How Green are Town Centres?

Our town and city centres are the traditional focal point of urban areas. However, many town centres are in decline as the retail sector contracts and high streets struggle to maintain footfall that supports the very life of the town centre. Therefore, it is important to ensure that our town centres maintain their attractiveness as places to visit, work and, increasingly, as places to live. Green infrastructure can and should be a key element in the regeneration and creation of attractive, accessible and liveable urban centres. The infographic below demonstrates how green the town and city centres are of the six most populous urban areas within Scotland.

Click on the infographic to enlarge it.

how green are town centres infographic

Town centre change

The town and city centres at the heart of urban areas perform as the main shopping areas, as transport hubs, and as places of business and work. Urban centres also contain a variety amenities and services, and provide leisure and recreational opportunities that attract visitors. However, as the retail sector restructures, many high streets have been hit hard by shop closures and contain many vacant units. In 2021 alone, 4 shops a day closed across Scotland, with an overall net loss of 751.

In addition, the decentralisation of offices and businesses, and the more recent trend for remote working, has reduced footfall in town centres. Relocation of employment to peripheral areas is likely to increase car journeys as these areas lack the public transport connectivity of town centres. A further negative impact is that workers are likely to be less active and to enjoy a smaller range (if any) of amenities, places to go and things to do during breaks, and before and after work.

The results of these changes mean that town centres become less attractive places to visit, which in turn reduces footfall. This cycle of decline makes it harder for the remaining shops and businesses to survive. However, the changes affecting town centres present an opportunity to integrate green infrastructure as part of regeneration efforts to sustain these important urban areas.

Town centre greenness

Recent research used remote sensing tools to identify town centres and estimate their greenness. The town centre boundaries were identified using the Consumer Data Research Centre’s (CDRC’s) Retail Centre Typology, rather than using the areas identified by local authorities. Greenness was estimated by applying the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) method. The index estimates the amount of vegetation in an area, with a higher result (up to a maximum of 1.0) indicating higher levels of living vegetation. Tree cover was estimated using the i-Tree Canopy tool.

The infographic illustrates results from the research for the six largest cities and towns in Scotland. Each urban centre is represented by a 3D isometric graphic. The scores achieved are illustrated by the size of the greenspace shown, and the number of tree symbols. The results suggest that the greenness of urban centres is variable. Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is generally well provided with greenspaces and tress across the whole city. However, the city centre is densely developed on a grid pattern layout and scores lowest for greenness, with an NDVI of 0.02. Motherwell town centre scores the highest, with an NDVI of 0.13. Edinburgh city centre may have been expected to score more highly, given the presence of Princes Street Gardens. However, the score may reflect how the town centre boundary has been drawn in the research project.

Green infrastructure opportunities

As well as creating an attractive environment that encourages people to visit and spend time in a town centre, multi-functional green infrastructure has an important part to play in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. For example, trees provide shade during times of high temperature, greenspace provides places to meet and socialise, and greening of streets and buildings helps to manage rainfall run-off, reducing the risk of surface water flooding.

If more people are going to be living within town centres, as is the expectation, they will need to have access to good quality greenspaces. So new spaces may be required as town centres are redeveloped to meet the needs of those living in the urban core. Green infrastructure can also incorporate safe and accessible green routes for walking and cycling to and within a town centre, promoting active travel choices.


Robinson J.M., Mavoa S., Robinson K., Brindley P. (2022). Urban centre green metrics in Great Britain: A geospatial and socioecological study. PLoS ONE, 17(11).

This infographic appeared in JONO Design e-news. The e-news is published once every couple of months and each issue contains a specially designed infographic.

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