Nature-Based Solutions for sustainable urban environments, functional connectivity, holistic approach, multi-stakeholder engagement and international collaboration
Are Nature-based solutions considered a novelty in the urban transformation process towards sustainability?
RS: Absolutely. I know that many people think that incorporating green elements in cities (trees, plants, blue structures, pollinators structures, etc.) are not innovative actions but, from my point of view, we have lost the perspective of realizing their vital presence in cities. Too often they are just being installed as aesthetic solutions, not as an alternative to solve the unsustainability of urban process, to solve environmental issues in cities, to provide specific ecosystem services nor to fight against Climate Change. It is obvious that cities have the necessity to change and to transform. Currently, our cities are uncomfortable spaces to live and some of the transformations taking place at the moment have been unsustainable. We need to transform our urban environment by bringing rural and natural items in it. I think it is impossible to transform our cities by just using conventional solutions. We need to innovate, and sometimes solutions can be simple and easy to find, in nature for example.
What makes this project unique?
LP: The project’s uniqueness is completely clear to us. It’s the functional connectivity among Nature Based Solutions that we will achieve. We will create green corridors that promote a “connection”. I think that this is the most relevant aspect related to NBS which makes the project special. We have realised that there was a lack, a very important lack, regarding the implementation of Green Infrastructures, Blue Infrastructures and another type of NBS: the absence of connectivity.
Many cities have also many green areas but like most cases these areas are installed only for an aesthetic purpose and are isolated. Nonetheless, it is necessary to provide functionality to these green alternatives and to allow the “communication” between them to increase their impacts.
Everybody knows the benefits of plants and water, and above all to address or palliate some Climate Changes risks in our cities. So why can’t we try to link these solutions in order to aggregate their benefits? A tree can provide oxygen but can also provide shadow, thus if we plant a group of trees, we will have a “tool” to reduce the heat island effect (by providing shadow areas), and improve the urban biodiversity... The solution is the aggregation and integration of NBS, or “the connectivity”.
What makes this project holistic?
RS: The Cambridge dictionary defines the adjective “holistic” as “dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part”. URBAN GreenUP project has a holistic approach in relation to the urban concept of planning cities because a new concept, “RUP (Re-naturing Urban Plan)”, will be introduced and this includes a huge variety of aspects:
- Innovation. We need to innovate in the design of novel NBS
- Demonstration. It is necessary to test the solutions in real time and different spaces.
- Monitoring and evaluation. It is essential to know and quantify the benefits of NBS.
- Replicability and transferability. The high-level solutions must be able to be replicated in other conditions, countries and circumstances.
- NBS monetization and new business model creation.
- Networking of projects, activities and stakeholders is essential.
- Tight collaboration among all actors involved in the NBS chain (local authorities, citizens, technology providers, end users, the academic community, etc.).
- Exploitation, communication and dissemination of the project results.
All of them will be seen as a whole during the project development and not as divisible parts - to make the inclusion of NBS into Urban Plans easier. They are complementary among themselves as they are all essential to make the project and its objectives’ possible. Working on these concepts in isolation would not lead to the same result.
We know that the involvement of multiple stakeholders in urban regeneration projects is a key success factor. More specifically citizens are now more and more empowered in the decision making process. How are they involved in the process and how can they turn into the initiators of this kind of urban re-naturing initiatives?
LP: It is essential to involve the citizens at the very beginning of the project in an actual NBS implementation that should occur during their everyday life. We know that this is one of the most difficult goals to achieve. However, we are fully confident that the co-creation and co-design processes are the best way to reach these objectives because with their real-world implementation, all the city and neighbouring communities are directly involved in those decision making processes.
On the other hand, the awareness and the ecological reasoning together with educational and social cohesion activities (all of them very related to Social Sciences and Humanities aspects) will contribute in attracting the attention of the citizens regarding the re-naturing process of the city. They will be able to verify in situ that NBS are real and full information about the project shall always be available.
Last but not the least, we should not forget the authorities’ engagement and this is translated into funding, agility and operability to implement NBS and re-naturing our cities.
The URBAN GreenUP project goes even beyond the European boundaries (it involves also 3 non-European cities). What is the strength of this international collaboration? Which are the main challenges related to it?
RS: The strength is on the main goal of the project: to mitigate the effects and risks of Climate Change and make our cities more liveable spaces.
Climate Change is a worldwide dimension problem, so it needs a global answer, involving many countries and the international community. Urban Green Project, as a demonstrative project, will try to establish a network of cities to prove the possibility of replicating the NBS implementation. This is the reason why we have involved European Follower cities (Ludwigsburg in Germany and Mantova in Italy) and Non-European Follower Cities (Medellín in Colombia, Chengdu in China and Quy Nhon-Binh Dinh in Vietnam) in order to display or spread a NBS global deployment and market.
The main gaps of these kind of collaborations are sometimes in the simplest but at the same time challenging aspects: time, climate conditions, culture, beliefs, costumes, etc. To solve these barriers we should use the same language- the language of NBS. These solutions are the current alternatives to fight against and mitigate Climate Change risks copying natural processes and using living solutions.
And this is why project partners from URBAN GreenUP will never stop recommending… “Think Green!”
Raúl Sánchez is developing his work as Natural Resources Area Manager, in the Agrifood and Processes Division in CARTIF Foundation and specifically in the Nature Based solutions sector as Coordinator of URBAN GreenUP project.
Laura Pablos is developing her work as Natural Resources Area Researcher in the Agrifood and Processes Division of the CARTIF Foundation. She collaborates with the coordination team of the URBAN GreenUP project and participates in the technical development that tackle the main Nature-Based Solution (NBS) environmental challenges such as climate resilience, as well as their social and cultural barriers.
15 February 2018