Kyiv’s busy Dnipro embankment suffers from air and noise pollution from heavy traffic flows. What could be done to solve these problems? One of the teams from the Community Safari, a quest to identify green solutions for cities set up by UNDPin Ukraine’s Accelerator Lab, may have found an answer – a wall of moss that both cleans the air of pollutants and absorbs noise. We talked to the team about how they came up with the idea, and how they implemented it.
"It took us three attempts before we finally managed to implement our initiative,” says Anastasia Sakva, one of the activists behind the moss wall project.
“Every time we were about to proceed to practical implementation, we were denied permission
To carry out the project, the team had to obtain approval from Kyivblagoustroy, the capital’s landscaping and beautification department, to place such a structure on the embankment. Some staff at the department supported the project, but they were not in a position to speed up the process of obtaining permission for it.
“A lot of people at Kyivblagoustriy were excited to learn about our initiative, but, unfortunately, they are not decision makers,” Anastasia explains.
Why a moss wall?
Anastasia is a participant of the Community Safari initiative organized by UNDP’s Accelerator Lab in Ukraine, the Agents of Change non-government organization and the Green Wave EcoClub. During the safari, five teams scoured Podil district in Kyiv for nature-based solutions to urban problems. Anastasia says that as soon as she heard about the initiative, she immediately decided to participate.
"I thought that this opportunity and the experience I could get would be very useful," she says.
Each team had its own geographical location to explore. For Anastasia's team, it was Poshtova Square and the adjacent Dnipro River embankment.
“The embankment is an urban area where landscaping or some renovation are definitely needed. It looks pretty gloomy just now,” Anastasia says.
The team had several innovative eco-ideas. Anastasia recalled seeing that a CityTree – a pollution absorbing innovation using moss, with the same power to absorb air pollution as 275 trees, had been set up in London. She suggested to the team that they do something similar in Kyiv.
“The London project was implemented by professionals, of course. We were trying to create a construction of same quality and utility, but on our own and without spending a fortune."
The main problems of the embankment area are air pollution and high noise levels from the busy highway that runs along it. So the team came up with a two-in-one solution.
"Moss has good air cleaning properties, and better noise insulation could be achieved if more walls like this were set up along the embankment later,” Anastasia explains. As well as being an environmentally sustainable solution, the moss wall is also pleasing from an aesthetic point of view, making the public space more pleasant.
People and change
The team underwent some changes during the project’s implementation: Some members left due to a lack of time or motivation, while others joined later, bringing their practical ideas to the table. It was definitely not an easy task to complete the project with such internal dynamics. Nevertheless, the team succeeded. Now the moss wall is making the embankment look prettier and, at the same time, acting as an air purifier and noise absorber.
The design resembles a large cabinet, on one side of which the moss grows vertically over the entire area. The moss is kept in place by a thin net, which serves both as a fixation point and as protection against vandalism. Water flows through thin capillary tubes from a tank above the structure, saturating the moss with moisture. Sandbags are located at the bottom to ensure the structure is stable. The team members came up with all these design technicalities by themselves, and then engaged a landscape design specialist who helped to prepare the drawings and found the perfect moss in the Zhytomyr region.
“(The landscape design specialist) Dmytro came across a high-quality clean moss in the local forest,” Anastasia says. “So we decided to take moss from there, and in this way we added an additional element of experimentation to our project."
Anastasia was looking forward to the moment when the team finally managed to get permission to install the structure and see their idea implemented. During the project, the team faced a range of obstacles, as they needed to develop the design solution and at the same time build up effective cooperation with the responsible authorities. The solutions and experience gained by the team could be scaled up, and moss walls of the same type could be installed in other places. However, the experiment is far from complete, and only time will show whether the green wall is a sustainable solution for urban areas.
Learn more about the UNDP Community Safari initiative and the UNDP’s Accelerator Lab.
You can also join an online group of environmental change-makers.
Text: in Ukrainian Yulia Hudoshnyk
Translation: Kateryna Kravchenko; Editing: Tetyana Kononenko, Euan Macdonald