Eco - March 2013
Rails To Trails
In New York
What city wouldn't love its own version of New York's High Line? Since it opened in 2009 - turning a disused elevated goods railway into a hugely popular aerial park-cum-pathway through Manhattan's densely urbanised Lower West Side - everyone seems to be launching copycat "rails to trails" projects.
The latest New York scheme is the 'Low Line'. Not yet off the drawing board, the Low Line has designs on the long-abandoned Williamsburg Bridge underground trolley terminal. Enthusiasts envisage it as a below-pavement neighbourhood park for the Lower East Side, complete with trees, plants, grassy spaces and piped-down sunshine (artist's impression pictured).
In London, a recent competition organised by the Landscape Institute came up with some decidedly wilder ideas, such as the 'Lido Line' — a special lane in the Regent's Canal so commuters could swim to work.
The winner, 'Pop Down', more plausibly proposed turning the disused Mail Rail tunnel beneath the city's busy Oxford Street into a cool mushroom-growing park, with sunlight brought down by fibre optics from the street above. Work begins on the project later this year.
The reopening of Sereikiskes Park in Vilnius, after a year-long refurbishment, should cheer all those who share the traditional Lithuanian love of trees. Sereikiskes, the green heart of the Old Town, is the oldest of the capital's parks. City-dwellers with a taste for wilder woodland don't have far to go either: nearby Vingis Park provides a well-protected ecosystem within the capital, with a wider ring of forest in the countryside all around.
Largely thanks to this greenery (and the absence of industry), Vilnius boasts the best air quality of any capital in Europe. In the European Green City Index compiled by Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit, its top clean air ranking helped it reach 13th place overall, the highest in eastern Europe.
And that's despite a legacy of Soviet-era buildings that leak energy like sieves; no wonder Vilnius's flamboyant mayor, Arturas Zuokas, is so pro-park.
He's keen on green transport innovations too, as witnessed in the city-wide electronic traffic management system and the E-Orange electric bike scheme, introduced in 2011. What Zuokas can't abide is illegal parking; he once drove a tank over an offending car.
Thanks to an innovative new system, Oslo airport is set to profit from a perennial winter problem. The snow that has to be swept off the runways to keep them clear - about 22,000m3 of it every year - is being stored in a specially constructed basin, the size of an Olympic swimming pool, behind the airport's new terminal extension.
A covering of wood chips in the spring will keep the snow cold until things start hotting up in the airport extension - the first phase of which is due to open later this year. Trickling icy water into the district cooling system, as the snow gently melts, is a smart low-carbon way to keep the airport buildings cool during the summer.
It's ingenious, but also obvious - ice houses were used for centuries before the refrigerator was invented. The energy saved will help Danish engineering company COWI meet its 21st-century target to halve the energy consumption of the new extension compared to that of the existing terminal.