Many of the changes needed today to keep our cities moving and our streets safe in response to the coronavirus crisis are the same as we need to tackle the climate crisis.
Climate action charity Possible has created a self-watering ‘green’ roadblock to help cities’ with their Covid-19 emergency transport plans.
The roadblocks are designed to prevent the predicted surge in post-lockdown motor traffic from overwhelming UK city streets.
The first wave of six blocks have been installed in Chiswick by the London Borough of Hounslow.
Working with specialist civil engineering firms and horticultural experts, Possible’s innovation team adapted standard concrete roadblocks to embed high-tech rainwater reservoirs beneath recesses planted with a selection of drought-tolerant species.
Designed to capture and store rainfall naturally, the ‘Concrete Jungle’ blocks can keep their plants supplied with water for up to six weeks between rainfall events.
“The fact that we can integrate ‘urban greening’ with our new statutory measures to change road layouts, making walking and cycling safer for residents, while facilitating social distancing is great”
Possible created the Concrete Jungle units to give councils a low-cost way of including urban greening in new statutory measures to change road layouts to make cycling and walking safer and more attractive when lockdown restrictions are eased. The blocks are intended as a greener alternative to plastic barriers or concrete bollards that also overcomes maintenance issues and costs associated with traditional planters.
The first six Concrete Jungle blocks are being deployed on two busy retail streets in Chiswick, West London, to create safer road space for shoppers as part of the mayor’s Streetspace for London programme.
As new Department for Transport funding is allocated to local authorities to make widespread changes to road layouts over the coming weeks, experts expect a spike in demand for street furniture to block through traffic from residential areas, near schools and on key shopping streets.
Whilst the prototypes have used standard materials to enable high-speed, low-cost deployment, Possible is currently exploring the potential to make future batches of Concrete Jungle blocks from cement-free concrete, which has a much lower carbon footprint than standard concrete.
Possible were inspired to create the blocks by the concept of crevice gardens made up of plants that are capable of thriving in cracks in walls, rocks and pavements with virtually no soil. The PermaVoid rainwater reservoirs embedded in the Concrete Jungle blocks were developed by specialist civil engineering manufacturer Polypipe for use in green roofs, capturing rainwater in geocellular voids below the plants and steadily wicking it back up to their roots over time via capillary cones.
“The Concrete Jungle blocks are a fantastic example of innovation combining with technology to find a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution that is helping us to drive social change”
Wooden planters are one of the best ways to manage traffic, but although they are very low-cost to install, they can come with a hefty and potentially off-putting maintenance bill for cash-strapped councils. They can also be vulnerable to drivers of larger vehicles frustrated at having their passage barred.
“The Concrete Jungle blocks are a fantastic example of innovation combining with technology to find a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution that is helping us to drive social change,” said councillor Hanif Khan, cabinet member for transport at Hounslow Council.
“The fact that we can integrate ‘urban greening’ with our new statutory measures to change road layouts, making walking and cycling safer for residents, while facilitating social distancing is great.”
Leo Murray, director of innovation at Possible, said many of the changes needed today to keep our cities moving and our streets safe in response to the Covid crisis are the same changes we already needed to tackle the climate crisis. He said: "So the hope is that many of these temporary measures could become permanent once the pandemic has passed.
“But for people to want that, we have to make sure that emergency measures are implemented in the most appealing way possible, and that means more than rolling out a mix-and-match of plastic and concrete barriers.”
Karen Liebreich, the gardener and author who developed the planting scheme in conjunction with designer Jutta Wagner, said that they tried to create a mixture that would be attractive, resilient and also beautiful and useful for pollinators such as bees and other insects.
She continued: “The highway environment for plants is a tough one, especially in summer, so these plants are going to have to work hard at providing a touch of beauty and biodiversity along with year-long planting interest.
“We are hopeful that the cutting edge technology of the Permavoid reservoirs will enable these flower pockets to flourish, and provide a small but useful contribution to the greening of our streets which is so necessary as we modify road usage post-Covid.”
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