Heatwave conditions saw Londoners seeking shade amongst the green exhibits at the Great Exhibition Road Festival over the weekend.
A pop-up park constructed to replace car parking spaces and a trio of giant blocks enclosing visitors in a cooling green refuge and tranquil soundscape were amongst over 200 activities engaging with the social side of science and arts this weekend.
More than 60,000 people of all ages attended the street festival in South Kensington, which involved Imperial College London and 20 local partners including national museums and cultural institutions. The event took place ahead of the official launch of the first ever London Climate Action Week, a celebration of low-carbon solutions and expertise in the city that is being coordinated by the Mayor of London from 1-8 July 2019.
ParkUp to fix air quality and overheated cities
PhD students Rosie Riley, Karina Corada-Perez and Catalina Cruz from Imperial‘s Centre for Environmental Policy and Hamish Beath from the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP worked with Emma Brassington from University of the Arts London and London-based company Meristem Design to set up a temporary 'parklet' (a small park) for the weekend.
"The parklet is designed to fit over two car parking spaces, and encourages visitors to envisage a green alternative for London's crowded streets, where currently 8000 football pitches of land are allocated for car parking," Hamish says. "The average car is unused for 95% of its life, so reducing the number of cars owned by city dwellers would free up space for urban improvements."
Visitors to ParkUp sought shelter from the sun amongst planters containing wildflowers, bushes and vegetable patches, whilst chatting to the scientists about the benefits of increasing the amount of greenery in our cities. Green spaces are good for the environment because they cool the air around them, provide homes and food for wildlife, and absorb rainwater that might otherwise contribute to flooding.
“Our research has shown which plants are the best options to plant at roadsides and urban areas to remove airborne particulate pollution," researcher Karina Corada-Perez explains.
“The small flat leaves of this willow tree come into contact with more air than larger flat-leaved trees like those that line many London streets. This helps the plant to clean the air more effectively, which improves the air quality for locals.”
Green spaces can benefit peoples' physical and mental health too. Pop-up parks run by communities bring social benefits for people who come together to care for them and learn from one another. The mechanisms through which greenspace can benefit human health can be subtle, however, as Rosie Riley explains:
"It's been amazing to see how people have just wandered over to ParkUp, sat down on one of our benches in the shade and started chatting to someone next to them. The potential opportunities these pocket parks can bring in terms of social cohesion and community building are huge."’
GREEN SPACE evokes nature's sanctuary
PhD students Charlie Roscoe and Robbie Parks teamed up with oil painter Enya Lachman-Curl, designer Robbie Thompson, and Science Museum curator Rupert Cole to create the immersive installation GREEN SPACE.
This trio of imposing obelisks appeared from the outside to be austere concrete blocks but gave way to an immersive refuge of sweeping oil paint compositions resembling lush foliage for visitors who stepped between their imposing walls.
The accompanying soundscape combined meditative synthesisers with delicate piano motifs to evoke the sanctuary that urban green spaces provide.
The installation invited people to experience the mental and physical shift that can come with visiting a green space like a park or garden. It was inspired by Charlie Roscoe’s PhD research in the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, which explores how urban green spaces might help older adults to maintain a healthy heart and circulatory system, using participants from the UK Biobank study group.
"Urban green spaces might be linked to health benefits because you can go there to walk or jog. In leafy neighbourhoods with open green space, there is less air pollution and temperatures are lower during heatwaves. Being in a green space is also linked to better mental health and wellbeing, because it offers opportunities for community get-togethers, such as gardening groups or picnics, which can combat loneliness and isolation in the city", Charlie says.
9 things you can do about climate change
More frequent and more extreme heatwaves are among the many predicted changes that climate change will bring as global average temperatures increase to 1.5°C and beyond.
Although the UK might enjoy some warmer days, extended periods of high temperature, like those Europe has experienced recently, will lead to deaths from extreme heat, as well as more droughts, food shortages and wildfires. Around the world, climate change risks devastating millions of peoples’ lives, potentially leading to global economic collapse.
Researchers at Imperial are working on technologies and ideas that can help to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and are engaging policymakers and the private sector to introduce these solutions faster. This, along with small changes that individuals can make themselves, offer hope in halting climate change before it gets this bad.
As part of London Climate Action Week, Imperial and its partners have organised a programme of events in South Kensington so that members of the public can engage with climate change solutions, as well as a number of closed events for businesses and other stakeholders across London.
Grantham Institute researchers have also helped to create a leaflet and digital feature that showcase how individual lifestyle changes can help create a cleaner, greener, fairer future. It highlights some of the latest Imperial research, and offers top tips for how personal choices can help improve your health and wellbeing, as well as reduce your impact on the planet.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
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