Gardens in motion will change urban environments

@IE University

When you show people an urban bus with a garden on top, it is easier for them to believe that everything is possible

Some innovative ideas do more than solve practical problems – they bring a smile to people’s faces. Spanish artist and entrepreneur Marc Grañén has achieved this with his patented Phytokinetic technique, which plants gardens atop road vehicles, from city buses to a builder’s van. “It’s quite a simple idea,” he says. “It’s a roof garden, only moving.”

Grañén’s life changed in 2011. The construction company he was running went bust in the midst of Spain’s economic crisis. “From one day to the next, I found myself with nothing. I went back to gardening, which is what I had always done. Then one day I happened to see a photograph of Barcelona’s buses – many bunched together, viewed from the top. Added up, I saw that they had a lot of empty space. And I thought: why not make that a green roof?”

He started greening buses and private vehicles in his home province of Girona, Catalonia, and now there are gardens in motion on the streets of Córdoba and Istanbul, as well as projects in India, South Korea and Uganda.

Grañén is aware that barely 20 square meters of greenery sprouting from the roof of a city bus is but a drop in the ocean in the battle against climate change. But for him, his key role is to inspire people to think differently about nature, cities, and change urban environments.

GARDENS IN MOTION WILL CHANGE URBAN ENVIRONMENTS I.jpgA Phytokinetic bus on a street in Catalonia, Spain. Photo: phytokinetic.net

“We can green a whole city like Los Angeles, Berlin or London, covering every surface, but it would mean nothing if we don’t stop polluting as we are doing. The real change is the concept. When you show people different types of greening, like an urban bus with a garden on top, it is easier for them to believe that everything is possible. Greening is just a small part of the solution.”

“When you show people an urban bus with a garden on top, it is easier for them to believe that everything is possible”

Marc Grañén, Phytokinetic

Worldwide, cities are embracing the idea

In February Italian architect Stefano Boeri unveiled his designs for Nanjing Green Towers, two new office blocks in the Chinese city that will become columns of foliage with 2,500 cascading plants and shrubs embellishing their façades, and a total of 1,100 trees throughout. After their scheduled completion in 2018 in the Yangtze River economic zone, the towers will absorb 25 tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to Boeri, whose Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is already a spectacular feature of the Milan skyline.

Boeri told UK newspaper the Guardian that his plans for greening China’s pollution-prone urban areas are far more extensive, including wholly sustainable “forest cities” that would constitute “something more serious in terms of a contribution to changing the environmental urban conditions in China.”

Boeri believes the Chinese authorities are realizing that they must transform their urban planning to create more sustainable and liveable cities. In Nanhai the Thousand Lantern Lake Park is built on former industrial ground and gives a new city a people-oriented focus.

GARDENS IN MOTION WILL CHANGE URBAN ENVIRONMENTS II.jpgThe Madrid Río project has re-greened the city’s once polluted and neglected Manzanares river. Photo: madrid.es

Madrid is another place that has created urban parkland to reclaim downtown areas that had become inhospitable and inhuman. The Madrid Río project has re-greened the city’s once polluted and neglected Manzanares river, inspiring a remarkable recolonization by wildlife. Herons now stalk between its banks and a diversity of duck species and even otters swim among its reeds. River projects in Singapore, Moscow and New York are also creating verdant splashes amid the urban sprawl.

Greening means opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Grañén, who has recently signed deals with insulation company Knauf, which makes the lightweight, hydroponic base for his urban gardens, and Sempergreen, a Dutch company that supplies him with succulent and hardy sedum plants for his green carpets. There is no reason, he says, why a green layer should not become standard on flat urban surfaces of all kinds.

Grañén – who describes himself as an artist, educator and businessman, in that order – juggles his Phytokinetic business with projects to create “edible green walls” in schools that grow food for children’s meals. “I have been in very deprived areas, from Barcelona to India, and it’s amazing to see how open all children are to the awesome power of plants. Beyond business success, the main thing I have discovered is the importance of sharing. We have to walk away from the Gollum effect of ‘my treasure, my treasure’.”

**The Report Company – James Badcock for IE University