Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Experimenting with cities: news

Matera, European City of Culture 2019; and the Scandinavian Green Roof Award 2018

Matera, Italy, is one of two European Cities of Culture in 2019. Matera is an interesting city, one of the oldest in Europe with continuous settlements since the Neolithic. It was successively built and controlled by Romans, Lombards, Normans, the house of Aragon, Bonaparte, and the Nazi occupation. Equally, Matera is famous for its cave dwellings, including houses, churches and workshops, carved into the calcareous rock, in the city centre, known as Città dei Sassi or City of Stones. In the mid twentieth century, the city centre was an area with high levels of poverty, and living conditions in the cave dwellings were considered shameful. Many residents were evicted. Today, however, the historical city centre, including these cave dwellings, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (

The themes of Matera's year as the European City of Culture nicely reflect the transformations that cities undergo across history, and their links to the landscape and natural processes. They write:

"Ours is a moment of both material abundance and crisis in our relationship with nature and landscape, Matera will become a laboratory through which citizens of all Europe will be able to reconsider the value of what we have lost as well as what we have gained, reconnecting with experiences that have become unfamiliar in our cities such as darkness, silence, solitude and remoteness.
The Ancient Futures strand will ponder our millenary relationship with space and the stars and, following in the footsteps of one of the region’s most illustrious residents, Pythagoras, will explore the universal and age-old beauty of mathematics; at the same time we will explore the endless possibilities of remote futures, contemplating flying cities..."

"Matera’s path to the present is a story of ingenuity and resilience, but also of disgrace and redemption...Matera 2019 confronts our responsibility to collectively give shape to our cities and find beauty not just in theatres and museums but also in the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis.."

"From the tradition of the “transumanza”, the annual ritual herding of the cows across the Murgia, the instinct of movement is etched into daily life in Matera. .. Recently, like many other rural regions of Europe, it has lived through devastating bouts of emigration, only to see, in very recent times, the return of a younger generation attracted by the values that shape meridional culture.
Europeans have become more nomadic, moving more freely from city to city, and Roots and Routes explores the extraordinary possibilities of this culture of mobility that stitches Europe together. "

"Through this programme we set out to prove that art, science and the widespread practice of cultural citizenship can be the catalysts for a new model throughout Europe, is rooted in “the practice of everyday life”."

Sounds like an interesting experience in rethinking the role of the city, and questioning assumptions about living in cities. You can find out about the cultural events that will be taking place in Matera throughout 2019 here: Maybe needs a bit more about nature and biodiversity, though?

The municipality also has a nice infrastructure map of all the useful things you want to know when you visit a city, like where the public bathrooms are:

(Where is the tourist infrastructure for migratory birds, dispersing frogs, and hungry hedgehogs?)

At the same time, the Scandinavian Green Roof Award has been given for 2018. The winning project is very interesting: Called "The Greenest of the Green," it is an apartment complex in Helsinki. A wide range of greened surfaces are included in the construction, including green and mossy walls, kitchen gardens, orchards, glasshouses, and natural "biodiversity areas." The architects describe it as an ongoing experiment. They write, "it has offered a good possibility to test and develop a ‘green concept’ in housing, of which we are getting valuable information in the long run. We want to be among those who bring nature to the city and gain insight into how vegetation affects the comfort of living. The feedback we have got from the residents tells that we are on the right track – there is a need for these kinds of projects in dense city centers." You can see more about it here:

It would indeed be very interesting if green roofs and community gardens in cities could be set up and funded as long-term research sites, perhaps with citizen science monitoring to involve residents. And, whether they meant it this way or not, the architects' use of the word "experiment" makes me think that it would be interesting to develop green roofs and community gardens not haphazardly, but with a neighborhood or even city-wide spatial plan to test, over the long term, the mobility of animals and plants across different geometries, connectivities, and vegetation types and uses.

Photos are screen shots from the cited websites.

--Meredith Root-Bernstein
30 December 2018