Improving Pollution with Green Spaces

Rachel Campbell
Monday, 24th April 2017

Increasing green spaces in urban areas can help reduce air pollution. Even adding some plants to your balcony can help.

City centres across the UK are the epicentre for many businesses. With each year that goes by, comes growing numbers of commuters making their way into the cities for work and as such, the amount of traffic both on the roads and on the tracks, is increasing. 

Petrol and diesel that is used to fuel this growing number of traffic is contributing to the growing level of air pollution, which has now reached worrying amounts. In fact, the city of London managed to breach their annual air pollution restrictions in the first five days of 2017.

Public health is being affected by the rising levels of air pollution. Estimations suggest that there could be as many as 40,000 people in the UK whose lives are shortened due to air pollution, consisting of those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions.

Interestingly, research has shown, that in the UK as a whole, the levels of air pollution are actually decreasing, whilst air pollutions in the cities are increasing. This is partly due to the number of green spaces outside of city centres, which can greatly reduce air pollution from the local area around them.

There’s plenty that can be done to help improve the condition of urban areas and their air pollution levels, as well as the overall wellbeing of those working and residing within the city centres. If you are a city centre resident, you yourself can contribute towards the reduction of air pollution, simply by creating a green space of your own. With enough people on board, a multitude of smaller private green spaces, paired with much larger communal green areas such a Hyde Park could begin to improve urban air quality.

Introduce a street tree to your road or front garden

Research has found that the UK has one of the world’s largest percentages of children who suffer from asthma, but this can be significantly reduced with a few leafy additions to your street or front garden.

Did you know that a single tree alone is more likely to absorb air pollution particles more effectively than a multitude of trees in the centre of a forest? That’s because street trees are planted directly at the source of the air pollution, where cars drive through passing exhaust fumes, rather than in an area where pollution is much lower.

Street trees are particularly important along roads with houses or other buildings running along either side. The area between these buildings on either side is known as a street canyon, and air pollution can easily become trapped in this space. The impact of this pollution becomes even more severe on narrow roads with tall buildings, as the air has less space to move around and can be more easily breathed in by people within the area.


If and where you can plant a tree either in your front garden or along the street to do your bit towards helping your urban area improve its air pollution levels. If you’re thinking about planting a tree on the street, you should get in touch with your local council beforehand, to find out if you are permitted to do so.

The type of tree you choose to plant can make a significant difference to how much pollution is absorbed by it. Research of the common species found in the UK drew up conclusions on their ability to absorb and eradicate air pollution, using a scoring system known as the Urban Tree Air Quality Score (UTAQS). Alder, Maple and Pine trees are just a few of the best trees to introduce to your street, compared to Aspen, Willow and Oak trees, which have some of the lower UTAQS.

There are a number of charities that have a focus on introducing more street trees to cities, such as Trees for Cities, for example. You could offer your time to help them with their work, or even donate to the charity to help fund the work being carried out by them.

Your garden

If you have a tiny back garden that’s in need of a little TLC, why not spend some time turning it into a lovely little space to relax in, as well as to improve the air pollution in your local area?

With such busy lifestyles, many city homeowners tend to neglect their urban gardens, only to then regret the messy outdoor space as soon as the summer sun arrives. To begin making the most of your urban garden, begin by clearing out any waste that’s crowding the space. There are even some professional garden clearance services, such as Envirowaste, who will remove your garden waste if you are short on time.

If your garden is more of a backyard, with little to no grassy space, then pots and planters are a necessary investment.You could even think about using raised planters or stages, to fit in as many planters in your space as possible. Not only that, but raised levels will also ensure that your plants aren’t overcrowding one another on one level and that each are getting enough sunlight.

Make use of your fences and walls, too! Ideally, you want to surround the edges of your floor space with greenery, but with enough centre space for you to sit in and enjoy the garden. Using your garden fences or the outdoor walls of the house to add some more greenery will optimise your urban garden’s chances at helping with the local air pollution. Think hanging baskets, troughs, window boxes and trellises.

Think about planting multiple plants together, so long as you are aware of which plants ‘grow’ well together. You could even plant the various different herbs and vegetables to make your own favourite snacks, such as salsa, for example. Simply add some tomatoes, coriander, red onions and jalapenos to a planter and you’ll not only be helping reduce the air pollution, but you’ll be able to make a delicious homemade salsa in no time! (For more on polycultures watch: How to grow edible annual polycultures)

Use your balcony

If you live in an upper floor flat, don’t be disappointed in thinking that you can’t do your bit towards helping reduce your local air pollution. There’s much of what can be done in a smaller urban garden, that can also be done using a balcony. (Permaculture Pots: how to grow food in small urban spaces)

Add a couple of larger pots to the corners of your balcony, and add a few green plants that grow well together to each. Make the most of your balcony fencing, with a couple of planters that hang from it, or slot onto it. Fill with pretty flowers to add some colour to the area.

Even with a smaller urban space, there’s plenty of ways in which to add a bit of greenery to your area. Why not begin by trying it out for yourself, then speak to your neighbours to get them involved with helping to combat your local city air pollution? Little efforts such as this can make a huge difference in the long run when everyone comes together to make an impact.

Useful links

Five ways to grow edibles vertically

Permaculture Pots: How To Grow Food in Small Urban Spaces

Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Gardens