Green infrastructure, schools and air pollution papers from Grantham Scholar

Congratulations to Maria del Carmen Redondo Bermudez on her 2 papers about green infrastructure in schools and air pollution.

Both papers come from Maria’s research into the use of green barriers to improve air quality for school children. One focuses on work in Buenos Aires and the other Sheffield. We asked Maria to explain why these papers are important and to outline their key findings.

What is green infrastructure?

Maria monitoring air quality as part of her project into plants, air quality and health
Maria is a Grantham Scholar who researches air pollution mitigation through the use of green infrastructure, such as green barriers. After the publication of 2 papers from her work, she explains here what’s most important about them.

Green infrastructure encompasses any type of natural and semi-natural area managed to deliver ecosystem services.

In the urban landscape, this translates into street trees, parks, green roofs, green walls, hedges, green barriers or fences, among others.

Why are these papers important?

Green Fences for Buenos Aires: Implementing Green Infrastructure for (More than) Air Quality

The first paper is innovative because in Buenos Aires there aren’t any other projects connecting green infrastructure with air quality. It is a novel approach. Also, though Latin America has some initiatives to improve cities using green infrastructure, only a few have been scientifically documented.

As such, this paper is one of few that help to understand the challenges associated with implementing green infrastructure in Latin America. And it provides actions taken to overcome those challenges.

It also mentions how the approach of installing green barriers in schools works well for a country with weak environmental policy and low air quality awareness, helping with city greening.

Green infrastructure for air quality plus

The second paper comes to the same conclusion about fostering school greening by installing green barriers. Most importantly, it evidences the perceived co-benefits of having greenery in schools, important to make a compelling argument for introducing green barriers.

A playground with sandy ground and brightly coloured equipment. Adults are working on installing green infrastructure to improve air quality.
A playground in Buenos Aires where Maria did some of her case study work for these papers.

So we found that co-benefits are a helpful selling point. For example, beyond air quality provisioning, the school will also gain a relaxing space that is safer and allows children to play differently and connect with nature.

Moreover, the 4 dimensions for consideration when implementing green barriers in schools are important for practitioners (landscape architects or horticulturalists). These 4 dimensions can inform their design to improve air quality and avoid trapping air pollution. Plus they can add features to foster other benefits (for example adding an extended ground cover with plants that provide habitat and food for insects and birds) to match the interests of schools.

Is there a difference in how you approach air pollution in Buenos Aires and Sheffield?

Yes, there is not much discussion and dissemination about air quality in Buenos Aires, and the population is not fully aware of the problem. Therefore, initiating a project which has air quality at its core was quite challenging in Buenos Aires.

We had to use the term ‘environmental quality’ instead of ‘air pollution’ to tone down or shift the intention to a more holistic view of improving the environment. Whereas, in the UK people have heard about air pollution and have some awareness, which facilitated the development of the project in Sheffield. But we also needed to make sure people know that air pollution is everywhere in the city and not only around the case study school.

What’s the most important idea in Green Fences for Buenos Aires?

We identified 5 emergent barriers (emergent because they have not been mentioned in the literature, which mainly comes from Europe and the USA) to installing green barriers in Buenos Aires schools.

Three of these are related to air pollution: (i) insufficient AQ monitoring, data sharing and communication; (ii) lack of citizen awareness of air pollution risks; and (iii) high costs and low availability of equipment for local AQ monitoring.

Our project, which can be classified as an urban living lab, helped us to overcome these barriers because it was experimental, flexible, interdisciplinary, and transnational.

What’s the most important idea in Green infrastructure for air quality plus?

If green barriers provide more than air quality – such as co-benefits derived from having greenery in schools – then it is easier to attract people’s attention to the project because they can see the added benefits.

A playground filled with wooden equipment. Down the right hand sides is a long line of green infrastructure which improves air pollution.
A school playground in Sheffield where Maria did some of her green barrier case study work.

Improving school air quality and protecting children’s health is a great way to mobilise school greening. But the school community also get a larger set of benefits. Benefits include boosting the public image of the businesses involved in the project, improving school security and providing wildlife habitats.

This paper also defines 4 dimensions for green barrier implementation: place, physical and biological characteristics, and school-friendly considerations. And it mentions that designing green barriers with these dimensions taken into consideration helps to maximise air quality and co-benefits and mitigate any problems for schools.

More on Maria’s work on green infrastructure, schools and air quality

Green barrier to reduce air pollution for children. If you want to find out more about Maria’s work with green barriers, then read this interview with her.

Main image: Collaborators of the Breathe/Repirar project in Buenos Aires – researchers and Ministry of Education representatives. Maria is last on the right.