Designing green infrastructure

The challenge

Green infrastructure is increasingly championed as a way to improve the sustainability and resilience of cities. There is no comprehensive guideline for designing and planning green infrastructure. This means we miss opportunities to reap the full benefits.

In this article

  • How we're developing best-practice guidelines for planning and designing green infrastructure.
  • Combining quantitative and qualitative data to benchmark, map and spatially analyse green infrastructure case studies in Australia and the UK.
  • Using a comprehensive assessment matrix to help us understand the social, economic and ecological cost and benefit of green versus grey infrastructure.

There is mounting evidence to demonstrate cities rich in gardens, parks, rivers and green canopies are healthier, more socially connected and more ecologically diverse. Green infrastructure brings benefits for transport networks, productivity and social cohesion. It can attract people to live in an area with positive knock-on effects for land and property value and even reduce flood risk. 

However, there are currently are no comprehensive, integrated or conclusive technical guidelines around the design and procurement of green infrastructure or how to measure the benefits a project will have. Parisa Pakzad, a senior landscape architect in our Sydney office, is trying to address this gap.

Green infrastructure consists of any integrated, multiscale network of green spaces in or around our cities. The plant covered facade on your local hospital? Check. That leafy cycle path connecting two adjacent suburbs? You got it.

Parisa recently completed a PhD at the University of New South Wales, where she developed a model to measure the performance of these projects. She’s now translating these indicators into a set of guidelines to help landscape architects and urban designers to ‘green’ their projects more strategically.

Solar panels and functional green infrastructure. Photo: Ross Helen

Resilient Resources

“A good project should provide more than one benefit,” says Parisa. A green roof can provide biodiversity, retain rainwater and reduce heat flux, helping to save energy on cooling and heating. A public park that is designed for recreational purposes can achieve momentum with wise design and might double as a water catchment and carbon offset, while providing a habitat to facilitate wildlife movement. Parisa believes the best way to maximise the performance of our green infrastructure is to have a number of best-practice principles which are prioritised at the beginning of the planning process and followed from day one.

This isn't the first time we're put our minds to green infrastructure. Our Cities Alive: Green Building Envelope report explores the application of green infrastructure to the surfaces of both new and existing inner-city buildings in five major global cities – Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne and Hong Kong – to create a positive future for inhabitants. This thinking is being extended to recent research on Algae Prototype Panels. We've also been thinking through ways green infrastructure can help deal with rapidly rising urban populations, mitigate climate change and produce integrated solutions in the Cities Alive: Rethinking Green Infrastructure report.

While Parisa’s research focuses predominantly on Australasia, her findings can be translated to a number of cities around the world, from New York to Hong Kong.

“70% of these guidelines are universal,” she says. However, implementing tree canopies and other types of green infrastructure have limitations in an urban area compared with open spaces or suburban areas because of constraints in available space, street width, building height, street orientation and surface characteristics. These factors also influence the capability of green infrastructure to deliver benefits, particularly in microclimatic performance. The final piece of the puzzle is context. If the desired outcome of a project is to offset carbon emissions, understanding the CO2 sequestration and carbon storage properties of the selected plants should be given additional heft. After this, the location of the plants and other technical aspects can be considered.

With a number of cities unveiling large greening projects—from Sydney’s Central Park and Sydenham to Bankstown’s green corridor to the Green Grid —a guiding strategy is more relevant than ever if we want to realise the true benefits of a greener world.

Vertical farming, wildlife corridors, flood resilience, bee highways, and bioremediation. Sketch: Arup's Tom Armour, Global Landscape Architecture Leader


  • Quantitative and qualitative evidence supports the social, economic, cultural and ecological benefits of green urban infrastructure.
  • We need an objective and practical assessment tool to measure green infrastructure's effectiveness, costs, benefits and overall value.
  • This research established an assessment matrix consisting of performance indicators within four subcategories: ecological, health and well-being, socio-cultural and economic. Each sub category represents key interactions between human health, ecosystem services and ecosystem health.

This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Parisa Pakzad
Parisa is a landscape architect in our Sydney team.

Ask Parisa about

  1. How the team selected the key performance indicators for their assessment matrix
  2. How each performance indicator is weighted and how to adapt the tool to assess different types of infrastructure
  3. An in-depth look at the guideline and how to best implement it in your design or planning practice


Research TEAM

Georgia Vitale
Georgia is an Associate Principal and works in Advisory Planning and Design in our Sydney office
Phil is a landscape architect in our Sydney team.
Tom leads our Global Landscape Architecture practice from the UK.
Joe works with our Landscape Architecture team in the UK.
Penny leads the Australasia Landscape and Urban team from Brisbane.
Matt is a consultant in our London team.
Advisory planning, Sydney office

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