How to turn grey infrastructure green

Properly designed, constructed and maintained green infrastructure transforms urban environments for the better. Here, Antoine Gatt, a consultant to the Planning Authority for the ‘Green Your Building’ Grant Scheme and Research Support Officer within the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta, explains how

SHARE

‘Green’ is not the word or colour that springs to mind when placing Malta and infrastructure in the same sentence. Over the years, due to economic growth and a population that invests considerably in property, urban development has grown exponentially across the island. As a result, many urban areas that were once green have been turned grey.

“Today, Malta is suffering from the growth in urban development that has happened over the past two decades, there is a certain fatigue” Antoine Gatt said.

The landscape architect is an expert in green infrastructure and recently collaborated with Malta’s Planning Authority on its Green Your Building scheme, a financial incentive created to motivate people to turn their built-up residential areas into healthier green places in which to live.

“Loosely defined, green infrastructure is anything green that can be associated with plants and nature, be it in urban or rural environments. For example, in a built setting, there are people’s private gardens, public parks and trees along the street. Even permeable paving is considered green because it allows the natural system of water draining into the ground to continue,” he said.

“We require grey infrastructure to live because it provides us with essential utilities. We need our buildings for the services we access inside, and we need our roads to get from one place to another. However, green and grey infrastructure should not compete with each other, but rather complement one another.  Nature and green infrastructure provide us with multiple services that we take for granted. Our trees purify the air and water, sounds of nature improve our well-being and even the tiniest animal affects our lives.”

To further his point, Gatt uses the Pipistrelle bat as an example. This bat is so small that it can easily fit inside a matchbox and yet it can consume in excess of 1,000 mosquitoes per night. Another example is the bee. For years, people have been warned about the real possibility of bees becoming extinct. As it is, bees pollinate about 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. If they were to die out, sustaining the human population would become an immediate struggle.

Pollution is a determining factor when it comes to environmental degradation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million deaths per year can be attributed to exposure to air pollution, and 91% of the world lives in places of poor air quality. In 2019, statistics released by the EU showed that Malta topped the list of EU countries whose population reported being exposed to pollution.

Green infrastructure mitigates some of these issues.

“Street trees, front gardens and green roofs absorb rainwater,” said Gatt, for whom green roofs are an area of expertise. He managed the LifeMedGreenRoof Project, which revealed how green roof technology reduces buildings’ carbon footprint and how green roofs decrease problems such as flooding.

“We’ve shown that a green roof in Malta with just 20% of substrate, a material used for growing plants on buildings, can absorb up to 96% of annual rainfall on that roof, and that they have the potential of reducing the use of air conditioners by as much as 48%.”

Promoting such methods that alleviate urbanisation’s adverse environmental impacts is the aim of the Green Your Building grant scheme, run by the Planning Authority in collaboration with the Ministry for Environment, Climate Change and Planning. With a €2 million budget, the initiative will finance green façades, walls and the green retrofitting of private front gardens – capped at €10,000 per property. Any shop, office or private abode in a residential area with a front garden or balcony overlooking a public space is eligible for the scheme. This excludes properties within urban conversation and villa areas.

“We have almost destroyed our relationship with nature, and a concrete jungle is no place to live a good-quality life. Our actions have deteriorated our physical health and mental well-being. Still, we are lucky enough to have innovative solutions at our fingertips and the knowledge to implement such solutions,” Gatt said. “By greening your building, you’ll improve air quality, enhance water management and protect biodiversity for yourself, your children and future generations.”

The Green Your Building grant scheme is open until the 9th of April 2021 and is available on a first-come-first-served basis. Periti are to make requests via the Authority’s e-Application system. A document guiding the choice of green infrastructure and selection of plants and their management, as well as the grant’s terms and conditions, may be downloaded from www.pa.org.mt. For more information, call 2290 1544 or email [email protected]

More in People