Cities can reduce air pollution by adding more trees and bushes along roadways

According to new plans, “living green walls” might soon be built along major commuter routes by Birmingham.

If these new plans are put into effect, structures in the city will be filled with bushes, trees, and other greenery that will help clean the air by the roadside. At least 900 deaths a year in Birmingham are often connected to air pollution via health conditions like cancer and heart and lung disease. (Related: We know air pollution contributes to disease; now a new study finds air toxicity also causes psychological stress.)

Birmingham Conservatives suggested the plans ahead of the May 3 U.K. local elections, and it proposes lining the city’s so-called “urban canyons” with green structures. Urban canyons refer to the confined areas of a city that are flanked by high walls made of concrete or glass, like roads with heavy traffic. Since pollution gets trapped in an urban canyon, surrounding them with green walls full of grass, climbing ivy, and other plants can help filter out toxic particles.

Plans for the proposed green walls in Birmingham would require an estimated £500 million ($700 million) of national funds to improve the city’s green infrastructure. Birmingham Conservatives wish to line the Aston Expressway, which is a major commuter route out of the city, and other “canyon locations” in the city with green walls.

Birmingham already has a green wall at Centenary Square in the city’s center, and London also has several living structures at sites like Edgware Road Underground Station, Westfield Shopping Centre, and Park Lane.

Councillor Robert Alden, Leader of the Conservative Group in Birmingham, shares that their vision includes not only providing commuters with cleaner air but also transforming the city to a “global leading Green City.”

He continued, “The plans Birmingham Conservatives are setting out will transform Birmingham with green infrastructure like living green walls being installed on city canyon locations like parts of the Aston Expressway to help clean the air around our roads.”

Councillor Alden adds that according to research, the walls can remove at least 40 percent of nitrogen oxide and 60 percent of particulate matter from the surrounding air in urban canyons. Earlier studies on exposure to these pollutants associate them with increased risk for cancer and heart attacks in adults along with lung problems in children.

The plans include the construction of a green infrastructure network across Birmingham which would include “living green walls, urban forests, micro-parks, and use of new technology such as ‘City Trees'” – 13-foot frames of moss covering with the cleaning power of 275 trees.

However, there are those who criticize the proposal, and some have gone on social media to voice their opinions. Lynda Spence commented, “Why waste money? It’s been like this for years. Give it to the NHS instead.”

The green walls aren’t the first “radical environmental change” planned for Britain’s polluted roads. Highways England is considering covering stretches of motorway with large tunnels to shield commuters from high levels of pollution.

For its August 2017 air quality strategy, the agency revealed that it is looking into the possibility of building physical canopies by main roads to soak up car fumes. Highways England is working on trials involving a material that absorbs nitrogen dioxide, which comes from diesel engines and can cause lung disease.

Highways England’s report stated that the agency is “investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbors.”

Tips to minimize pollution in the city

While plans for green walls in the city are promising, here are easier ways to minimize pollution in your city:

  • Bike, ride, or walk – Try to commute, carpool/ride-share, or even ride your bike to work. This helps minimize the number of vehicles that clog our roads.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets – Buy produce at a farmers’ market and support local businesses. When you support local farms, you’re helping reduce the impact of pollution on the environment since the food doesn’t have to travel around the world before it reaches your table.
  • Volunteer for an environmental cause – You can volunteer for projects such as tree planting to help make the city’s air more breathable.
  • Recycle – Recycling helps reduce the waste we produce and it makes our lifestyle greener. Check your city’s waste management site, take note of their recycling restrictions, and get your own recycle bin.

These smalls efforts will all add up if we do our part to living more eco-friendly lifestyles.

Read more articles on how to minimize toxic pollution at

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