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From Milan to Melbourne, cities are finding natural solutions to urban heat

Milan is known as one of the world’s fashion capitals, so it’s fitting that the Italian city is addressing climate change and pollution in style.

The city’s history of manufacturing – it has produced everything from cars to rubber and textiles – has led to a number of abandoned industrial sites that stand in contrast to its churches and boutiques. Many of these are now being transformed to create cleaner, greener spaces.

This includes two former railway yards, San Cristoforo and Scalo Farini, which are being redeveloped by architecture firms OMA and Laboratorio Permanente.

The firms’ Agenti Climatici masterplan will see the disused sites become ‘ecological filters’ that will help address the urban heat island effect and pollution on a city scale. 

The 140,199-square-metre San Cristoforo site has been designated a ‘blue zone’, with a large basin to filter water runoff, while the 468,301-square-metre Scalo Farini space will be transformed into a ‘green zone’. This will include a large park and urban forest that the architects say will help cool hot winds coming from the south-west.

The former railway yards will become 'ecological filters'. Image: OMA and Laboratorio Permanente.

OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli said the project is an example of how priorities are changing when it comes to town planning.

“The most valuable currency is no longer ‘brick’ – the built – but rather the climatic conditions that cities will be able to provide and ensure for their citizens,” he said.

“The city of the 20th century, with its high energy consumption, must be overcome by reconsidering the principles that have marked urban development since the Classical era.”

According to the plan, only the public amenities – the water, greenery and bridges – will be fixed in place, while the surrounding buildings will be dependent on the city’s future economic developments.   

Melbourne goes green

Closer to home, the City of Melbourne recently unveiled its ‘Living Melbourne: our metropolitan urban forest’ strategy. According to the council, this is a way of using nature to respond to urban challenges. 

Developing the strategy included an assessment of land surface temperatures, which revealed where the urban heat island effect had the greatest impact in the city. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it found temperature hot spots tend to occur in areas with less than 3% vegetation cover and no tall trees.

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said increasing the amount of green infrastructure would help mitigate the impacts of climate change on the environment and people. 

“A healthy urban forest is crucial to maintaining our status as one of the world's most livable cities, and enhancing the wellbeing of our residents and visitors,” Capp said.

"Nature doesn't care about municipal boundaries, which is why it was so important for us to collaborate with Melbourne's 32 councils, the Victorian Government and other authorities to ensure a consistent approach to protecting and growing our urban forests."

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