Enable webinar – How to make cities more just, accessible and equitable?

Footpath through parkIn follow-up to the first stakeholder dialogue this autumn, ENABLE hosted a webinar on how to make green and blue spaces in cities more socially and environmentally just to ensure that all citizens have access to the multiple benefits these spaces provide. This webinar brought together scientific experts who work closely with the local governments of Halle in Germany, Barcelona in Spain and Bologna in Italy to discuss planning strategies and the design of urban Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI).

The speakers presented research findings and shared practical experiences triggering thinking about socially inclusive urban development when it comes to green and blue spaces. The webinar highlighted the importance of the careful integration of accessibility and justice, including the various social and institutional factors in city planning. Tackling inequality is as important for the availability and accessibility as the functionality of urban green and blue spaces. For a successful and effective implementation, a close collaboration between ecologists, social scientists, urban architects and designers is vital.

Dagmar Haase, Professor of landscape and urban ecology at Humboldt University in Berlin identified fundamental prerequisites for a successful transition to a truly just city. She highlighted the need to integrate justice and fairness in urban planning and implementation at an early stage, which is not automatically the case. She emphasised that it is also crucial to take into account contrasting views of people affected by GBI strategies. Trade-offs between different needs are unavoidable but social sensitivity is a must and can be a way to benefit from the ideas citizens have for improving their neighbourhood and city.

The city of Halle in Germany, which is one of the case studies in the ENABLE project, can serve as an example to outline the co-benefits greening strategies can have. The city of Halle, being a former industrial area with downgraded housing and limited green infrastructure is developing the potential to be re-activated. Artists discovered the merits the area has and reinvented its character implementing innovative ideas such as colourful murals. Gradually, such reinventions and involvement in redeveloping the area, lead to the establishment of a neighbourhood initiative to create a new park in collaboration with city planners. Overall, such transformations fostered engagement of residents with different socio-economic and education backgrounds in the greening of the city.

Johannes Langemeyer, Postdoctoral Researcher on urban social-ecological systems at the Barcelona Laboratory for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, presented his views on the specific challenges of GBI planning in Barcelona. He has been investigating opportunities to enhance ecosystem services provided by green spaces and demonstrate their benefits to different groups in society. The research focus is on people’s perceptions of benefits of green spaces depending on their age, gender and social status. The findings show that the quality of green spaces are more important to young and elderly people than to the group of middle-aged. Another interesting development is related to how the city embraces digital technology for knowledge gathering involvement of citizens. Barcelona has been a pioneer in using innovative tools for participatory decision making. One example is on online platform to increase participation and stimulate discussion on the design and development of green spaces.

Claudia de Luca from the University of Bologna presented the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Sustainable Land Use and Nature-based Solutions, established in 2017 which promotes collaboration, learning and sharing among cities, stakeholders and institutions. The partnership on sustainable land use and Nature-Based Solutions aims to create a compact model of liveable cities focussing on land take issues, impact assessment at EU and local level, and awareness raising in the area of NBS and sustainability. Due to its novelty, the partners are still working on bringing equal accessibility and justice of green urban spaces within the Urban Agenda’s mainstream elements.

When planning for and implementing green and blue infrastructure improvements need to be made to align urban green spaces with the multifunctionality of use and preferences of the different groups of people involved. This webinar offered a welcome exchange that deserves to be continued. Communication is as important as research-based evidence in order to bring different city departments closer together so they can develop a better understanding of how to create socially inclusive and just green and blue spaces in cities. In follow-up to this webinar, ENABLE is hosting together with Naturvation and Greenlulus an international symposium on “Beyond re-naturing cities: Integrating social justice and health equity in urban greening”. For more information, visit this page on our website.


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