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Eco Warrior? - No- I’m just the girl next door

Even my husband questioned my sanity when I declared I wanted to build an underground house.

I was humoured and laughed at. Some neighbours and fellow villagers were amused and bewildered. In short, they thought I had become the village nutcase.  I however didn’t see it as green architecture, I had faith in the true benefits of a house with its own blanket of earth wrapped around it and covered in green vegetation.

Now it seems that the understanding of the benefits of city greenery have been scientifically proven by Arup.

Arup estimate that by 2025 56% of the global population will live in cities. The quality of the environment in cities is declining. Urban areas in excess of 5 million occupants experience 12oC hotter evening temperatures, 1.78 bn people have inhaled polluted air over the past decade and buildings, asphalt roads, concrete facades, vehicles, sirens, construction, all contributing to noise levels. More than half of us are set to live in these inhospitable surroundings.

In the global study “Cities Alive” undertaken by Arup in 2015, research showed how increasing the vegetation content can positively impact our inner cities to measurably improve our quality of life. They measured the following benefits;

  • A reduction in urban up-heating of up to 100C.

Vegetated roofs and living walls are poor conductors so they insulate against the heat and then prevent heat being reflected back onto the streets. Trees absorb the heat above street level and prevent the pavements from heating up. At night, because the buildings and pavements have been protected from absorbing heat, they don’t release heat back into the surrounding environment when air temperatures cool down, resulting in cooler night time temperatures.


  • A reduction in noise levels in the inner cities by up to 10dB(A) – to the human ear this can half background noise.

Hard surface such as concrete, brick, asphalt and glass reflect the noise back at us whereas green facades prevent this.


  • Filtering out of the fine dust particles in the air around us, to reduce their concentration by 10-20%.

Achieved through deposition on the leaf surfaces which can later wash away (by rain or human help) into the drainage system, causing no harm and avoiding re-suspension in the air we breathe.



Edgeware Road , London

 Edgeware Road, London.jpg (1)


These are in addition to the other obvious, familiar benefits;

  • Aesthetic Quality
  • Enhancing the desirability of where we live
  • Biodiversity
  • Urban Agriculture/Urban farms
  • Wildlife corridors

Vegetation is not an easy, nor magical, answer to the pollution and heat in our inner cities. We can’t suddenly start planting mature trees in Manchester or Leeds city centers. We need to plan ahead, incorporate larger scale planting schemes at the planning stages. However there are many smaller scale efforts we can put into practice.  Councils and private companies have made a start (as the below images show)


Veolia CHP building, Leeds

                       Veolia CHP Leeds.jpg            

M&S Oswestry

M&S Oswestry.jpg            


For the rest of us, adopting an unused space such as on a balcony or roof terrace and adding a pot of herbs or flowers simply raises the spirits.


 living balcony.jpg


The challenge is for all of us to question if we could do more?. You can help and start doing your bit now, if you don’t have a garden, balcony or small space of your own, then perhaps you could ask to share someone else’s?

Incredible Edible started in Todmorden, Lancashire and adopts unused parcels of mainly council owned land for growing vegetables, herbs etc for all;

London based Capital Growth support people to grow food in London and provides training, networking events, discounts with equipment and support with growing to sell.

Or perhaps you can support a city centre scheme? Manchester Garden City, a joint initiative between CityCo and BDP to help make Manchester a greener healthier place;


I won my battle and built an earth sheltered home, half buried into the hillside with a green meadow roof. It is cool in summer, warm in winter and blissfully quiet. It is pleasing to look at and incredibly cheap to run and maintain. I am no longer thought of as the nutcase and I think I got the last laugh. 

My home



Written by Sharon Makinson in our Environmental and Regulatory Team. For further information please contact Sharon via Craig Burman, the Managing Director of our Environmental and Regulatory Department.