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What is green infrastructure?

It is a set of reserves, green spaces and natural elements designed and managed to offer human beings environmental services. Green infrastructure projects cover a broad vision that seeks to develop and maintain an interconnected network of ecosystems and its relationship with urban and suburban areas. Green infrastructure is also known as ecological infrastructure or natural infrastructure. All these terms represent a skeleton or natural framework that underlies all human activity and thus makes it possible.

Green infrastructure projects are an essential part of the development and transformation policies currently adopted by the world’s governments with a view to building smart cities and advancing the transition towards a circular and sustainable economy. 

What are environmental services?

They comprise all the benefits and renewable resources provided by healthy and biodiverse green areas, such as soil fertilization, pollination, pest control, climate regulation, water treatment, air purification, protection against natural disasters, etc.

In recent decades, the concept of environmental services (or ecosystem services) has become more prominent: firstly, because the effects of climate change are becoming more compelling, and secondly, because the copious benefits of ecosystems for human habitation have been calculated and quantified in monetary terms. One of the most significant studies in this regard was the EU’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), published by the United Nations.

Many environmental services are essential for life and could not be replaced by artificial alternatives, either because current technology would be unable to provide them or because they would simply not be feasible in economic terms.

What are the objectives of green infrastructures?

According to the European Environment Agency, the potential benefits of green infrastructure, according to the main environmental services, are those listed below.

  • Supply services

Water management:

  • Sustainable drainage systems and reduced runoff.
  • Promoting water infiltration.
  • Water purification.

Food production and safety:

  • Food supply and production of raw materials.
  • Maintaining the fertility of agricultural land.
  • Development of soil and the nutrient cycle.
  • Prevention of soil erosion.
  • Regulatory services

Adapting to climate change:

  • Mitigating the urban heat island effect.
  • Increasing the resilience of ecosystems to climate change.
  • Water storage, reducing runoff and the risk of flooding.

Climate change mitigation:

  • Carbon sequestration and storage.
  • Promoting sustainable mobility.
  • Reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling buildings.
  • Promoting renewable energy facilities.
  • Availability of spaces for renewable energies.
  • Habitat services

Protection of biodiversity and species:

  • Habitats for species.
  • Permeability for migratory species.
  • Connectivity between habitats.
  • Cultural services

Recreation, well-being and health:

  • Recreational activities.
  • Appreciation of nature and space.
  • Air purification.
  • Tourism and ecotourism.

Value of the land:

  • Positive impact on the land and its ownership.

Culture and sense of community:

  • Local identity.
  • Opportunities for education, training and social interaction.
  • Possibilities for tourism.

What elements make up a green infrastructure?

Green infrastructure projects promote the recovery of degraded ecosystems (with special attention to wetlands, forests and river banks), the implementation of clean technologies, the creation and maintenance of green areas in urban and suburban areas and interaction with nature reserves and areas protected against human impacts. Common examples of the elements that make up a natural infrastructure include:

  • Urban forests.
  • Low impact construction and technologies.
  • Botanical gardens.
  • Artificial wetlands.
  • Ecological corridors.
  • Parks.
  • Urban trees.
  • Vertical gardens.
  • Green ceilings.
  • Sustainable drainage systems.
  • Community gardens and other sustainable agriculture initiatives.
  • Green alleys.
  • Road networks for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Renewable energy capture facilities.
  • Green school playgrounds.
  • Natural recreational and sports areas.

Each region and inhabited area has very specific characteristics, with advantages and difficulties for developing green infrastructures. There are currently many resources that can be applied to these projects, and it is expected that, in the future, the elements that make up ecological infrastructures will continue to develop and become more accessible.

What green infrastructure projects has Ferrovial been involved in?

To mention just two, Ferrovial has participated in the creation of the following green infrastructures in Madrid. These are, or are expected to become, iconic features of the city.

  • Caixa Forum. The project involved the transformation of an old electrical power plant into a cultural center that houses exhibition rooms, events and different spaces for leisure and discussion. The most recognizable and striking feature of the building is its vertical garden, designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. It is the first vertical garden in the country and covers an area of 460 m2, containing more than fifteen thousand plants, of 250 different species, without the need for a substrate. The garden has become one of the most recognizable and most frequently visited points in the capital.
  • Madrid Metro Building. In this case, the aim was to design and construct a building that would combine beauty, functionality and sustainability in equal measures:
    • All the structural elements are entirely functional.
    • The construction materials selected favor the creation of open-plan spaces, free from visual and structural barriers.
    • The open-space layout favors collaborative work.  
    • Energy efficiency is achieved by creating wells that allow the use of geothermal energy, the installation of low-emissivity glass, roof gardens and the use of solar panels.

The building is a candidate for the maximum Green Certification standard awarded by the Green Building Council Spain.

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