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14 March 2022

Nature savings cities

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March 21st is international forests day, which was initiated by the United Nations in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. But trees are now conquering cities as well, like in Izmir, Turkey, a metropolitan area of about 4 million inhabitants, where a green corridor composed of more than 5,000 trees is absorbing tons of CO2 each year.

Climate change effects combined with pollution, heat waves and overpopulation are amongst the main challenges facing our cities today. To address them, cities are turning to so-called ‘Nature-based solutions’ or NBS. Bringing nature back into urban areas, through solutions such as green spaces and green walls, has become a priority for many municipalities worldwide. Like in Turkey’s Mediterranean city of Izmir

Our main goal is to reduce carbon emissions, increase green zones and biodiversity, while we also aim to reduce urban heat island effects,” says Sinan Alper, architect of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality and member of the URBAN GreenUP EU funded project.

Since its launch in 2017, URBAN GreenUP has been implementing innovative NBS in a number of cities in Europe and beyond. One of the most impressive one is the Peynircioğlu Stream Ecological Corridor, right at the heart of Izmir. This 10-acre green belt near the city centre boasts almost 5,000 trees, fruit walls, green fences, and technical solutions for getting around sustainably. The path is made with an application of permeable ground. The aim is to ensure the rainwater blends with groundwater and to prevent the risks of flooding. It’s claimed that such solutions have helped improve the inhabitants’ quality of life. 

“Absolutely, there are more trees. Since there are more walking trails, the residents, especially the elderly, can have a walk in the morning and in the evening. So, they get the chance to exercise. There are more spaces for birds now. And there are plenty of cats and dogs. This place is very convenient for them”, says Birol Kucukgorur, a representative of the Izmir Citizen Committee.

Izmir is home to 4 million people and expanding fast. Agriculture in rural districts is threatened by climate change. Here, NBS provides a practice ground for fighting drought and excessive soil salinity.

“We’re in a period where there’s less, almost no groundwater. City centres are becoming impermeable land, so that’s why here we've started to apply permeable ground surfaces. We’re also making a rainwater ditch, which allows the rainwater to meet the groundwater, and enrich it”.

Using this greenhouse and surrounding land to simulate a future environment ravaged by climate change, the researchers of the Izmir Agriculture Development Centre are working on enhancing plants’ resistance on an arid and highly saline soil. 

It’s an encouraging example of how nature can make cities more resilient to climate change, heatwaves, droughts and flooding.

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