How this Swiss city is using green roofs to combat climate change

Basel, Switzerland has become the first city in the world to legally mandate green space for new buildings.

As inner city life becomes entrenched in much of our social lives and work, many of us are missing out on access to green space.

With burgeoning evidence to suggest that greener cities make for healthier cities, it is essential that city planners make room for biodiversity.

With this in mind, Basel, a major city in western Switzerland, has come up with an ingenious way to add much-needed greenery to urban areas. Taking advantage of their once empty flat roof space, Basel’s city planning authority has mandated green roofs. This new requirement adds patches of greenery that reduce humidity and help buildings cool faster during the summer months.

As part of Basel’s biodiversity strategy, since 15 years green has been mandatory on all new and renovated buildings with flat roofs. Now that this is mandatory, more than 1 million square meters of green roofs have been built, putting the city at the forefront in ‘greening’ its urban space.

Researcher at the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources in Zurich Dr. Stephan Brenneisen has been advising Swiss developers and contractors for years to realize green innovation.

To solve problems of energy waste and rising temperatures due to climate change, Brenneisen wanted to use forgotten spaces in the city to create sustainable solutions.

“Here in Basel, we noticed that (flat roofs) were not used enough and (could) be valuable natural areas,” he explains.

“That’s why, together with our colleagues from the construction department, and in particular the then director Barbara Schneider, we started to integrate these areas into the planning law, define guidelines and thus carry out these projects in Basel.”

By anchoring green space in construction law, Brenneisen and his team ensured that this would be a lasting change in Basel’s architecture.

What are the benefits of adding green spaces to our cities?

Inner-city green spaces have countless benefits, not only for climate change, but also for vast improvements in mental and physical health.

According to research published earlier this year by the University of East Anglia, access to green spaces may reduce your risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, premature birth, stress and high blood pressure. This has significant implications for global health, as more than one of these diseases can be found on the World Health Organization’s Top 10 Causes of Death.

In addition, green spaces have great benefits in tackling smog and pollution. Scientists consistently praise the role of green walls and roof gardens in helping to reduce the effects of harmful emissions in the inner city.

Looking to the future of climate change and rising temperatures, Basel is leading the way in using rooftop gardens to reduce humidity. During Canada’s recent record high temperatures, resulting in the deaths of hundreds, humidity played a major factor in endangering lives.

By creating humidity controllers, in the form of urban greenery, we can help keep temperatures down and ultimately save lives.

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