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Concrete in cities: What can we do to re-green urban spaces?


Concrete in cities: What can we do to re-green urban spaces?

In recent years, the phenomenon of the ‘concretisation’ of cities has become the subject of widespread public debate. In many cities, it can be seen that public spaces that were previously green and welcoming are now often dominated by concrete surfaces. What is ‘concretosis’, what are its causes and consequences, and what can we do to re-green urban spaces?

What is concretosis?

Concretosis is the term used to describe the excessive covering of urban surfaces with concrete and asphalt at the expense of green spaces. This process often leads to the loss of trees, lawns, shrubs and other elements of green urban infrastructure, which in turn has a negative impact on the quality of life of residents.

Causes of concreting

Urbanisation and infrastructure development

Rapid urbanisation is one of the main factors leading to the phenomenon of betonosis in cities. In response to a growing population, cities need to develop their infrastructure to meet the demand for housing, jobs, services and public spaces. This process often involves concreting large areas to create new roads, car parks, squares and pavements.

New roads and car parks: The increase in the number of vehicles in cities requires the construction of new roads and the expansion of existing traffic networks. In addition, parking spaces are needed, which are usually made of asphalt or concrete. Such solutions, although practical and necessary, lead to a reduction in green spaces, which are converted into concrete surfaces.

Squares and pavements: The creation of new plazas and pavements aims to improve the accessibility and functionality of urban spaces. Concrete is often chosen as the material for their construction due to its durability and low maintenance costs. Unfortunately, this approach leads to the creation of ‘concrete deserts’ that are unfriendly to residents and negatively affect the city’s microclimate.

Aesthetics and ease of maintenance

Concrete pavements are often chosen for their modern appearance and ease of maintenance. In cities, where the pace of life is fast and human and financial resources are limited, hard pavements are seen as a practical solution with a modern appearance and easy maintenance.

Urban policy and planning

Decisions taken by municipal authorities are crucial in shaping public spaces. Unfortunately, urban policy often favours hard pavements at the expense of green space, due to various factors.

Wrong priorities: Municipal authorities often focus on the quick and visible result of an investment. Concrete pavements can be implemented relatively quickly and easily, making them favoured in short-term development plans. This approach does not take into account the long-term benefits of urban greenery, such as improving air quality, microclimate and the well-being of residents.

Lack of environmental awareness: Despite a growing environmental awareness in society, some urban authorities still fail to recognise the full benefits of urban greenery. Lack of knowledge about sustainability and ecology leads to decisions that favour concrete solutions. Education and the promotion of sustainable practices can help to change this attitude.

Consequences of concretisation

The phenomenon of concretisation in cities has a number of negative consequences that affect both the environment and the health and quality of life of residents. The most important of these are discussed below:

Loss of biodiversity

Concrete paving eliminates natural habitats for many plant and animal species. In cities, where green spaces are replaced by concrete, there is a dramatic reduction in biodiversity. Trees, shrubs, lawns and flowers are home to a variety of insects, birds and small mammals. The removal of these plants leads to a loss of habitat, which in turn can reduce the population of certain species. The lack of diverse ecosystems makes cities more homogeneous and less friendly to wildlife.

Increase in temperature

Concrete, due to its properties, absorbs and stores heat, leading to an increase in temperature in urban areas, especially during the summer. This effect, known as the urban heat island, results in cities being significantly warmer than the surrounding rural areas. Higher temperatures not only affect the living comfort of residents, but can also lead to serious health problems such as dehydration, heatstroke and exacerbation of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In addition, increased energy consumption for air conditioning to cool buildings contributes to higher energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Water management problems

The lack of green spaces in cities significantly impedes the natural absorption of rainwater. Greenery, including trees, lawns and shrubs, play a key role in rainwater management, helping to absorb and store rainwater. In concrete-dominated cities, rainwater has nowhere to soak, leading to an increased risk of flooding and waterlogging. Sewerage systems are often unable to cope with sudden and heavy rainfall, resulting in flooding of streets and buildings. Lack of effective stormwater management can also lead to groundwater shortages, which has a negative impact on urban flora and fauna.

Impact on mental and physical health

Contact with nature is of great importance for people’s mental and physical health. Urban greenery is key to reducing stress, improving air quality and the general wellbeing of residents. A lack of green spaces in cities can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Green spaces, such as parks and gardens, offer residents places for recreation, relaxation and contact with nature, which is extremely important in everyday life. In addition, greenery helps to filter the air, reducing pollution levels, which has a direct impact on the physical health of residents, reducing the risk of respiratory diseases.

How to green urban spaces?

The revitalisation of urban spaces and the fight against concretes requires a multifaceted approach. Here are some effective strategies that can contribute to the greening of cities:

Revitalising existing green spaces

Renewing parks and squares: Cities should invest in the revitalisation of existing parks, squares and other green spaces. Renewing paths, benches, playgrounds and introducing new features such as ponds or sensory gardens can increase the attractiveness of these places.

Planting trees and plants: Trees, shrubs and flowering plants not only improve the aesthetics of a space, but also promote biodiversity. Selecting the right plant species that can withstand urban conditions is crucial for long-term success. 

The One More Tree Foundation, an environmental charity, carries out tree planting campaigns in various cities in Poland and Europe. Through these activities, the foundation not only contributes to more green space in the city, but also engages the local community in environmental protection activities.

In addition, the planting of flower meadows is another effective practice for greening urban spaces. Not only are floral meadows visually beautiful, but they also play an important role in maintaining biodiversity by attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. In addition, floral meadows are relatively easy to maintain and can be an excellent alternative to traditional lawns, which require regular mowing and fertilisation. Planting floral meadows can therefore be an effective way to increase green spaces in cities and encourage wildlife conservation.

Biodiversity conservation: Creating habitats that are friendly to local fauna, such as insect hotels, nesting boxes for birds or ecological corridors, helps to increase biodiversity.

Creating green roofs and walls

Green roofs: Green roofs, covered with vegetation, can significantly increase the amount of greenery in cities. In addition to the aesthetic benefits, green roofs improve the thermal insulation of buildings, leading to less energy consumption for heating and cooling.

Green walls: Vegetated walls on urban buildings not only improve air quality, but also help reduce noise. Green walls can be installed on new buildings or added to existing structures.

Green public spaces

Planning for green space in new developments

Any new urban development should include green spaces as a priority design element. Parks, community gardens and green spaces should be an integral part of the planning of new housing estates, shopping centres or office buildings. Their presence not only improves the quality of life for residents, but also has a positive impact on the aesthetics and value of the property. The creation of such green areas also provides an opportunity to create meeting places and social integration.

Integration of greenery and infrastructure

Creating green avenues, green belts along roads or green bus stops is another step towards increasing the amount of greenery in cities. Integrating greenery with urban infrastructure not only improves the aesthetics of the surroundings, but also contributes to improved air quality and noise reduction. Such solutions are particularly important in areas with heavy traffic, where clean air and natural elements can significantly improve the living comfort of residents.

Pocket forests

Pocket forests are small wooded areas, often located in the city centre or in areas where traditional forests are inaccessible. These microforests are designed to provide residents with access to nature, even in the middle of an urban concrete jungle. Despite their small size, pocket forests can play an important role in improving air quality, absorbing CO2 and preserving the biodiversity of urban biota. Their presence can also benefit the mental health of residents, creating oases of peace and relaxation in the heart of the city. Initiatives to create pocket forests are increasingly appearing in various cities around the world, providing an inspiring example for other places seeking to increase green urban spaces.

Education and community engagement

Education campaigns: Organising information campaigns on the benefits of green spaces can increase public awareness and encourage residents to actively care for urban greenery.

Involvement of residents: Creating programmes where residents can participate in planting trees, establishing gardens or caring for parks fosters a sense of community and responsibility for public spaces.

Workshops and training: Organising workshops and training on ecology, urban gardening and green space management can provide residents with practical knowledge and skills. It is worthwhile to take advantage of the knowledge offered by highly specialised environmental organisations.

Support programmes and financial incentives

Grants and tax incentives: Local authorities can introduce grant schemes or tax incentives for property owners who decide to create green spaces on their plots, such as green roofs, gardens or small parks.

Public-private partnerships: cooperation with the private sector can accelerate the greening of cities. Companies can be encouraged to create green spaces in return for tax or other support benefits.

Social programmes: Initiatives such as urban community gardens, where residents grow vegetables and flowers together, can be supported by local authorities by providing tools, seeds or technical support.

Greening urban spaces requires an integrated approach that combines investment in existing green spaces, the creation of new green spaces and community education and engagement. The introduction of green roofs and walls, the prioritisation of green spaces in urban planning and financial support programmes can make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in cities. Examples of good practice from other countries can serve as inspiration for creating sustainable and environmentally friendly cities.

Examples of good practice with green cities

Vienna, Austria

Vienna has long been an example of a city that invests in green infrastructure, while at the same time being committed to sustainability. Over the years, the city has created numerous parks, urban gardens and green roofs that provide an oasis of tranquillity and relaxation for residents. As part of its policy, the city also promotes tree planting programmes and the establishment of community gardens, encouraging residents to actively participate in the greening of urban spaces.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a city that consistently focuses on sustainability and the integration of greenery into urban infrastructure. The city promotes the use of bicycles through the development of cycling infrastructure and programmes that encourage residents to get around the city on two wheels. In addition, Copenhagen is expanding its network of parks and green spaces, which provide recreational and meeting places for residents. The city is also prioritising green architectural solutions by promoting energy-efficient construction and green roofs.


Known as the ‘City in a Garden’, Singapore is a role model for integrating greenery into urban spaces. The city has been investing in the expansion of parks, botanical gardens and green buildings for years. In addition, Singapore is working hard to clean up and rehabilitate degraded land, transforming it into new green spaces. Advanced technologies and innovative approaches are also being used to pioneer green infrastructure solutions, such as pioneering green buildings and rainwater-based irrigation systems.


Concrete urban sprawl is a problem that requires immediate action. The revitalisation of green spaces, the creation of green roofs and walls, the planning of new public spaces and the education and involvement of communities are key to bringing nature back into urban spaces. By investing in green space, we not only improve the quality of life for residents, but also contribute to the sustainability of cities.