Imagine cityscapes like never before: turned not into something more modern, but more natural. The public space suddenly bucolic. The future city may have more in common with a dense rainforest than the concrete jungles of today.
Instead of demolishing buildings to make way for green spaces, repurposing is the logical next step–building up instead of around. Skyscrapers’ facades are prime spaces for vertical gardens, regulating temperatures indoors and outdoors. If a building is in the right location with regard to sunlight and is able to hold up many plants while being maintained, green walls and terraces can provide temperature regulation, runoff rainwater capture and animal sanctuaries, notwithstanding their additional psychological benefits to citizens and aesthetic appeal. Public spaces are often produced for one interest: economic gain. Parks and other free spaces can be few and far between. When buildings have an additional benefit of environmentalism, public space and aesthetic appeal, cities are suddenly more innovative and inclusive. Additional parks, urban gardens, rooftop vegetation and terraces open up the city to greater possibilities and public space.
For decades, Japan has been at the helm of green facades. City planners and architects have tucked vegetation into walls and roofs while start-ups offer green wall installations for private homes.
In Japan, they completed the ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in 1994 and its facade is verdant with vegetation. The project was one of the first of its kind and became world-renowned for its unusually eco-friendly design while at the same time creating a public space for nature in an urban setting. The fusion of ecological and urban, and private and public interest reconciled incommensurate ideas into one acro-urban model.
However the acro-urban model is yet to become the panacea it is rumoured to be. Parks and other green spaces tend to be farther away from diverse and low-income areas. In the United States, a study found that low-income, race and residential segregation correlate with a lack of green spaces, such as parks. Acro-urban models are even more niche than parks, and the likelihood of green facades making it into rural or low-income settings are slim to none. These city plans would go toward the wealthier city centres.
The reimagining of cities is paramount to our fight against climate change. Most of the world’s population lives in urban areas (54 percent) and this number is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. Not to forget, the world’s population will also be larger in 2050, adding 2.5 billion people to urban areas. Increased congestion and pollution in cities will be major issues in the coming decades. Covering everything in plants is a small step in the right direction, making forested mountains out of parking garages, businesses and factories and skyscrapers into massive trees. It is a fantastical idea, one found in the futuristic, idyllic cityscapes of Japan, but, in many other cities, the periphery and low-income neighbourhoods may be forgotten, reducing the impact of acro-urban models.
A critic may ask, “You’re going to stick a plant on a building and think that fixes everything?” Well, no. But it may be the least we can do in major countries, like the United States, that are barely making strides toward a sustainable energy infrastructure. The ‘least we can do’ is flawed logic. It is aesthetic over robust system changes, environmentalism as trend rather than necessity, green for the rich instead of also for the poor, that may be the future.