20 Mar 2018 Story Education & environment

How rooftop trees can make cities more resilient

Urban green spaces encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize. And especially when they feature native greenery, they can improve a city’s resilience. Planting native trees and shrubs in urban spaces can help cities to adapt to the impacts of climate change by bringing down temperatures, buffering storms and floods, and working as excellent air filters.  

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Biologist Liliana Jaramillo Pazmiño – one of six Young Champions of the Earth in 2017 – is cultivating native trees and shrubs to grow on rooftops in Quito, Ecuador. Her ultimate aim is for these corners of greenery to become part of the city’s infrastructure.

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“When you think about urban cities, most of the time you think about concrete. But rooftops are basically wasted space – leftover land,” she says. “It’s time we started converting these spaces into greener spaces for everybody to enjoy.”

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“In Quito and in most cities, this means including eco-friendly approaches to urban development and planning. Planting trees in rooftop spaces requires designing buildings with stronger infrastructure to cope with extra weight, for example. If this isn’t tailored into building design, it can be too expensive to do after construction.”

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“Even when we do incorporate trees or green areas into urban construction, these often focus on exotic species, which are not native to our land. Reintroducing native species inside the city is important for so many reasons. They help our ecosystem become more diverse, attracting native birds and species to our city spaces.”  

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“Bringing native trees and shrubs into the city also helps protect them from disappearing, and connects us to nature and our heritage. Part of my project is about creating awareness about which greenery is native, so people can choose local, native species over exotic species and we can feel more connected to our cultural roots, and connect with green spaces outside the city.”

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“During the process of urbanization, many of our native species have been disappearing, but we still don’t have a good record of what has been lost. Multiplying and selling them on a wide scale throughout the city is my goal, so that people can easily find them for their rooftops.”

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“Bringing native greenery into our urban infrastructure can help us adapt to changing climatic conditions, so that our cities are more resilient to drought, flooding or higher temperatures. We can learn lessons from other cities where this is already being applied.”

21 March is the International Day of Forests. The theme for 2018 is Forests and Sustainable Cities.

Applications for 2018 Young Champions of the Earth are open until 2 April. Apply now!