Green infrastructure. From nature to the city

Galician cities have always been considered integrated in greenery as a matter of course for their geographical, landscape and ecological characteristics and, in this certainty, little or nothing has been done to obtain well-integrated public or private green spaces. Viggo is not immune to this situation. It is a dense city joined by a significant number of settlements surrounded by agricultural land and externally forested, giving it great diversity as well as complexity.

The municipality of Vigo is configured as a wide basin bordered by medium-high mountains and a narrow coastal strip of 20 km. long. It has approximately 108 km2 and a population of about 300,000 inhabitants, of which approximately 30% live outside the high-density urban area, in a dispersed habitat composed of settlements or generally traditional places, in which an urban continuum appears in some cases.

These places have grown over the last fifty years, supported by a fine network of highways or paths that even facilitate the emergence of new nuclei and remain connected to the parishes with which they maintain a sense of belonging and hence appear as areas of great social cohesion and represent a suitable mark of identity.

This form of settlement leads to the fact that the periphery, resulting from the historical development of Vigo, is not as usually understood with a negative connotation, but rather a collection of parishes that are, in a fragmented way, included in the city center. Boundaries are not like that, but rather have a permeability that turns interstitial spaces into transition zones. This fragmentation, which can create a problem of biodiversity loss, becomes an opportunity by connecting the fabric with a more rural image and the urban fabric with natural spaces and allows us to think about the possibility of promoting both attractive living spaces and healthcare and valuable agricultural productivity in various aspects. Agricultural activity increases the value of the landscape and improves the quality of the environment, creates jobs and at the same time offers local products that are increasingly in demand, both as an argument for sustainability and for improving the quality of food and life.

To all the above is added the survival of the mountains in common hands, which give rise to a vast untouched forest mass, not always well maintained, but in which public forest parks have been created as a sign of sensitivity to nature.

In Vigo, green areas or urban public spaces were originally reduced to two endowments: Monte del Castro and Castrelos Park, joined by the Alameda in the single space planned in the 19th century, and later the Gran Vía as a boulevard or green connector that currently is undergoing transformation, more with the intention of improving mobility than reinforcing this function, leaving aside the consideration that urban trees are the backbone of green infrastructure.

In recent planning, green spaces are designed as small lungs without any connection between them in the peripheral space and as autonomous units in the few empty spaces that have been arranged inside the compact city.

The time has come to talk about green and blue infrastructure in the city, understood not only as an element of the environment, but also as an element of the landscape.

As an example, the existing waterway, which goes beyond the municipal mandate, with a more territorial vision. Ecological corridors with these characteristics are those that guarantee the functioning of green infrastructure.

What was originally born as a green belt concept has evolved over time, from Olmsted’s designs for Boston in the late 19th century, to Abercrombie’s 1945 proposal for London, to models such as the Vitoria recognized for a green city. And so the approach to green infrastructure as an interconnected space through corridors is today considered the basis of an ecosystem that protects biodiversity, makes it possible to deal with the climate crisis and favors sustainability and social equality as a system of access for all citizens to the surrounding green spaces.

We are talking about different green spaces, not necessarily for recreation, but also productive, socially integrating, as urban gardens or as landscape elements of high cultural value.

In 2013, the European Commission defined green infrastructure as a smart and integrated way of managing our natural capital in a broad sense, with ecological benefits for biodiversity, social benefits and climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is understood as “a strategically planned network of natural or semi-natural areas, composed of various high-quality environmental elements with other elements of lesser value, designed and managed to provide a wide range of ecosystem services and protect the biodiversity of both the urban space and the environment.rural settlements”. In this sense, the Spanish Urban Program (AUE, 2019) and the National Strategy for Green Infrastructure and Connectivity and Ecological Restructuring, approved in 2021, are also expressed.

Planning

Thus, it would be a matter of implementing a planning strategy for our cities that moves from a fragmented infrastructure of free spaces to a proper relationship between inhabited fabrics and open spaces. This requires recognizing the structuring capacity of green and blue infrastructure, conceived as a way of integrating the city with its biophysical territorial support, giving settlements a positive connotation, with the aim of prioritizing active conservation against the ongoing abandonment of vast agricultural and forest areas, which characterize the traditional Galician settlement.

It would be more in the direction of defining what an agrarian park would be, in which nature permeates and connects or not, incorporating nature and the environment into urban planning and management, beyond the application of green spaces or open spaces defined by the law.

The intention here is not to present a project or make a planning proposal, but rather to propose an approach that allows the territory of Vigo to be understood as a space of opportunity to consolidate already existing infrastructure and create a healthier and friendlier city. There are, as already stated, relevant elements for this, its crown of mountains of great scenic value, the Lagares river system as a continuum that, together with the sea as a blue network, will allow the generation of integrated corridors, green wedges that penetrate the built space and its impart permeability.

Now is the opportunity to take advantage of the moment when a new general development plan is drawn up, taking into account that the system of green areas is not green infrastructure and that it goes beyond the borders of the municipality, covering a wide and continuous territory.

*Architect and urban planner

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