Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Implementing Nature Based Solutions

What are “NBS” and how can cities use them?

Nature Based Solutions are techniques for urban sustainability, adaptation, mitigation and improvement of quality of life, that are “synergistic with nature” and have multiple outcomes or services. Plants, animals, soil, water, and other natural elements can either be solutions, or components of solutions, in themselves, or may inspire those solutions (i.e. biomimesis). NBS may also be good for non-human species (although that isn’t the goal), and thus may sometimes be cross-categorized as Nature-Inclusive Design (http://www.bioveins.eu/blog/making-urban-nature-book-review).

NBS thus involve a very wide array of things, from plastic “cement” that absorbs water and allows it to evaporate away, rather than creating runoff, to green walls or roofs, to trees. The wide range of solutions, corresponding to a wide range of urban problems and urban planning goals, apparently causes a lot of difficulty for urban planners and decision makers. How to find out what solutions exist, how to implement them, how effective they are, or how to trade them off or combined them synergistically with other NBS?

Today I attended the Nature4Cities workshop in Brussels to find out. To be honest, I signed up with the quaint idea that we would be sitting around a table role-playing implementing specific NBS tools and techniques. I was wrong. NBS implementation is all about data integration and decision-support algorithms.

Nature4Cities is an H2020 (EU-funded) project with 27 institutional partners from 9 European cities (https://www.nature4cities.eu). It aims to create a “knowledge and decision platform for renaturing cities”. It brings together databases of assessed case studies of NBS implementation (https://www.nature4cities.eu/platform), as well as a step-by-step automated process that helps the user to build an NBS implementation scenario, assess it, and then plan an implementation strategy with citizen participation.

Their planning and assessment tool, which was the focus of the workshop, is rather complex, with about ten separate steps. At the core of it, if I understood correctly, are three kinds of assessments: a Simplified Urban Assessment Tool, and Environmental Impact Assessment, and a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment. Each of these is composed of several separate data analysis tools. The Simplified Urban Assessment Tool, for example, is composed of four tools called Greenpass, Colouree, Expert Box and Noise Box. Greenpass and Colouree are born of public-private collaborations. They are both simplified versions of commercial products that have been modified to serve NBS assessment ends, and integrated into the Nature4Cities process. Greenpass provides thermal data related to the human microclimate in and around buildings. Colouree provides data about how NBS affects quality of life and neighbourhood desirability assessments. Expert Box estimates carbon sequestration. I think the Noise Box measured urban noise levels.

When I asked why these four kinds of data analysis were chosen to make up the Simplified Urban Assessment Tool, I was told it was a pragmatic choice because the opportunities to integrate the assessment tools into Nature4Cities was available. The project doesn’t claim that they accurately represent all issues you would ever want to know about related to the impact of NBS on urban quality. The researcher I was talking to also pointed out that they could not integrate the four tools into a single analysis, or create a single output for the Simplified Urban Assessment Tool, because the input data for each analysis is at different scales and measures incomparable things. She argued that users don’t want a single evaluation score anyway, they want to see individual outputs of each component.

She may be right, but so far the tool, which is not yet finished, has something of a data visualization problem. The output of each assessment tool is a set of indices, ranging incomprehensibly from, as far as I could see, around 10 x -6 to 100. These are not helpful to anyone unless a visual method for contextualizing and interpreting them can be found.

The case study cities for the project are Milan, Alcalá de Henares (Spain), Szeged (Hungary) and çankaya (Turkey). You can’t currently do the full analysis for any other city because some of the input data is in public databases (e.g. municipal datasets about land uses), some comes from tailor-made analyses of existing datasets (e.g. number of green roofs analysed from satellite data), and some is generated through specific studies carried out in each city (e.g. citizen perceptions). Supposedly, all these datasets will be produced for all the major European cities at some point, so that those municipalities will have access to the tool.

I was surprised by how data-intensive it would be to implement NBS using the Nature4Cities platform. I am sure that the database of assessed existing solutions and programmes will be inspiring. Will the scenario building and assessment tools really be that valuable though? I must have been hungry (despite the apple fritters I ate earlier at the Brussels Christmas market) because I started to think about the data issues in terms of food. Suppose that you identify that you are hungry (your problem or question), and decide that you want to eat a hamburger (the data you need to answer your question). To satisfy you, your hamburger should include a sourdough bun, pickles, a leaf of lettuce, a small amount of mayonnaise, two slices of tomato, and a medium-rare beef patty. You go into the kitchen to make your hamburger (data analysis). Unfortunately, all you have available are two Wassas (large dry Scandinavian crackers), a meatball from the Italian grocery, and an egg (not exactly the data you were hoping for). Those ingredients can be arranged into a form resembling a hamburger (data analysis). But is it really the same? Will it actually satisfy your hunger, or even taste good? Should you just go food shopping for the ingredients you want, or to a restaurant (create your own data through tailored studies or expert analysis)? Almost all data analysis has some problems of this kind. Why, then, are complex data-heavy automated decision-making tools so popular? I think that the real value here is the production of scenarios and the decision-making support. Will users always accept the assessment of each scenario and decision? I am interested in how municipalities (or other actors) will combine this tool with other ones.

Thumbnail for Animals live in cities too…

Animals live in cities too…

Are cities a human phenomenon?

Thumbnail for A bit on art, meaning and gardens

A bit on art, meaning and gardens

Contemporary art has a lot to say about…

Thumbnail for What is biodiversity?

What is biodiversity?

BIOVEINS looks at where biodiversity is…

Thumbnail for What is green and blue infrastructure?

What is green and blue infrastructure?

BIOVEINS focuses on the role of green…

Thumbnail for Cities: what are they?

Cities: what are they?

We take cities for granted. But where…

Thumbnail for BIOVEINS Blog!

BIOVEINS Blog!

Welcome to the BIOVEINS blog!

Thumbnail for A morning with the Agence de Biodiversité of Ile-de-France

A morning with the Agence de Biodiversité of Ile-de-France

On a beautiful May morning, I meet…

Thumbnail for Biodiversity in European cities: a historical perspective

Biodiversity in European cities: a historical perspective

Is biodiversity in cities a futuristic…

Thumbnail for Bioveins Syposium: Greening Cities

Bioveins Syposium: Greening Cities

Biodiversity, Data, and Knowledge. 13…

Thumbnail for Call for papers

Call for papers

"Governing Urban Natures:…

Thumbnail for Cities, restoration & art

Cities, restoration & art

I met the artist Carmen Bouyer over the…

Thumbnail for Conferences and workshops of interest

Conferences and workshops of interest

Where to learn about urban nature!

Thumbnail for Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bacteria and birds!

Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bacteria and birds!

Collecting data on leaf bacteria and…

Thumbnail for Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bees, bats, flowers and insects

Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bees, bats, flowers and insects

Recently I caught up with the BIOVEINS…

Thumbnail for Data, representation and personhood

Data, representation and personhood

It is easy to attribute all kinds of…

Thumbnail for Dispatch from Lesotho

Dispatch from Lesotho

I write to you from Lesotho, where I am…

Thumbnail for Diversity of our roots

Diversity of our roots

The new Exorigins project brings a…

Thumbnail for Field notes from Chile

Field notes from Chile

I am doing fieldwork in a village in…

Thumbnail for Flies are cool

Flies are cool

Flies are diverse, amazing, urbane, and…

Thumbnail for Flora of Urban Wastelands: An interdisciplinary project

Flora of Urban Wastelands: An interdisciplinary project

Interview with Audrey Muratet, one of…

Thumbnail for Fragmentation

Fragmentation

One of the ecological concepts that…

Thumbnail for Urban amphibians

Urban amphibians

Are there frogs in cities? Where are…

Thumbnail for Experimenting with cities: news

Experimenting with cities: news

Matera, European City of Culture 2019;…

Thumbnail for A reaction to the Greening Cities Symposium

A reaction to the Greening Cities Symposium

Yesterday Bioveins’ Greening Cities S…

Thumbnail for Heat islands

Heat islands

Its hot and I’m in a heat island.

Thumbnail for Identifying urban plants

Identifying urban plants

Recently I found a guidebook to the…

Thumbnail for Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature I

Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature I

The Paris Forum on NBS [Nature-Based…

Thumbnail for Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature II

Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature II

Philosophies of action for resilient…

Thumbnail for Imagining the future of nature

Imagining the future of nature

On a recent visit to Milan I got to see…

Thumbnail for Implementing Nature Based Solutions

Implementing Nature Based Solutions

What are “NBS” and how can cities use the…

Thumbnail for Integrating ecology in landscape design

Integrating ecology in landscape design

I recently went to meet Yves…

Thumbnail for IPBES Global Assessment Summary

IPBES Global Assessment Summary

The IPBES has today released a summary…

Thumbnail for Living with wildlife in cities

Living with wildlife in cities

Coexisting with wildlife in cities can…

Thumbnail for Living with wildlife in cities II

Living with wildlife in cities II

Reflections on mice and work.

Thumbnail for Making Urban Nature: Book Review

Making Urban Nature: Book Review

Nature Inclusive Design.

Thumbnail for May Day- nature does no work

May Day- nature does no work

May Day is both a celebration of spring…

Thumbnail for Milton St., Northampton, MA, USA

Milton St., Northampton, MA, USA

I was taking a walk in Northampton,…

Thumbnail for Nonhuman gardens?

Nonhuman gardens?

If nonhuman animals made gardens, or if…

Thumbnail for Participate in green area mapping!

Participate in green area mapping!

Help us get to know better the urban…

Thumbnail for Participate in our public participatory park mapping survey!

Participate in our public participatory park mapping survey!

Bioveins is starting a new survey to…

Thumbnail for Art posters for you

Art posters for you

We made posters to give away.

Thumbnail for Remarkable Trees

Remarkable Trees

Are there remarkable trees in cities?

Thumbnail for Reversible infrastructures

Reversible infrastructures

What are reversible infrastructures?

Thumbnail for Ruins!

Ruins!

Ruins are poignant because they point…

Thumbnail for Methods in ecology: counting things and sampling

Methods in ecology: counting things and sampling

You do ecology by counting things. But…

Thumbnail for Some facts about the urban habitat

Some facts about the urban habitat

What kind human habitat is a city?

Thumbnail for strawbAIRies!

strawbAIRies!

Strawberries and bacon-and-eggs:…

Thumbnail for Structural heterogeneity

Structural heterogeneity

What makes me enjoy certain gardens…

Thumbnail for Succession vs. land-use change

Succession vs. land-use change

In past posts we have talked about how…

Thumbnail for Surveillance and urban nature

Surveillance and urban nature

What does surveillance, data, and…

Thumbnail for Think like a large disturbance-making omnivore

Think like a large disturbance-making omnivore

A recent paper in Science summarizes…

Thumbnail for Urban pastoralism

Urban pastoralism

Recently I saw some eco-sheep in Paris.

Thumbnail for Urban transformative capacity

Urban transformative capacity

How to create an ideal city (?)

Thumbnail for Urban transformative capacity 2

Urban transformative capacity 2

Biopolis Summer School in Biology and…

Thumbnail for We love trees

We love trees

A real and an imaginary art exhibition…

Thumbnail for What are gardens?

What are gardens?

I consulted a couple of books about…

Thumbnail for What does it feel like to be an urban animal?

What does it feel like to be an urban animal?

Analogies from a city in chaos

Thumbnail for What is ecology?

What is ecology?

Ecology is the study of living things…

Thumbnail for Its World Bee Day!

Its World Bee Day!

Every day that the world keeps on…

Thumbnail for World Cities Day

World Cities Day

Today is World Cities Day, promoted by…