We must green our cities to help combat climate change and promote well being.
I love Salisbury, it’s been my home city for most of my life and my children have grown up here. Its rural setting is a delight. We’ve swum in its rivers, walked its drove roads and woodlands, taken visitors to Stonehenge and the cathedral.
We also know there will be change in the next decades as the climate becomes unpredictable and we do know that it will be disruptive in different ways. Here in our low lying landscape, with its multiplicity of water courses and meadows, flooding is likely despite our council already considering steps it will take to alleviate this. Invasive pests are following climate change north which will threaten many of our most iconic plant species, such as oaks and plane trees. Our market square will be starkly bare without them.
There is huge anxiety about the effects of climate change. But all is not lost! There’s research that shows that if the biodiversity in a green space is higher it has a more positive impact on your mental health. So greening Salisbury will be good for all of us. It will have many other benefits, too. Taking action with other people can be fun. It will strengthen communities, and we will feel that we are not impotent, that there is plenty we can do.
Salisbury council has planted many trees over the last few years and that is to be applauded. But more can and must be done.
A few years ago I was asked by the council to design planting for seven roundabouts on the ring road. This was to cover each roundabout with beautiful flowering plants and my brief was to choose plants which would increase biodiversity, improve air quality and make lawn maintenance (by oil fuelled lawn mowers) a thing of the past. Many of our trees in these roundabouts are nearing the end of their lives and young ones need to be planted for succession. These must be climate resilient species. Sadly, despite the best intentions, nothing has yet been done but imagine being able to enjoy butterflies and bees pollinating colourful flowers whilst waiting for the lights to change?
In Mediterranean countries trees line almost every street, offering shade from the sun and cooling the air. We must learn to do the same. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a row of flowering cherry trees down the centre of the High Street?
Over the years records of electricity cables and other utilities running beneath our streets may have been lost but this could be an opportunity to map them. And perhaps commuters hurrying to and from work would have their stress reduced by the green swathe of tall narrow trees along a central reservation, whilst tourists will be entranced by the bird and insect life.
Young plants are cheap to buy so I suggest that the eyesore which is the back of the City Hall could be clothed by self clinging Virginia creeper. It looks after itself, requiring no trellis or wires and won’t damage brickwork.
I have a fantasy in which wisteria trails from high wires across Fisherton Street, pruned by the wind, as in the wild, and passing buses. Maybe unrealistic but we must think creatively and joyfully to make the change we need.