensures that investment decisions are not based solely on capital cost or short-term payback.

In practice, this means hospitals, schools and places of learning are now deliberately designed to accommodate a natural overlay, even where they serve dense urban communities.

Project delivery: A higher level of protection – Leeds flood alleviation scheme

Ecological and community outcomes

Maximising ecological and community outcomes

Vegetation is widespread in urban environments, with indoor gardens, green roofs and rain gardens common features of new developments and refurbishment projects.

It’s become the norm for vacant land in towns and cities to be turned into engaging community spaces for people and essential habitats for species. Semi-wild public spaces, urban gardens, layered living streetscapes and natural drainage solutions are popping up everywhere.

Plant, animal and insect species not seen in urban environments for decades are returning, making their home in these new green environments. Insect-friendly green cover nurtures pollinators that are essential for a of host flowering and fruiting plants.

Local businesses near to these areas are thriving, as people visit and explore them. Richly biodiverse ecologies and urban food forests have prompted pride and responsible ownership within communities, with local groups formed to maintain and preserve these enhanced assets.

Inspiring change: Let’s consider biodiversity from the project outset

Inspiring change: What do we mean by social inclusion?

Inspiring change: Our social outcomes framework consists of five core principles: Accessibility, inclusion, empowerment, resilience and wellbeing

Project delivery: Our Wellbeing Impact Evaluation (WELLIE) tool provides a systematic way to assess the community impacts of projects in Pontypridd

Project delivery: Safeguarding water and protecting livelihoods – Shire River Basin river management program, Malawi

Our tools: Moata People and Planet provides insights into the impact of infrastructure assets on society and the environment

Project delivery: Think water management is just about water? – Blue Gold program, Bangladesh

Digitally enabled

Digitally enabled

Modelling, data and monitoring tools enable designers, developers, engineers and contractors to deliver buildings and infrastructure that create thriving, biodiverse and vital ecosystems.

Sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) solutions and software models are now commonly used to map and value the goods and services that nature provides to sustain and fulfil human life. These tools underpin natural capital accounting processes to correctly calculate the total stocks and flows of natural resources and services in a specific ecosystem or region.

Data is also used to track and demonstrate the benefits that are emerging from regenerative projects, helping to spread the best solutions – from carbon sequestration and habitat quality to coastal vulnerability and urban flood risk mitigation.

Project delivery: Eco-Channels Database Management System – Hong Kong

Inspiring change: New GIS tool to support decision making in catchment restoration

Our tools: Moata digital solutions can help optimise use of space

Side by side

Side by side

Around the world, the quality of the ‘green and blue’ areas bordering towns and cities has been deliberately improved to support the revival of natural habitats and species. There are strict limits on the spread of human settlements beyond existing boundaries.

Inside city limits, ‘wild’ areas reconnect citizens with nature, while the inclusion of biophilic design into infrastructure and buildings helps to satisfy our innate attraction to nature and natural processes, improving physical health and mental wellbeing.

Biophilic design ensures space is organised and optimised for people and nature to co-exist, with recuperative areas and internal and external views of nature. Natural solutions deliver thermal and acoustic comfort, lighting and good air quality. Natural materials and the use of textures, patterns and colours inspired by nature help to create spaces for living, sleeping and working. Carbon neutral plant-based and bio-fabricated construction materials are becoming widely available, accompanied by new standards and specifications to stimulate demand.

Inspiring change: Amanda Sturgeon’s TED talk on using biophilic design to heal body, mind and soul

Inspiring change: Material gains in healthier hospitals

Project delivery: New vision for Bristol Temple Meads and St Philip’s Marsh

Project delivery: Bringing life back to a much-used waterway – Newtown Creek, New York

Project delivery: Pollution is not just an outdoor problem – ensuring healthy buildings

Looking to nature for solutions

Looking to nature for solutions

Nature-based solutions (NbS) are increasingly replacing and complementing conventionally engineered infrastructure in many urban areas.

Natural drainage and flood management provides protection and improves resilience against intense rainfall, while wetlands in the urban realm capture and clean stormwater to replenish underground aquifers. Trees and vegetation provide shade, reduce the urban heat island effect and purify air. Green corridors are safe routes for active travel.

Green and blue infrastructure is often less costly to deliver than conventional infrastructure and often requires less maintenance. Where there is an additional maintenance cost, the wider benefits have been monetised to offset this. NbS can also be easier to design, are adaptable and deliver better resilience. Rain gardens and swales are public amenities that double as flood relief measures, for example, while vegetation stores carbon. These areas can also unlock new revenue streams as well as dramatically improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Project delivery: A return to nature – Wootton wetland restoration, UK

Project delivery: Eco-hydraulics study on green channels of Hong Kong

Project delivery: Cleaner water, cleaner air, fewer floods — Philadelphia Green Streets

Inspiring change: Integrated catchment management

Inspiring change: Flooding by design

Project delivery: Nature-based solutions — cost savings and a greener future

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