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Edit 31 August 2021
by DANIELA Patti, UIA Expert

Impacts of urban forestry: innovative, socio-ecological and economic added values - ZOOM-IN

How is urban greening creating a new wave in our cities?  

We look into the experience from the City of Prato within the PUJ project through the four pilots' areas, with their innovative and participatory solutions. The render designs of four pilot areas catalysed great public interest around the PUJ project last year, therefore, it is now important to assess the real added value of these pilot projects and the benefits that they will generate.  

We explore this dimension thanks to the interviews with some of the partners involved in Prato Urban Jungle, namely the Municipality of Prato, with the Deputy Mayor for urban planning and environment, representatives from the Boeri Architects studio and PNAT, who are responsible for the designing of the pilot areas and representatives from Co-design Toscana, which led the co-designing workshop last September. To partners was asked to identify what is, accordingly to their involvement in the project, the innovative solutions integrated in the pilot areas, their added value and, from a broader perspective, what PUJ has generated and how the project can be sustained in the long run.  

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Stefano Boeri Architects - Estra headquarter

Stefano Boeri Architects - EPP buildings in via Turchia

PNAT - covered market at Macrolotto 0

PNAT - recreational park in via delle Pleiadi

EPP buildings in Via Turchia & ESTRA Headquarter

Boeri Architects is involved in the designing of two pilot areas: the EPP buildings in Via Turchia in the San Giusto neighbourhood, and the private building in the Soccorso neighbourhood of the ESTRA Headquarter. In the social housing in Via Turchia, the studio has selected plants to be planted directly on the ground. By doing so, the intervention aims to increase the surface permeability and enhance a sustainable land use. Additionally, the green intervention consist from small shrubs to bigger one, and from climbing plants. Overall, the urban forestation at the EPP buildings alleviates the heat islands effect, creates a common social spaces and through the vertical forestation it helps the insulation of the buildings. The advantages of the project are many, not least the improvement of social, physical, and mental well-being, along with the mitigation of air pollution, the improvement of microclimate, the increase in the aesthetic and economic value of the area. Boeri Architects approach this intervention differently from the famous “vertical forest” designed in Milan, which used a basin technology for the plants.  

EPP buildings, San Giusto neighbourhood

For the ESTRA headquarter, currently, they are facing and analysing a challenge in regard to the interior lighting once that the green façade will be implemented. It is important to study how the green façade will shade the natural lights and if it will compromise the achievement of the standards by the regulations. Additionally, the selection of the species played a key role in the designing of the projects.  

Boeri Architects joined forces with Studio Laura Gatti, a landscape designer with agronomic training, who has been working for over twenty years in the design and management of public and private green areas. Fundamental for the selection of the vegetal species was the degree of maintenance. Interestingly, apart from being a requirement and indicator of the project, this was also the main fear of the tenants of the EPP buildings in Via Turchia. Accordingly, the maintenance period of the different species has been taken into consideration. Therefore, in order to further optimize their maintenance, plant species with similar pruning season were selected.  

Covered city’s market at Macrolotto 0 & recreational park in Via delle Pleiadi

Also PNAT is involved in the designing of two pilot areas: the covered city’s market at the Macrolotto 0, and the recreational park in Via delle Pleiadi. For the covered city’s market, the exterior surfaces of the ex-industrial shed will be covered with plants managed with low maintenance technologies generating benefits in terms of environmental microclimate regulation, temperature mitigation, air quality, thermal and acoustic insulation, and rainwater regimentation. Indoor spaces, on the other hand, will host a local agricultural produce market and the largest “Air Factory”, an innovative system that completely removes air pollutants through plants. This implementation will, also, help to raise citizens’ awareness on topics such as air quality. Often interventions in urban spaces forget about the quality of the internal areas, while this time the fact of demineralizing a covered market will have a great impact, which could also be replicated in other public spaces and literally transform those in innovative covered public plazas.  Covered market, Macrolotto 0

Interestingly, the fourth pilot area completely differs from the others because the forestry intervention will take place in an area that is already green. The project is continuously planned for Via Turchia, where an urban greenhouse was originally planned inside the court. The decision to expand this intervention has matured thanks to the interest found during the co-planning phase with citizenship. Through the forestry intervention, the studio aims to give meaning back to a forgotten green area. In this project the main challenge is the engagement with a variety of stakeholders that can help to activate the area, for instance, institutions, schools, cultural centres, but also entrepreneurs. Innovatively, a hydroponic greenhouse, specialized in the production of a different variety of tomatoes will be built. Together with the urban greenhouse, there will be running laboratories, points of sale and kiosks. These will allow to directly process, sell, and consume the products coming from the greenhouse. Such implementations will transform a forgotten place into a new recreational area that will raise awareness on food and sustainability and spurring local economy.  Recreational park, via delle Pleiadi

Social engagement and sustainability

Co-design Toscana, instead, run Junglathon LAB, the innovative approach applied to a design thinking process. The involvement of citizens of the Soccorso and Macrolotto 0 neighbourhoods in the Junglathon path, aimed at raising awareness, citizen participation, civic imagination and co-planning of sustainable urban futures. The Junglathon was the first meeting in the neighbourhoods and the first contact of the residents regarding the concepts and topics underlying an urban forestation plan and Prato Urban Jungle. Particularly, the multidisciplinary team of Co-design Toscana disseminate the definition of ecosystem services and more precisely what are the benefits of such interventions, focusing not only on-air quality and CO2 emission reduction, but also the cultural and recreational services that these projects can offer.  

A new vibe in Prato

Most strikingly, PUJ has generated a great deal of attention in the city around the topics of forestation, and vice versa a great attention to the city of Prato from the outside. In the wake of Prato Urban Jungle, several exhibitions and events have started. Currently, there is the second edition of "officina jungle" at the Officina Giovani, the former slaughterhouses, which is, nowadays, the headquarters of the city's youth policies. For the occasion, there is an installation with greenery, talks about environmental issues, and all accompanying with music and events. There is, also, an exhibition on the square of the textile museum and library, where the consortium of “Santa Trinità” in Prato, made an installation, a temporary park, in which they planted three oaks. Hopefully, this will generate a demineralization project of the square and transform a temporary installation into a longer-term project. Additionally, Prato is also present to the Venice Biennale with an installation “CITTA’ NATURA, CITTA’ FABBRICA, CITTA’ PAESI” that unites all the topics they are dealing within PUJ. This testifies that an awareness of the city has been built on these aspects, which adhere to a green philosophy.  PUJ at Biennale di Venezia

Interestingly, also textile companies, which are carrying out some building renovation interventions, also adhere to a green philosophy. They are implementing green walls, and others forestation interventions, while others are connecting the LCA of their products with a decarbonation strategy, therefore making a link with the forestry plan. This is a demonstration that urban policies work and that different subjects are moving in the same direction.  

Take-aways 

  1. Innovation is not in the technology itself but especially in the way it is combined in the environment and how it interacts with users. This is particularly evident when we look into the Macrolotto 0 market and the use of the “Air Factory”;  

  1. Social engagement is key to ensuring long term durability and lasting impacts on the ground. This is testified by the experience of the Junglathon in the forestation actions within the housing estate of via Turchia; 

  1. The trickle effect of such innovative projects is often unpredictable but requires to be governed by a broad partnership, where the Public Administration has an important role in facilitating processes. This is evident from the various activities which arose as a spin-off of the PUJ project.  

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