Greening the urban landscape - the path to clean air


I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that we’ve been running our Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Awards this month. There were some wonderful nominations for neighbourhoods which make walking the easiest and most appealing travel option in towns and cities and people across the country have been voting for their favourite. Find out more and vote for your favourite place now.  

There are many benefits to urban walking. As well as the mental and physical health benefits of being out on foot and getting some exercise on your way to the shops or office, good walking neighbourhoods mean cleaner air and safer streets, due to fewer cars on roads and greener surroundings.

Research commissioned by Sustrans in 2017 estimated the value of the air quality benefits if England reached the targets set in the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, showing £297 million in air pollution benefits per year if just the walking targets were met. However, they also noted that there are currently reductions in health benefits from walking as a result of the number of cars still on the roads.  

Then there are the other benefits of ‘greening the city’. More green spaces and trees mean more leaves to filter out particles in the air, benefits from oxygen given out by plants and trees through photosynthesis, and more sustainable drainage of the urban environment.

For decades, we’ve been making our towns and cities less permeable, replacing green areas with paved ones and removing street trees.  Now that we’re beginning to see the more extreme weather events that are a feature of many climate change predictions, it’s all the more important to make sure that our urban areas are resilient to extremes of heat and rain. Green areas help to do this, absorbing rainwater so that it doesn’t flush straight into drains, where it can inundate the drainage system and cause flooding.

On hot summer days, green areas are where people who don’t have a garden can find some green shade to relax. They also help to buffer temperatures much better than paved or tarmacked surfaces which reflect the heat back, allowing it to build up. With an ageing population and the likelihood that our weather will become more extreme, more frequently, we’ll need urban areas that are comfortable for people of any age and a healthy environment for people to live, work and walk.

At the Ramblers, we’re campaigning to improve neighbourhoods across Great Britain. A good walking neighbourhood is a safe and welcoming place to be a pedestrian. Residents have easy access to streets with plantings and a variety of green spaces, and networks of green walking routes connect people from their doorsteps to the places they want to go. We’ve produced a Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods, outlining how we can make all our neighbourhoods better for walking. Find out more, and ask your local councillor to sign up, here.

Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood showcases some of the best of everyday walking; neighbourhoods where local authorities and community groups have improved local streets and routes for walking and with good access to green space. Discover our ten finalists, and vote for the winner today: