A TREASURE OF SOIL
Soil is a living ecosystems essential for human health and the environment. Through his functions it contributes to the so-called ecosystem services, i.e. “the benefits that persons receive from the ecosystems”.
But soil is a limited and non-renewable resource, and if we do not stop its consumption, it will be impossible to feed the world’s population, stop the loss of biodiversity and counteract the effects of climate change.
One of the main threats to its conservation is its sealing through the use of asphalt and cement, as the increasingly frequent phenomena of hydrogeological instability and the “desertification” of the lowland areas tell us.
The travelling exhibition “A treasure of soil” realized within the European project SOS4Life, intends to illustrate the extraordinary richness of soil through its ecosystem functions and demonstrate that halting its consumption is possible through the systematic application of the concepts of recovery and urban regeneration, and testing of de-sigillazione projects. Not to forget that the disused, abandoned or unfinished buildings in our cities are an open wound in the landscape, and the testimony of our mistakes
To tackle the emergencies linked to soil, and to reduce the risk of compromising the Union’s food security, the European Commission has established that European policies must target the 2050 net consumption of zero soil (no net land take), and a reduction in the average rate of land use in the period 2000-2020 not exceeding 800 sq km / year (equivalent to more than 114.000 football fields).
Starting from these addresses, the SOS4Life project aims to contrast and monitor the consumption and sealing of the soil in the three partner municipalities (Forlì, Carpi and San Lazzaro), through:
- the evaluation of the properties and functions of their soils and specific de-sealing (de-sealing) demonstration actions;
- the development of guidelines for the mapping, management and improvement of ecosystem services given by urban areas;
- the proposal of a package of rules and operational tools for the management of recycling and and re-designing processes of urban areas.
Opposed is a photographic travel through derelict landscapes of the modern era, looking for their past and present.
A set of places, settings, lights and suggestions that reflect our value systems subjected to the ironic sentence of time: the set of relationships with the natural environment, the link with memory, the cultural aesthetic references, the relationship between what we consider necessary or superfluous.
“I try to be more precise: for him understanding did not mean placing the object of study in the known map of reality, defining what it was, but guessing in what, that object, would have modified the map, making it unrecognizable” (Alessandro Baricco).
Marco Valle works in Italy and abroad on environmental and social issues. His images tell the territorial criticalities and interactions with local communities. They explore the impacts of human activities on the environment and health. His works have been published, among others, by The Guardian, International, National Geographic and La Repubblica.
When man applies an artificial coverage to the ground – mainly for residential and infrastructural purposes – the consumption of soil is determined, because this cover compromises (completely or partially) its vital functions.
EUROPE (data: EEA, CORINE Land Cover (CLC)
- 1.000 km² of soil consumption/year (= 142.000 football pitches).
- 683 km² of soil consumption/year (= 98.000 football pitches)
- 117.000 km² of soil sealed in 2012
ITALY (data: ISPRA)
- 21.100 km² of soil consumed = 7 % of the territory
- + 250 km² of soil consumption compared to 2013 (= 35 ha/day)
- 4 m² of soil lost every second
- 23.062 km² of soil consumed = 7.65 % of the territory
- + 54 km² of soil consumption compared to 2016 (= 15 ha/day)
- 2 m² of soil lost every second
EMILIA ROMAGNA (data: ISPRA)
- 2.155 km² of soil consumed = 9.6 % of the territory
- + 10.77 km² (+ 0.5 %) of soil consumption compared to 2012
- 2.216 km² of soil consumed = 9.87 % of the territory
- + 4.56 km² (+ 0.21 %) of soil consumption compared to 2016
The largest terrestrial storage of organic carbon — approximately three times the current carbon present is the atmosphere — is in the soil thanks to its capacity to store and, under certain conditions, to “sequestrate” it.
There is evidence that the organic carbon present in the soil has a twofold effect: improves soil quality by increasing its water holding capacity, safeguarding it from erosion and increasing its fertility, and contributes to mitigate the effects of climate change due to emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. More carbon is stored in the soil, less carbon dioxide is released into the air.
Soil consumption not only reduces the area available for storage and maintenance of the carbon free atmosphere, but that there was kept in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, thereby contributing to global warming.
- The soil and plants that grow in it, capture around 20 % of global CO2 emissions.
- Soil retains 4 times the amount of organic carbon present across the planet’s biomass plant. In Emilia-Romagna the carbon stored in the soil is 10 to 100 times bigger.
- It is estimated that over a period of 25 years the land can store more than 70 billion tonnes of CO2, representing more than 10 % of emissions generated by human activity.
- European soils contain 270 to 290 billion tonnes of CO2. In the top 30 centimetres, Italian soils contain 6,4 billion tonnes of CO2 of which about 7.5 % in stored by the soils of Emilia-Romagna.
- Around a quarter of the carbon sequestered in soil of the European Union is in peatlands of Ireland, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
As part of the work of the project SOS4life, it was estimated a loss of organic carbon stored in soil of more than 605.000 tonnes (of which 53 % to Forlì, 37 % in Carpi and 10 % in San Lazzaro), equivalent to 2,24 million of tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
Soil is home to 25 % of global biodiversity, providing with habitats billions of tiny bodies involved in soil formation and regeneration, and guaranteeing the survival of most of the surface species.
The essential functions of organic matter and nutrition elements are carried out by bacteria, fungi, algae and small worms living in soil, which contribute to the formation of soil structure and consequently to its fertility improvement; facilitate the absorption of substances necessary for crop growth; regulate the presence of pathogens.
But soil is also linked to the life of some surface species, in some cases for specific phases of their life, in others for breeding, nesting or feeding.
Reducing the amount of land available in urban and rural settings, means to reduce the biodiversity of the environment and disrupt the normal functioning of ecosystems.
- On 1 hectare of land they can live up to 5 tons of biomass, the equivalent of a medium size living elephant.
- A healthy soil may contain several species of vertebrate animals, different species of earthworms, 20-30 mite species, 50-100 species of insects, dozens of species of nematodes, hundreds of species of fungi and thousands of bacteria species and actinomycetes.
- A soil without worms can be 90 % less effective in retaining water.
- The soil contains the largest body of world, the fungus of honey. A single colony of these fungi arrives to cover an area of about 9 km².
Within SOS4Life activities, it was noted that the soils of urban green areas of the three municipalities can host a good biodiversity.
It is estimated that 95 % of the world’s food is produced directly or indirectly on soils.
The soil is the basis for agriculture, forestry and zootechnics, and the means in which all food crops grow.
Thanks to its properties, the soil not only provides nutrients, water, oxygen and support needed by the roots of all the crops, but also ensures the maintenance of a diverse community of bodies which contribute to control plant diseases, pests and weeds.
The availability of good quality food is closely linked to the availability of soil intact, not subjected to pollutant treatments and intensive farming techniques.
Using agricultural land for urbanisation, therefore contribute significantly to the reduction of food self-sufficiency of an area or even of a country.
- In Italy, between 1971 and 2010 the agricultural area has decreased from almost 18 to 12,4 million hectares, as big as Lombardy, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna together.
- Between 1991 and 2011, the food self-sufficiency of Italy declined by 10 %. Italy consumes more than its farmland is capable of producing, because every Italian citizen would need food for their own consumption of approximately 1 hectare of agricultural land, for a total of 61 million hectares.
- Edification is today the first cause of agriculture soil consumption. In Italy built-up areas cover 7.64 % of the national territory (ISPRA), but the Pianura Padana area, i.e. the largest and most productive agricultural peninsula, has an average percentage of built-up areas more than 17 % of the territory.
As part of the work of SOS4life project, in the three municipalities involved as partners it was estimated an annual loss of agricultural production over 657.000 tonnes of wheat equivalent to the annual energy requirement of approximately 238.000 persons.
Soils represent the largest natural filter on the planet’s surface..
When the water – rain, irrigation or other origin – reaches the surface of the soil, one part evaporates or is transpirated by the plants, a part streams on the surface, and most of it infiltrates. Water infiltrated into the soil can be temporarily stored and made available for plants, or it can reach deep into the water table.
Along this route, any pollutants present in solution or suspended in water, interact with the soil matrix, where they are trapped and modified, preventing them reaching humans and animals through the food chain.
Soil waterproofing, reducing the possibility of water infiltration through the ground and inhibiting its filtering capacity, helps to decrease the recharge capacity of groundwater and compromise its quality.
- Groundwater is the largest reserve of drinking water on the planet, about 20 times more than total surface water, but between 2003 and 2013, 13 of the 37 largest aquifers on earth showed signs of exhaustion, because not they receive water to restore themselves.
- The largest underground water reservoirs are in the great strata of North Africa, due to rains stored in the ground more than five thousand years ago, before climate changes transformed the region into a desert.
- Thanks to the ability of soil and plants to purify water, phytodepuration techniques of human waste water are spreading, especially in areas not covered by conventional sewage treatment systems.
As part of the SOS4life project, in the three partner municipalities a loss of 6% in filtering and retaining pollutants was estimated in the municipality of Carpi, 9% in the municipality of Forlì and 8% in the municipality of San Lazzaro di Savena.
A soil in good condition, full of natural pores and fissures, is able to let infiltrate and retain large amounts of rain water, by regulating the run-off.
As much water infiltrate in soil, indeed, the lower the surface run-off. In the event of heavy rain, running surface may increase the risk of flooding, cause erosion phenomena causing damages to the agriculture for the loss of fertile soil layers, and cause damage to persons and objects for rivers of mud, the silting up of reservoirs and water pollution.
Soil sealing in urbanised areas, soil compaction due to incorrect agricultural practices and reducing areas of natural vegetation, are the primary causes of soil capacity to absorb water and of even more frequent hydro-geological emergencies.
- 1 m³ of porous soil can hold between 100 and 300 litres of water.
- The trees reduce the run-off by 60%, the grass surface by 98 %.
- In Europe, from 2000 to the present, the flooding caused at least 700 deaths, the displacement of about 500.000 people and EUR 25 billion in economic losses.
- In Italy, between 1918 and 32.000, there were 1994 landslides with 5.939 between victims and dispersed, totalling 61,5 billion euros of damage.
- In 30 % of Italian land water erosion is responsible for soil loss of more than 10 tonnes per hectare per year. 24.9 % of Italian municipalities are affected by landslides, 18.6 % by floods and 38.4 % by landslides and floods.
- In Emilia-Romagna region soil consumption in lowland areas has increased the run-off by 3.5 %, with peaks of 20 % along the coastline.
As part of the work of SOS4life project, it has been estimated that the capacity for retaining water of the soils of the three municipalities partners declined by around 12.000 m³.
Soil plays a fundamental role on the comfort of urban areas.
Cities are subject to the so-called “urban heat island’, one of the most obvious consequences of high number of sealed areas, paved surfaces compared to green zones, and emissions of motor vehicles, industrial equipment and heating and cooling systems.
The perimeter walls of urban buildings, severely limit the recirculation of air and its cooling effect can even reduce the wind’s capacity to bring its benefits by 30%, while polluting substances and water vapour retain part of the thermal radiation emitted from the earth’s surface.
On the contrary, green spaces in the urban fabric serve as “pool” because channel cold air flows to the surface area by improving the air mixing.
- city centres are from 3 °C to 11 °C warmer than in villages.
- The plants are able to reissue 48 % of solar radiation via evapotranspiration, which decreases the storage temperature of the air.
- Thanks to its capacity of transpiration, an adult tree is able to produce low temperature of the environment equivalent to 5 low-powered conditioners operating for 20 hours per day.
- An extension of some hectare of green at micro-urban level can le lower the city temperatures of up to 2-3 °C.
- 20 trees offset the CO2 produced by a car in 1 year.
- The Italy produces 670 million tons CO2/anno. To compensate for this impact would require a forest area of walnut trees 4 times bigger than the entire national territory.
Soil organisms are a major source of chemical and genetic resources for drug development.
Soil organisms are an important source of chemical and genetic resources for drug development.
From the study of compounds that fungi and soil bacteria produce to fight other microbes, medicine is an example to develop microbial control mechanisms and new molecules.
In fact, many of the most common antibiotics used by humans come from soil organisms, such as penicillin, isolated from a fungus, and streptomycin, derived from a family of bacteria that play a fundamental role in the degradation of organic matter.
But as many are the drugs that originate from plants, many of which, to defend themselves and survive, produce particular substances that research uses to create new molecules and treat specific diseases.
The loss of soil and its biodiversity therefore reduces the possibility of Didi to develop medicines and antibiotics, increasing the risk of spreading diseases.
- 90% of the active ingredients used in pharmacies derive from plants: periwinkle, for example, produces two active ingredients from which a powerful synthesis molecule has been developed, used as a chemotherapeutic agent.
- Ciclosporin is a compound isolated from a fungus found in a soil of Norway, which allowed the resumption of organ transplants because it is capable of suppressing the immune reactions at the base of discards.
- Flavonoids, i.e. the compounds produced by plants to grow and defend themselves against ultraviolet rays, are used by man for their antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties.
- To tackle the endemic diseases in developing countries, and to control the chronic diseases of developed societies, the World Health Organization is committed to promoting the use of natural remedies derived from medicinal plants on a scientific basis.
- It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population uses natural plant-based remedies to treat their diseases.
The soil is the border between the atmosphere, the land and the waters that keep track of all the changes in the environment and human history.
As in a diary where the daily activities are recorded, the changes that have affected the Earth are recorded in the soil: the changes in the rocks from which the various types of soil originated; the time that the soils have spent on the earth’s surface or buried by rocks or other soils; the life of the organisms that populated the land that emerged; the variation or permanence of climates.
Whether it is on the surface still working, or buried in a succession of rocks, the soil does not tell us only the history of the Earth: it tells us also the history of the place where it is located and the impact of the action of man who has lived there.
The great plains such as the Po Valley, for example, formed by the deposits of rivers, have dozens of soils buried by the succession of floods during the millennia. From the study of these soils and from the remains of the organisms conserved in it, it has been possible to reconstruct the history of the last millennia, as the climate and the environment that now characterizes it have changed.
- The alteration of the rocks and the colonization of the organisms, are realized in extremely long times, of the order of hundreds or thousands of years. At our latitudes, the set of physical, chemical and biological processes that lead to the formation of a soil proceeds at a speed of about 10 cm in 2000 years.
- The oldest fossil animal footprints we know, are those of a small creature with legs that more than 500 million years ago crossed the bed of a river several times in the Yangtze Gorges, in China.
- A “Soil Database” is available in Emilia-Romagna, providing an extremely detailed photograph of the characteristics of the main lowland soils and some areas in the hills and mountains. For its realization, 35,000 sampling points were made and over 60,000 georeferenced chemical-physical analysis.
Almost all the historical evidence of our past is kept in the subsoil.
As the historic centres of cities, soil is an immense library which the archaeologists consult not only to seek the testimonies of social, cultural and economic activity left by local communities during the course of the millennia, but also to reconstruct — through its characteristics — the environment in which this is achieved.
Indeed, in a handful of soil are hidden many useful information also in archaeology, because thanks to observation of microscope techniques and interpretation of sediment archaeological taken from the Soil Sciences, pollen, seeds and chemical compounds tell us how man has interacted with a certain environment.
With the extension of urbanised areas and the invasive nature of modern infrastructure, not only valuable traces of our past have been destroyed, but also a homogenisation of landscapes is generated that erases their identifying past characters, leading the human beings to the lose memory of their roots and history.
- At the end of the last century forests covered around one third of overall land, half of those covering the land around 10 thousand years ago.
- In the soils of the reclaimed marshes, as in those of the Ferrara land reclamation, there are layers with a very high acidity and minerals not common in soils, such as pyrite, typical of the poorly oxygenated environments of the swamps and peat bogs of the past. The intensive agricultural works of the last decades have brought back to the surface the material of these layers, risking to compromise the fertility of the area.
- In the Po Valley, the soil speaks of the history of the communities that have inhabited it through the traces of the Terramare, of the “centuriation” – the subdivision into plots of land granted to Roman settlers and legionaries at the end of the leave – and of the drainage channels of the plain, the fruit of a wise work of transformation of the territory.
The soil is good. Live near green space reduces the perception of anxiety and creates a feeling of well-being.
Big or small, the green spaces in cities and in the countryside make people happier and are an excellent partner for their mental health.
A recent research, involving over a period of almost 20 years more than 10.000 adults, showed that living near parks and forests reduces cardiovascular risks, depression and psychological fragility, leading — at least partly — welfare equivalent to that achieved by other major life experiences, such as, for instance, having a satisfactory job or a happy marriage.
Contact with the ground, therefore, produces psychological well-being. This follows from the spread of gardening and horticulture, as well as their use in the treatment of some illnesses, especially among the elderly and children.
- Every Italian citizen has a per capita average availability of urban green areas of 31 m² (ISTAT data). The highest allocations of green areas are in north-eastern cities with 50.1 m², more than double of those of the cities of the Centre, Northwest and Islands.
- The most common type of urban green areas is represented by “historical green” which encompasses villas, gardens and parks and accounts for more than 50 % of the green public space in 8 Italian cities, as in Lucca where it reaches 87.8 %.
- For more than 40 years the free land of New York have been transformed into allotments where to cultivate vegetables and fruits of all kinds. Also in Italian cities the allotments are constantly growing, with 64 administrations involved in implementing them in 2014 (+ 4.9 % compared to 2013).
- In 2018, Italy also adopted its own “National Strategy of urban green areas”, in order to establish criteria and guidelines for the promotion of “urban forests and heterogeneous resilient health and well-being of citizens”.
The awareness that soil is a resource so essential as limited and non-renewable, requires that any urban change are prioritised the existing city and its many brownfield sites — production, military and rail — waiting to be reused for new functions, respecting the principles of environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation.
In order to do this, it is necessary to return to the city new green and permeable spaces, and transform the urban land to make them suitable for accepting meadows, shrubs and trees.
Regenerate cities with nature, means acting through the creation of green and blue infrastructure designed to work together for improving the microclimate and the management of rainwater, and converting abandoned areas or unattractive in public spaces greener and healthier, welcoming and liveable, dedicated to rest, leisure, play, sport and social interaction.
De-sealing is one of the most significant intervention of major urban regeneration schemes, such as those oriented to create genuine eco-districts, but also in the case of projects on smaller public city spaces, even pertaining to private homes.
Inq the framework of the project, the three partner municipalities of Forlì, Carpi and San Lazzaro will experiment the de-sealing through interventions that will release large portions of soil from the asphalt and cement, and restore them to green thanks to the contribution of new soil with its own proper vital functions.
From a parking area to “Garden of the Museums”.
The objective of the project is the upgrading and enhancement of the area outside the complex of «Museums San Domenico», home of the civic Pinacoteca and other temporary exhibitions. The urban regeneration intervention will lead to the green restoration of the current waterproofed surface, returning a usable space available to citizens.
The intervention, which will be carried out with Italian Government and local resources (“Bando Periferie DPCM 25.05.2016” and Foundation of Cassa di Risparmio of Forlì), provides for the demolition and removal of floors and structures of the current public parking up to the permeable layer underlying, which will be followed by the restoration to green by means of land and topsoil (recovered from an area destined for urbanization) to link up with the surrounding areas.
The area will be grassed, planted and equipped with furniture and cycle-pedestrian paths. The “de-sealing” intervention will increase the permeable area from the current 6% to around 70%. The green area will grow by 4,500 square meters contributing to implement the endowment of green areas and public spaces at the service of the historic center and the city.
From a storage area to the «Alce Nero» heaquarters
The project will transform part of the “Caselle” area, now home to the municipal warehouses and the Ecological Station, into the new headquarters of Alce Nero, the organic food Italian leader, and will be organized as a real sustainable campus: a living and evolving place, always usable by citizens.
The de-sealing activity consists of a removal of the existing cement and partial green recovery of the area now occupied by municipal activities, 75% waterproofed by the presence of 2,250 square meters occupied by buildings, squares and waste storage areas.
The intervention will see the surface occupied by the cement and the asphalt down to 33% thanks to the land and topsoil carryover to complete the urban regeneration intervention operated by the private: a river Park, equipped green areas, a parcoparcheggio, spaces for the training and laboratory activities.
Of the two new buildings, one will host activities and functions of the company related to training, work, culture of organic, knowledge and innovation, while the other will host the new headquarters of the city canteen that will work in synergy with the principles of food quality promoted by the private operator.
An old garden is reborn in the “Ex Bocciofila Malatesta” area.
An area set between ancient buildings and the historic streets of the center of Carpi, currently used for parking, will be brought back to the garden: a green space, usable by the entire city, a stone’s throw from the splendid Piazza Martiri, the heart of the city.
The Municipality of Carpi has dedicated to the experimentation of de-sealing a waterproof area of about 2,000 m2 now used as a parking area, located in the area adjacent to the former Convent of San Rocco, headquarters of the “Vecchi Tonelli” Music Institute and some welfare services of the municipalites association “Unione d’Argine Union”.
The project consists in the removal of the surface waterproofed with asphalt and cement, and its replacement with fertile soil and infrastructures destined for public green with attached cycle-pedestrian traffic. The area will be planted with native tree species chosen specifically to integrate into the architectural and landscape setting that characterizes the historic center, and will be completed with urban furnishings designed to further enrich the space.