How to pave the way for greener, inclusive cities? ENABLE project team meets with the City of Halle, Germany
Climate scientists predict global warming of 4–6 °C by the end of the century. At the same time, the world is in a time of unprecedented urbanisation and related infrastructure development. To ensure a sustainable future, urban areas can benefit from a range of ecosystem services that Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) within and adjacent to cities can provide to urban residents, which help mitigate broader environmental and social challenges.
ENABLE investigates how interacting systems of people and nature in cities can best be managed in the face of disturbances and uncertainty related to climate change and socio-economic developments, as well as unequal distribution of recreational options and other green space benefits (e.g. reduction of temperature, space to meet, relax and do sports). By addressing issues such as vulnerability to extreme weather, poor environmental quality, limited social inclusion and conflicting interests and ambitions, GBI can help make cities more inclusive, safe, climate resilient and sustainable. The precondition for successful GBI is that it is designed and governed as an integral part of the larger urban system. The ENABLE project team gathered from 12-14 March for its annual meeting in the city of Halle, one of the case study regions of the project.
Erik Andersson, Associate Professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden, principal investigator and project coordinator of the ENABLE project, explained that “current inequities in the distribution and accessibility of GBI and its benefits are widely recognised, but to better utilise GBI’s full potential, it is necessary to first understand the systemic factors influencing the transformation of services into benefits, as well as how benefits provide by green space are distributed amongst urban residents”.
This is exactly what the ENABLE research team is focusing on by developing an approach for assessing GBI functionality. The project focuses on ecosystem service provision and three main mediating factors: infrastructure networks, institutions (including formal and informal rules for land management and planning), and perceptions of GBI (shaped by beliefs, knowledge, culture, age and socio-economic circumstances).
Dagmar Haase, Professor of Landscape and Urban Ecology at the Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, and one of the lead researchers of the project, showed that the ENABLE case study cities, Stockholm, Oslo, Lodz, Halle and Barcelona, face different degrees of population growth and decline as well as changing land use dynamics, but what most cities have in common is an increase of sealed land at the cost of green space. She added that the average supply of urban green space in Europe is 15-22 m2 per person, with above average supply in Northern European cities and below average in Southern European cities. These differences in supply, as well as in planning and governance schemes, result in differences in GBI conditions and potential.
The ENABLE team had the opportunity to visit two interesting sites in Halle, the formerly industrialised, polluted and partly abandoned Freiimfelde, and the Neutopia initiative in Halle Neustadt, a former so-called ‘socialist city’ in prefabricated style. These areas are facing numerous challenges, such as high levels of residential vacancies, unemployment and immigration. At the same time, they demonstrate powerful citizen initiatives, which create new ways for operationalising GBI solutions and integrating social justice and resilience thinking in urban planning and multi-actor governance.
On the last day of the meeting, the project team met up with representatives from the City of Halle, the Neustadt district management, the university and citizen initiatives to discuss key aspects related to GBI development. Reinforcing the importance of context, the discussions emphasised social and economic development, recreational facilities, how to deal with regrowth after decades of economic decline and massive population shrinkage, and climate change aspects as key factors. Integration of biodiversity aspects in inner city development remains challenging amidst other priorities such as public health and well-being for everyone, seasonal flooding and pumping, and the need for affordable rent and housing costs. It became very clear through the exchange that nature and culture can support each other. In Halle, street art, murals in this case, plays an important role in the co-creation and transformation of its neighbourhoods, sparking dialogue, new ideas and collaboration between newcomers and long-term inhabitants. One approach of the City of Halle was to use the time of decline to develop urban green spaces in derelict areas to ensure GBI can be safeguarded once the city grows again.
Linking the ENABLE research work, including visualising future scenarios and identifying values associated with GBI, with the knowledge and capacity building needs of cities, will increase the understanding of the potential of GBI for a resilient city and will facilitate multi-level decision making. The exchange on ideas, tools, barriers and opportunities for green space in cities will continue between Halle, the other case study cities of Stockholm, Barcelona, Oslo, Lódz and New York City, and the whole ENABLE research team. A visit of Halle city stakeholders to the Polish city of Lódz is one of the next steps to strengthen dialogue and learning.BACK TO ALL NEWS