The Breathe/Respirar programme is driven by recognition of the global social and environment challenges we are facing and the role of cities in developing solutions, including through the design and implementation of green infrastructure and other nature-based solutions.

People standing round  green barrier and tree outside school

For more information about the project, please contact Dr Miguel Kanai at

(Extracted and adapted from Fabio, Kanai and Astbury, 2020)

We are facing a planetary crisis as a result of human disruption of the Earth System and its manifold consequences (Hamilton, 2017). Meeting the environmental challenge requires understanding how city making increasingly implicates land management. In the context of the thorough and extensive urbanisation of the world, cities not only house humanity’s majority but also produce footprints that reach far beyond city limits: peri-urban zones exhibit widening buffers and lengthy urbanisation corridors proliferate (Soja and Kanai, 2014; Kanai and Schindler, 2018). Furthermore, high levels of resource consumption and the concentration of command and control functions mean that what happens and is decided in cities affect broad swaths of the planet. Thus, city-building professions have begun to redefine their remits, spatial focus and assumptions about what constitutes the urban realm (Burdett and Kanai, 2005; McHale et al., 2015), and global sustainability strategies no longer question the central role that cities are to play in sustainable development (Parnell, 2015).

Sustainable cities have intrinsic value. Their urgency is given by the sheer number of people impacted by environmental threats in urban areas. The devastating impacts of urban air pollution on human health constitute a case in point. In 2016 91% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met and ambient air pollution was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide. (WHO, 2016)

Evidence is accumulating on how and where green infrastructure, including green barriers/living fences, can reduce the ground-level concentrations of pollutants (Hewitt, Ashworth and MacKenzie, 2020). Landscape disciplines should inform these efforts, providing expertise on the selection of optimal plant species, integration of green layers to existing built environments, and designs that will garner public interest and raise awareness about urban air pollution (sources, consequences and ways to abate it) as well as other environmental challenges. Biological, chemical and physical scientists are needed to model and analyse the effects of these interventions, while social scientists explore how to engage people in transforming their relationships with nature, and accessing corresponding health and wellbeing benefits and opportunities for new livelihoods. Such multidisciplinary approaches can contribute to redefining the way cities work with emphasis shifting toward collaborating with nature to improve quality of life for all inhabitants.   

The Breathe/Respirar projects address the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

Good health and wellbeing, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, life on land


Burdett, Richard and Miguel Kanai. “City-building in an age of global urban transformation.” In Richard Burdett and Sarah Ichioka (eds.) Cities: People, Society, Architecture: 10th International Architecture Exhibition - Venice Biennale, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2006, 3–23.

Fabio, Verónica, Kanai, J. Miguel and Janice Astbury. “A New Landscape Architecture: The living fences experience of Bueno Aires.” 4D Journal of Landscape Architecture and Garden Art. no. 55-56 (2020): 54-64.

Hamilton, Clive. Defiant Earth: The fate of humans in the Anthropocene. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

Hewitt, C. Nick, Kirsti Ashworth, and A. Rob MacKenzie. "Using green infrastructure to improve urban air quality (GI4AQ)." Ambio 49, no. 1 (2020): 62-73.

Kanai, J. Miguel and Seth Schindler. Peri-urban promises of connectivity: Linking project-led polycentrism to the infrastructure scramble. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 2019; 51(2): 302-22.

McHale, Melissa R., Steward TA Pickett, Olga Barbosa, David N. Bunn, Mary L. Cadenasso, Daniel L. Childers, Meredith Gartin et al. "The new global urban realm: complex, connected, diffuse, and diverse social-ecological systems." Sustainability 7, no. 5 (2015): 5211-5240.

Parnell, Susan. "Defining a global urban development agenda." World Development 78 (2016): 529-540.

Soja, Edward and Miguel Kanai. The urbanization of the world. In Neil Brenner (ed.) Implosions/Explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization. Berlin: Jovis, 2014, 142-159.

World Health Organisation. “Ambient Air Pollution: A Global Assessment of Exposure and Burden of Disease.” (2016).