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Nature Based Urban Innovation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NATURVATION (Nature Based Urban Innovation)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2018-04-30

As cities grow, their impacts on the environment and the challenge of ensuring their resilience is attracting increasing attention. Across the world, policy-makers and urban developers are turning their attention to the possibilities that NBS offer for achieving urban sustainability. NBS involve creating new forms of blue and green infrastructure – such as green roofs or ponds for storing flood water - restoring urban environments – such river or coastal areas – and harnessing those forms nature that we find in cities – such as parks and gardens – to improve urban life. NBS can use the natural properties of ecosystems to limit impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity & improve environmental quality while also contributing to economic activities and social well-being. Because they have the potential to address multiple goals at the same time, NBS are increasing promoted as a way in which cities can achieve sustainability.

Despite the promising potential of NBS, there remains a gap between the growing interest being expressed in their use & how they are being implemented on the ground. The aim of the NATURVATION project is to help overcoming this gap & support a step-change in how cities use NBS to address urban sustainability. Our primary purpose is to ensure that there is a robust evidence base to support decision-makers in identifying whether and how NBS can contribute to the goals of their organisations, communities and cities. This is important because our current understanding of how NBS work is very fragmented – usually based on individual examples and case-studies – and often focuses only on the ecological benefits of NBS rather than also taking into account their economic, social and cultural contributions & the challenges of implementing and maintaining them over time.

We will work to support decision-makers in 3 ways. First, we are developing the evidence base and assessment processes required to evaluate how NBS are being used and the extent of their ecological, economic, social and cultural contributions towards sustainability. Second, we are investigating how innovation is taking place with NBS and focusing on the governance arrangements, business models, finance & citizen engagement needed to develop and implement these kinds of responses in cities around the world. We will also explore the contexts within which NBS have to be established and consider the challenges that they face. Finally, we are working in partnership with municipal governments & stakeholders through Urban Regional Innovation Partnerships (URIPs) and a Task Force, as well as with the wider policy and practitioner communities, to create the knowledge, capacity, outputs and tools needed to build momentum for NBS on the ground.
Over the first 18 months of the project we have been working to establish our 6 URIPs (in Barcelona, Győr, Leipzig, Malmö, Newcastle and Utrecht) and to lay the foundations of the project while starting to generate the evidence-base required for decision-making.

The first element of our work programme focused on undertaking a review of existing literature, policy and practice in order to generate a picture of the current ‘state of the art’ understanding of how NBS are being used in cities. We studied over 400 academic papers, held 6 urban dialogues, and reviewed policy at the national and European level. This has enabled us to identify the key gaps in our understanding & o develop a shared language and framework for the project as a whole. We have produced a key insights report on the way in which NBS are being positioned within European & national policy contexts and presented this to policy and practitioner audiences.

A second strand of work has focused on undertaking an extensive survey of the use of NBS in European cities. We selected 100 cities based on different social, economic and environmental criteria to represent a diversity of European urban contexts and identified up to 10 NBS being used in each city to include in our analysis. Using this data, we have created an online Urban Nature Atlas which contains more than 970 examples of NBS being used in European cities. A database for research purposes is also available for those seeking to understand & analyse NBS in European cities. In a third strand of work, we have begun to develop a new approach for assessing the contributions that NBS can make towards different sustainable development goals. We have reviewed existing approaches, frameworks & tools to identify both what works and what is missing, and are currently organising stakeholder dialogues where we will co-design the first stage of our assessment framework.

The fourth element of our work programme has involved case-study research in 12 cities in Europe and 6 cities internationally. In these cities, we have been examining how NBS get taken up as potential solutions to problems and implemented. We have been tracking the forms of governance, business model, finance & citizen engagement involved, as well as how NBS come to be controversial or contested in different places and by different groups. So far we have produced six ‘snapshot’ reports that identify key findings to share with a broad policy and practitioner audience from this work. We have also initiated the fifth strand of work, analysing the conditions within which innovation takes place, by holding a workshop with stakeholders from the finance sector & developing a shared approach for this research which will take place over the next eighteen months.

At the same time as undertaking the core elements of the work programme, we have created a website & social media presence (Twitter, Instagram) in order to enable different audiences to engage with our work. We have presented the project and its findings to date at a number of EU meetings, academic conferences and workshops with stakeholders. Our partners PBL & City of Utrecht co-hosted the EU Green Week opening event in May 2018 which focused on how NBS could be used to support the goals of green and healthy cities, and we continue to work with our URIPs and Task Force to ensure the project’s findings are relevant and useful.
The NATURVATION project has already produced some important results that go beyond the state of the art, in terms of building a new state of the art understanding of how, why and with what effects NBS can be used in cities, creating an assessment of the current role of NBS in EU and national policy, and providing the first Urban Nature Atlas for Europe.

Over the course of the project, we will generate insights into 54 cases of innovation with NBS in 18 cities across the world, creating new understanding about the governance arrangements, business models, finance & citizen engagement needed to make NBS work in practice. We will also identify the key conditions, in terms of regulation, finance & urban development that enable and constrain the mainstreaming of NBS and identify key examples of good practice as well as lessons for policy-makers and practitioners. We will create a standardised assessment framework that can be deployed to evaluate how NBS contribute towards urban sustainability goals, and work with our URIPs to support their visions and road maps for the uptake of NBS in specific urban contexts. Through these means, we hope to be able to support the appropriate use of NBS that can deliver ecological, economic and social benefits over the long-term.
ULUND team during mobile lab in Malmo
Mapping of local NBS during first URIP meeting in Newcastle in March 2017
Flooding in Mexico City during Case study field work in September 2017
Screenshot of Urban Nature Atlas available on project website