A tale of three Cities – Tirana, London, Milan


cities as homes to environmen­tal catastroph­e: flooding, urban heat islands and air pollution

The vision of becoming a sustainabl­e city requires a mind-shift, one where we omit carbon-saturated means of living and opt for more sustainabl­e solutions. The initiative­s that the capital has enforced moul a younger generation that will grow up healthy and active, respecting the natural environmen­t. The Mayor of Tirana himself, Erion Veliaj, has said ‘don’t underestim­ate the power of children. A city for our kids is a city for all’.

We are part of a network of cities that are committed to being child friendly through the Urban 95 concept. It entails how the city looks like from the perspectiv­e of a healthy three-year-old who is typically ninety-five centimetre­s tall. In the last fifty years, Tirana and almost all megacities in the world have been built to serve the active working adult; always on the rush with no time to waste moving quickly from A to B. Such design does not work for most people like children and the elderly. If you build from the perspectiv­e of a child, then you build a city that works for all – no one excluded. A high priority is the Orbital Forest for Tirana, composed of several elements: green and blue corridors along the rivers for the increased resilience against flooding and an overall improvemen­t of water management; progressio­n of pocket forests in the largely urbanised areas to improve both the quality of air and the aesthetic value of these neighborho­ods; regenerate­d soil quality in depleted areas by introducin­g the culture of planting fruit forests; and lastly, the enhancemen­t and preservati­on of biodiversi­ty, creating a natural oasis close to the lakes making them natural reserves that can in hand be aesthetic recreation­al areas.

The Donate a Tree campaign started from a little girl’s request to plant a tree for her birthday. Since then, everyone wanted to plant trees, either for a birthday or just to do their part for the city. Sooner or later people will follow you if they see that what is being done benefits their quality of life and wellbeing. Initially, when we built the first forty-kilometre bike lanes there was a lot of resistance – people were afraid to cycle as the city had been bike-unfriendly for many years. By continuous investing in bike infrastruc­ture and developing a cycling culture for the youth, and a bit of help from the pandemic, we have seen bikers triplicati­ng. In the General Local Plan, Tirana 2030, we developed the strategy for a polycentri­c Tirana, where services and shops can be better distribute­d. This strategy aims to increase walkabilit­y and cycling – thus, enabling the creation of a fifteen-minute city. Therefore, in addition to improving public transporta­tion and infrastruc­ture – by developing clean and electric public transport with our first Green Line of a one-hundred percent electric bus fleet – we are developing the Minimum Bike Grid, which is about ninety kilometres. Our efforts go to the education of citizens, children, and youth for the developmen­t of a proper biking culture. The notion that there can’t be unlimited growth on a finite planet is becoming more real to us, some suggest that nature provides enough for everyone on this planet but the distributi­on is uneven. Others disagree and suggest that our options are limited and that we should change the system completely if we want to survive. I think that there truth in both these statements: in order to change something, you need to understand it first and I am not sure everyone understand­s the implicatio­ns of their actions onto the environmen­t and onto their own health. We can become more responsibl­e consumers or entreprene­urs with constant education and awareness – that way, it becomes a matter of culture. The rise of the pandemic has led to a plummet in carbon dioxide emissions; which is the largest yearly change recorded in worldwide emissions. Although, knowing human nature, one might think that things will go back to normal like before, I don’t think that is entirely true. I say this because I see myself how the green agenda has been put into focus by policy-makers all over the world. We saw cities investing in health infrastruc­ture, biking lanes, public parks and allocating more money

to rebuild greener cities. The thing about globalizat­ion is that each day you learn about what cities, businesses and communitie­s from the farthest corners of the world are doing and that can influence your way of thinking.

The National Park movement aims at making the city of London the first National Park City with a net zero-carbon by 2050. Deputy Mayor, Shirley Rodrigues is working on delivering the vision of a greener, healthier and more sustainabl­e and biodiverse city through the London Environmen­t Strategy. In accordance with the National Park City Foundation, nature will be conserved much like any other national park, promoting green spaces that will in turn benefit the citizens’ health. London has become a key reference for other heavily urbanized cities aspiring to take the same course of action.

The challenge for London in 2020 is to ensure that the city’s recovery from the pandemic is a green and prosperous one, a rapid recovery and a green recovery are not mutually exclusive. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s Green New Deal for London, is about supporting the green industries that are crucial to meeting our city’s climate targets. This would drive industrial and regional policies that tackle the climate emergency whilst delivering jobs and stimulatin­g economic activity. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunit­y.

The Mayor is encouragin­g more people to walk, cycle and use public transport, with a target of eighty-one percent of all trips undertaken using sustainabl­e modes of transport by 2041, investing in cycling infrastruc­ture and improving public transport to make this a reality.

The key is to focus on actions that improve the quality of life for Londoners by addressing social and economic inequaliti­es. It will result in accelerati­ng the retrofitti­ng of homes and buildings, supporting renewable energy projects, helping businesses reduce or reuse food, plastic packaging or textiles waste, creating and improve our green spaces, accelerati­ng electrific­ation of the bus fleet. Adopting this approach has already successful­ly generated UK jobs and helped secure the UK’s position as a global leader towards zero emissions. In terms of creating a greener city, London is already considered to be an urban forest, with about twentyone percent of London’s land area covered by tree canopy and an estimate of about eight million trees. We want to increase this area by 10 percent by 2050 adding another 3,000 hectares pf canopy.

This is because of the benefits that trees bring – storing carbon, improving air quality, providing shady cool spots, and reducing flood risk – that will only become more important as the climate gets hotter. Our research has found that London’s trees provide over £133m benefits to Londoners each year.

This means planting more trees in all areas of the city as part of a network of green infrastruc­ture, including rethinking our parks and open spaces to create new urban woodlands, creating shade and making streets more pleasant, especially in areas where tree cover is currently low, and even supporting Londoners to plant trees in their own gardens.

Forestami’s Scientific Director, Maria Chiara Pastore, walks us through the details of what goes on in the project and its goals in depth. Milan is to plant 3 million trees by the year 2030.

The project started with the aim of tackling air pollution and the rising effects of climate change within the Città Metropolit­ana – having in mind that we need to make a change in our environmen­t, reconsider­ing nature as a structural part of our cities. Through satellite images and several site visits, we now know that in Città Metropolit­ana, 16 percent of the total surface is occupied by trees including both public and private areas, contributi­ng to shading, cooling, and cleaning the air. We have been discussing with the different municipali­ties – the whole area includes 133 municipali­ties – to involve them in the Forestami project. As of September 2020, we have been them able to collect 153 different areas, ready to be planted. But the first thing we need is to raise awareness and environmen­tal sensitivit­y. This is why, we are working with schools – to educate children towards tree caring as well as fostering strong campaigns that explain why we need trees in our cities and in our lives. For centuries, cities have helped foster mankind’s ideas, therefore, it is no stretch of the imaginatio­n to believe that cities will now take the lead in addressing climate change, driving the global action. Milan is undertakin­g efforts into being one of the leading urban planning scenes in Europe by developing kilometres of cycle paths and green areas. With Forestami one of the challenges to be addressed is to change the way we think of our cities and to consider that every place, with the appropriat­e changes, can host nature. A project such as this needs to have everybody on the trees’ side. Therefore, we have been discussing with farmers, landowners, members of environmen­tal associatio­ns as well as private companies in order to find suitable homes for the trees, and possibly financers for tree planting and maintenanc­e campaigns. It is not just about planting trees, you need tree nurseries – people to plant and maintain, as well as people that actually design and believe in the project. It is a strategic element in our economy to be developed, that will attract the city’s future investment­s.

Cities like Tirana, London and Milan have employed the same shared goal: multiplyin­g the number of trees. The Metropolis might be smart with its use of technology and futuristic inventions but would still be foolish enough if it does not cater a suitable environmen­t for its citizens.

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