Topic of the month

Nature-based solutions – What’s in it for my city?

Recently we are seeing exciting literature and events sharing cities’ rich experience with nature-based solutions. Climate Alliance is right in the midst of these developments, being part of the EU funded Connecting Nature project together with the Glasgow City Council (Scotland). Glasgow is also the co-host of the upcoming Connecting Nature Innovation Summit. The virtual event will explore how to shift to sustainable, greener cities that deliver for their citizens using na-ture-based solutions. We have been able to talk to Gillian Dick and Sean Kelly from the City Council to ask them (almost) all you need to know about nature-based solutions.

Based on the EU Commission’s definition, nature-based solutions are inspired and supported by nature, cost-effective and simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits. The City of Glasgow adopted an open space strategy. The Glasgow Open Space Strategy combines a place based approach with a nature-based solutions lens. Thus the City Council wants to ensure high quality, accessible and multifunctional open spaces to fulfil demands such as community spaces, habitat connections or water management.

As nature-based solutions is still a fairly new concept in local climate action, Glasgow puts emphasis on the right language when communicating with different audiences. Gillian Dick says: “I try to avoid all the different terms like green recovery, green infrastructure etc. – the language tends to silo the action rather than recognizing that they all happen in a place.”  Sean Kelly adds: “Clear and targeted messaging about demonstrable nature-based technical solutions and their benefits is one way to overcome language issues. This also helps to raise the profile of the concept and to make a stronger argument for resourcing.” Nature-based solutions are essential for Glasgow’s open space strategy as they help tackling societal, health and environmental problems.

Societal issues
The city is trying to reduce social inequalities by involving the more difficult to reach social groups when delivering their open space strategy. An example for this is the involvement of the communities to the west of Pollock Country Park. Together with the Centre for Civic Innovation, a consultancy agency helping to engage in community consultation, the city council is starting conversation with the communities on their connection with Pollok Country Park.

Local food
Growing and producing local food is high on Glasgow’s agenda as it can help build community capacity and thus lead to healthier diets. The Bellahouston Growing Space, a community garden project, has helped to reduce local crime levels, ena-ble peer support and build self confidence among participants. The city is currently using the nature-based solutions business model canvas to identify ways to engage with the Circular economy in order to make the project more self-sustaining.

Vacant and derelict land
Glasgow has operated a stalled spaces project over the past years, giving communities the opportunity to activate those spaces. However, a recent review has shown that the city had provided limited peer support to help communities sustain their activities. The city is now using the nature-based solutions framework to review the project.

Environment
As Glasgow is a rainy city, water management and nature-based solution projects are essential. The city is working on a strategic drainage system and is currently identifying open spaces that can be used in multiple ways, e.g. as a flood alleviation area.

Biodiversity
In order to avoid biodiversity loss, the city’s open space strategy also aims to help maintain and create new habitat connections. As part of the city’s work to identify the opportunities, relevant data was being collecting and currently visualized within a dashboard. Glasgow can now use this data, which includes bee lines, to identify areas where pollinators would benefit from habitat improvement.

Despite many benefits, the concept of nature-based solutions also comes with challenges. Sean Kelly explains: “Resourcing might be one of the main challenges of nature-based solutions. There is an unclear return on investment and it is difficult to quantify the benefits of nature-based solutions. In addition, you need more staff and operational funding for projects.” Within the Connecting Nature project, several mini-guidebooks have been developed that provide guidance for practitioners and help tackle potential challenges. As the concept of nature-based solutions is not yet widely known, another challenge lies with communication. Sean Kelly states that the key message is to highlight the benefits, e.g. the cost effectiveness of nature-based solutions.  Another challenge identified by Gillian Dick is data availability. The lack of access to the right data at a certain time can lead to duplication of effort and inefficiencies. The key issues for Glasgow is the need for data that is accessible to all, ideally digital map based. Working together with different partners can help to share ownership and also responsibility for data.

All in all, Glasgow is seeing a change through participating in the Connecting Na-ture project – a change of culture and a change of policy-making. “The project learnings are feeding into the discussion about the next iteration of National Planning Policy in Scotland and has influenced the emerging Glasgow Climate emergency implementation Plan”, Gillian Dick comments. In addition, the holistic approach required by the nature-based solutions concept allowed the city to bring together teams and organisations that usually don’t work with each other. It has also led to working towards re-balancing the decision-making. This means, there is a greater emphasis on all the factors – environmental, economic and social – instead of only one.

Glasgow will continue to further develop its nature-based solutions approach and already has plans for the future. “We are currently exploring the opportunity for nature-based enterprises to help deliver on some aspects of the open space strategy, for example stewardship of open spaces. This will hopefully result in a pilot nature-based enterprise incubator programme,” Gillian Dick explains. The Connecting Nature Summit, co-hosted by the City of Glasgow and Greenspace Scotland and supported by Climate Alliance, is also just around the corner. The virtual three-day event will share the learnings from the community of cities involved in the Connecting Nature project and introduce the innovative tools and methods being developed. From 23 – 25 March, the Summit wants to engage with local authorities and other stakeholder to discuss nature-based solutions. Registration is open now.

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Photo: Unsplash