There's more to green spaces than parks, and there's more to parks than being pretty. In addition to boosting public health, our cities' leafy infrastructure can generate income for the community and help to mitigate the impact of climate change, for example. The Green Surge project is breaking new ground for the management of this crucial resource.
© Cecil Konijnendijk
“We don’t use our cities’ green spaces optimally,” says Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch of the University of Copenhagen. “Integrated and innovative approaches are needed.”
Konijnendijk is the coordinator of the Green Surge project, which set out in November 2013 to address this need. About halfway into this four-year project, the partners have already completed detailed analyses of the situation in 20 European cities. They have also set up learning labs in five of these cities.
In addition to these city portraits and case studies, the project consortium intends to produce a handbook on urban green infrastructure planning and a set of policy briefs, along with a detailed overview of the state of the art, new methodology and fresh data.
No patch too small
A park may be the most obvious example of a public green space, but it is not the only one. Consider further pockets of vegetation such as trees lining the streets, green roofs on public buildings, and the odd landscaped roundabout, and a much wider picture will emerge.
Green Surge focuses on the role and management of this infrastructure. “We want to see if we can improve approaches to planning such spaces,” Konijnendijk notes. “We also see a need for better governance approaches, for example to involve the various stakeholders — local communities, government actors and researchers, etc. — in their design.”
Promoting this collaboration ties in with the central concept of biocultural diversity, i.e. of the integration between biological variety and the cultural specificities of the infrastructure’s users, he explains. “Biocultural diversity is rooted in the interaction between local people and local nature. The fact that different communities use parks in different ways, for example. There’s no such thing as ‘simply a park’. There are many different definitions, many different shapes, many different roles.”
Establishing perennial alliances
The project’s city portraits, which explore settings across the width and breadth of Europe, bear witness to this lush variety. Five of these case studies — Bari, Berlin, Edinburgh, Ljubljana and Malmö — have been selected for development into urban learning labs.
“In these labs, we work with local researchers, authorities and communities to jointly formulate key questions that research can help to address,” Konijnendijk explains. “We hope that we can make some contributions in this way, for example to local planning processes, the development of new parks, or closer integration of less-involved resident groups.” In Ljubljana, for instance, special attention focuses on the participation of younger adults who had been out of work.
Green Surge is also conducting a review of the literature in its field. “We want to base our work on the state of the art,” Konijnendijk notes, adding that the project is building on this body of knowledge to produce new insights and methodology.
For example, the team is working out how to assess biocultural diversity, analysing the specific benefits and ecosystem services provided by the various types of green space, and finding ways to measure these benefits.
Beyond mere foliage
Even the tiniest pocket park can be productive — notably as a public health asset where people can sit and unwind, or as part of a wider strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change. However, quantifying these benefits is no easy task, Konijnendijk notes.
“In one part of our project we study house prices, for example. We now have figures for Stockholm and Malmö clearly showing that greener areas generally have higher house prices. We are also looking into other types of benefits that could be measured objectively, such as tourism or storm water regulation,” Konijnendijk concludes.