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Air pollution

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Urban greening: living lab will measure how plants help cities combat pollution

6. March 2023

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In 1946, philosopher and engineer Ove Arup founded a firm with the purpose of changing the way the built environment was designed and engineered. In the 75 years since then, Arup has become synonymous with some of the most ambitious, creative and future-facing projects in the world.

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Urban air and noise pollution are two major factors impacting the quality of life of city dwellers and causing significant harm both to our health and to the environment. A growing number of cities are considering strategic urban greening projects as a high impact economic solution to reduce noise and traffic vibrations and improve ambient air quality.

So how can cities leverage vegetation and green infrastructure to act as a barrier to these pollutants, creating a more inclusive urban environments and regenerating cities into healthier, more climate resilient hubs?

To test the associated benefits of green spaces, Arup’s climate and sustainability experts have teamed up with the Copenhagen Municipality, Aarhus University, the Lundehus school, and several housing associations and private companies in Denmark to design a Living Lab for Urban Nature.

Located in Emdrupvej, a street between Copenhagen’s Bispebjerg and Østerbro districts, the living laboratory will measure pollution at street level and test out creative solutions to improve urban space like flower planting, placement of vertical rain gardens and the reuse of building elements to design wooden urban furniture.

“By identifying the plant types that best reduce air and noise pollution, the Living Lab for Urban Nature aims to contribute to creating a resilient climate in cities, with better quality of life for people. ” Peter Vangsbo, Associate Director for Sustainability and Climate Service Arup

Living Lab for Urban Nature


The Lab’s pilot project will seek to limit biodiversity loss in the city of Copenhagen by encouraging urban greening on this neighbourhood’s roads and streets. Collaborating with the local administration, the lab will promote the role of urban nature as a buffer to climate hazards such as extreme precipitation, drought, or flooding.

Through its learnings, the Living Lab will partner with cities to evaluate the strategic use of plants in the urban environment for reducing pollution, improving residents’ health and to support the creation of green neighbourhoods – ultimately enhancing a city’s resilience.

On a Visit in the Living Lab the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen says;

“Biodiversity is the key feature in future urban development, and I, as the Mayor of Copenhagen look forward to make Copenhagen greener for the benefit of nature, wildlife and all copenhageners” (…) “the Living Lab for Urban Nature in Copenhagen is truly exciting and showcases the potential in utilizing the grey overseen square meters in the city, for establishing urban nature. Personally, I’m looking forward to following the development where local forces are motivated by taking responsibility for making their neighborhood greener.” said Lord Mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen when she visited the Living Lab for Urban Nature on Emdrupvej in the Eastern part of Copenhagen.


Urban vegetation is a scalable solution that provides a suite of positive outcomes for cities – ecological, social, and economic – all essential in the context of climate resilience and adaptation. To better regulate pollution and mitigate climate risks, we need to think about what plants can be planted where as part of the urban fabric. For example, adding large trees to street canyons – streets with buildings on both sides –  may reduce vibration and noise waves, while low vegetation or green roofs close to busy streets can improve air quality by increasing deposition.