30.10.2018.

How to make cities more just, accessible and equitable?

This autumn, representatives from all over Europe came to Brussels to take part in the annual European Week of Regions and Cities. As an official side event, ENABLE hosted its first stakeholder dialogue on how to make green and blue spaces in cities more just, accessible and equitable. The event gathered a broad range of participants from diverse backgrounds, ranging from EU institutions, researchers and civil society to city representatives, who shared their knowledge and experiences on this topic.

Speakers at ENABLE workshop in Brussels In the Lodzkie Office in the heart of Brussels, ENABLE partners and participants at the event explored some of the most pressing issues regarding equity in Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI): How to define environmental justice? How to establish guidelines for integrating citizens’ needs, perceptions and values to strive for truly sustainable urban development? How can cities use data to deal with inequality and gentrification?

Erik Andersson, Associate Professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Coordinator of the ENABLE project, underlined that in order to enhance accessibility and a just approach to GBI planning in cities we need to recognise the city as a flexible and dynamic human habitat and as part of the landscape, while taking into account conflicting interests in GBI functions. Perceptions and use of urban landscapes differ and require tailor-made and systemic solutions. Erik emphasised the importance of co-creation and inclusive dialogues for decision-making and GBI development that embraces diversity, and for creating better understanding of the benefits that GBI provides and how they can be equitably distributed. Co-creation requires effort and is time intensive, but is essential to bridge diverse and competing interests to “match expectations with feasible outcomes”.

Johannes Langemeyer, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Barcelona, pointed out that even though progress has been made in understanding and promoting urban green, there is a lack of consideration of justice and equality when it comes to the multiple benefits of urban green spaces. Based on his research in Barcelona, he argued in favour of taking into account age, gender and social status to assess the appreciation and equitable use of urban green. By analysing social media data, explaining differing values and preferences for the use of urban parks, major gender specificities were observed and potential factors of “green gentrification” could be identified in the Barcelona region.

Karolina Koprowska represented the research team from the University of Lodz and presented ongoing research on the spatial distribution and accessibility of GBI. This research is based on three elements of urban green space provision: availability, accessibility and attractiveness. Matching these aspects with various data on urban green space provision across the ENABLE partner cities reveals that these spaces have an effect on noise mitigation and place attachment. Barbara Wysmyk Lamprecht and Tomasz Jakubiec gave the perspective of Lodz to promote GBI and its accessibility in the city.

Gunnar Soederholm, Head of the Environment and Health Administration of Stockholm, emphasised the urgent need for institutions to recognise citizens’ different perceptions for improving administration and legal frameworks to protect nature. In Sweden, closeness to nature is a common value and nature is one of the country’s most important assets. Stockholm offers one of the greenest city plans, due to a holistic approach that promotes ecological connectivity and biodiversity.

Valeria Stacchini from Bologna gave her insights along with interesting examples on how urban GBI can play a major role in the culture, food and heritage of a city. Joanna Kiernicka-Allavena and Małgorzata Bartyna-Zielińska from the city of Wroclaw highlighted the important challenges of conflicting interests of citizens in the co-creation of GBI for social and economic impact in neighbourhoods.

The major challenge identified at the event was the co-creation of GBI and provision of its benefits, following a participatory approach to find the right balance and a common vision in relation to ecosystem service needs and their distribution. There will always be trade-offs between assets and needs with respect to accessibility and justice of urban green and blue spaces, including across different scales. Nevertheless, it is essential to increase citizen engagement and strengthen the capacity of local governments for finding a common vision to prioritise availability, accessibility and attractiveness of GBI to create more just, accessible and resilient cities.

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