Urban planning that considers synergy and is collaborative is essential to making cities more resilient and sustainable, as well as generating societal benefits such as safety and health. This was a major point of discussion in Climate-KIC’s Smart Sustainable Districts webinar on Blue Green Systems, an urban planning approach that deploys nature-based solutions to help cities cope with the impacts of climate change.
It’s further asserted that the Blue Green Systems approach leads to more attractive living, overall.
Cities get the most out of nature-based solutions by considering multi-functional potential
The Blue Green Systems approach harnesses the power of nature-based solutions—green infrastructure installations such as green roofs, tree pits, and swales—but takes them one step further by exploiting their multi-functional potential.
“Cities often do not get the best out of nature-based solutions, because they tend to use them in a mono-functional way, ignoring that a greener infrastructure can help solve not only ecological but also other urban challenges,” says Maarten van Reeuwijk, a senior lecturer at London’s Imperial College and member of the Blue Green Dream team.
To illustrate the synergy benefits of nature-based solutions, Maarten uses the example of outdoor air evaporative cooling, which reduces the risk of surface floods resulting in better conditions for pedestrians, in turn increasing the attractiveness of a city to citizens and visitors, and boosting local trade and earnings.
Meaningful data needed to make informed choices
The systemic use of synergies is a main feature of the Blue Green Systems approach. Three other key ingredients—the full quantification of all benefits, extensive stakeholder involvement, and pre-planning for optimal design—create the framework for resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective urban development.
Frans van de Ven, expert advisor at Deltares, an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface, said the vast number of measures that can be taken to increase a city’s resilience can be quite overwhelming for city planners: “Making the right choice can only be achieved by quantifying all effects of each measure.”
The Blue Green Systems approach supports this process with a number of tools and metrics, and a systematic pre-planning methodology that results in a conceptual design brief with proposed solutions. Furthermore, the metrics can be customized to suit different locations, with different climates.
“There is often inertia associated with what we bring, but our experiences have shown that the results are so much better when you combine solutions and bring all experts and stakeholders around one table to plan collaboratively,” says Maarten van Reeuwijk. He adds that investors are simply willing to invest more if provided with a full picture of socio-economic benefits resulting from nature-based solutions.
Utrecht develops second city centre
Jeanet Hekhuis, from the Municipality of Utrecht, shares her experiences from a customer point of view. Utrecht joined the SSD network looking for expert advice and support for the development of its second city centre, aiming for CO2-neutral housing, and infrastructure with a focus on green and healthy urban living.
“There is so much knowledge out there. Do take the time and use it for the benefit of your own project,” says Jeanet Hekhuis.
With the need to house a population that is growing by 25 per cent, Utrecht’s city planners—supported by the Smart Sustainable Districts and the Blue Green Systems team—developed four scenarios, calculating costs and benefits of each option in order to get a detailed picture of what could be done where and how.
Hekhuis stresses the need to quantify the effects of different measures and to involve the community into the planning process: “We now know that we can become energy neutral as a city, but we have seen through this process that we can achieve even more.”
This article was written by Daniela Schwartz. For more information on the Blue Green Systems approach, please visit www.bgd.org.uk or contact our Smart Sustainable Districts team: Tim.Taylor@climate-kic.org.uk.
The webinar recordings and presentations are available on climate-kic.org/ssd.