Scientists and business experts from Trinity College Dublin are leading a €12m Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme-funded project to bring nature back into cities across Europe. The Connecting Nature project will see 37 organisations from 19 countries work together to establish Europe as a global leader in rethinking how 21st Century cities can support and benefit from nature.
Through Connecting Nature, 11 European cities will invest in large-scale implementation of nature-based solutions, measure the impact of this approach, and share their experiences on a global scale.
There is growing recognition and EU-wide investment in smart, ‘engineered’ nature-based solutions designed to bring more nature and natural processes to cities, landscapes and seascapes. These innovative solutions help to improve urban environments and also have significant potential to create sustainable jobs in urban communities and enhance the health and well-being of our citizens.
Nature-based solutions can help to address many urban challenges, such as those posed by unsustainable urbanisation and related human health issues, degradation and loss of natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides (clean air, water and soil), climate change, and the increasing incidence of natural disasters.
Urban-based nature solutions include the creation of urban woodlands, wetlands and extensive roof gardens, green walls and green corridors lined by trees and plants that support wildlife, networks of gardens and allotments that boost urban food production, parks for recreation, and temporary floodable habitats that reduce the danger posed by flash floods.
Assistant Professor in Botany in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity, Dr Marcus Collier, is the project leader. He said: “Connecting Nature will attempt to achieve what no other Horizon 2020 project has before. It will co-create city-wide masterplans to scale out nature-based solutions and generate funding for them. This is not just about building climate resilience — it is about transforming cities for future generations.”
Professor Brian Lucey is Director of Research at the Trinity Business School, which is a partner in the project. He said: “Trinity Business School is committed to research that is not just academically credible but also impactful, such as the Connecting Nature project. This project will make a difference going forward by integrating cities with academic research, and it will also forge an important link between two schools in Trinity.”
At a recent kick-off event, mayors, elected city officials, academics and industry participants from across Europe listened to speakers from the European Investment Bank, Social Finance UK and the European Venture Philanthropy Association as they identified current opportunities to finance large scale city-wide investment in nature-based solutions.
The market is significant; right now, over 70% of Europe’s population live in cities but this is expected to increase to over 80% by the middle of the century. This translates to 36 million new urban citizens, who will need housing, employment and care by 2050.
The project partners will develop innovative nature-based solutions in small, medium and large cities, with the aim being to roll successes out across a suite of other cities in Europe. For example, the Mayor of Genk, Belgium, (population ~65,000) is exploring ways to transform the city from a centre of coal mining to one of sustainable energy. Meanwhile in Poznan, Poland, (population ~500,000), officials are stimulating interest from city dwellers by asking them to propose and then vote for different nature-based projects at a neighbourhood and city-wide level. This ‘Citizens Budget’ was €3.3m in 2016. And in Glasgow, Scotland, (population ~600,000), the Council is aiming to ensure that all of its citizens soon live within 400 m of accessible green or blue spaces. Currently, 60% of its people live within 50 m of derelict land.
Head of the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity, Professor Fraser Mitchell, said: “In this post-Brexit world, there are many fears and concerns. But projects like Connecting Nature build on diversity, bringing together local authorities, communities, industry partners and researchers to build important networks of trust and cooperation across Europe.”