30-10-2020 / hannes.schwaiger
REGREEN’s virtual project meeting in April 2020
Much has changed since we started planning our 1st project meeting in REGREEN – a 4-day meeting to be held in Paris in April 2020. People work from home, gatherings are limited, squares are half-empty, there are almost no air flights, but interestingly – the city’s green spaces look fuller than ever. Like so many other European funded projects, we had to resort to online meeting. So, instead of heading for Paris for 4 days, we adapted to the corona virus situation and went virtual on 21st & 22nd of April 2020, bringing together over 60 participants from Europe and China.
Virtual visits to NBS in the Paris Region
At the very start, our virtual hosts, Marc Barra and Gwendoline Grandin from the Paris Region Institute took us on a virtual journey through the Paris Region Urban Living Lab to the place we could have visited in reality. The Paris region faces a triple challenge to i) protect existing ecosystems, ii) manage existing ecosystems in a nature-based way and iii) create or restore new urban ecosystems. Presented NBS examples from the Paris region include reducing the risk of water runoff and flooding by reopening and renaturalising urban rivers such as Petit Rosnes in Sarcelles and expanding and restoring flood areas such as in Gonesse. Both approaches bring other opportunities for enhancing and preserving biodiversity, water quality, recreation and public health and wellbeing. The protection of existing ecosystems such as forests, ponds and wetlands, for instance in Bonnelles or in the urban natural park of Epinay-sur-Seine, can reinforce the environment’s ability to deal with climate change and give ecosystems greater long-term stability which in turn makes them more capable of providing benefits for individuals and society, for instance reduced temperatures and improved air quality. Depaving – i.e. transforming impervious surfaces into natural areas – is another important activity in the Paris Region ULL. The potential is significant in terms of carbon capture and storage, restoring water cycles and increasing green surface area on the whole. Green streets in Paris in collaboration with local inhabitants who are involved in the future upkeep of the new natural spaces, depaving school yards and restoration of wastelands like in Sevran are some of implemented NBS examples in the region. IPR has also worked extensively on monitoring and assessing ecosystem services from 34 green roofs on public and private buildings across the Paris region. Biodiversity, water retention and the cooling effect were investigated and correlated with the green roof design (thickness of the soil, plants, size of the roof) and, of course, management principles.
Image 1: Marc Barra presenting ongoing NBS projects around Paris
Q/A sessions around Work Packages
After the tour to NBS around Paris region, each of REGREEN WP leaders took the stage for 20 minutes for Q&A sessions. Slides, some of which as voice-over presentations, were circulated beforehand to make the online meeting more lively and interactive. The ensuing debate was triggered around the following themes:
- REGREEN’s take on NBS typologies and how to embed biodiversity in our definition of NBS?
- The role of quality in nature and NBS for biodiversity and delivery of ecosystem services
- The mapping and modelling of functional traits (level of interactions, level of species and communities) vs structural traits (size of NBS and its connectivity) and how can such maps be used to explain the benefits of NBS to children, for instance?
- How can wellbeing valuation take into account changes in the perception and the use of nature during the covid-19 crisis? · how do children use nature given the difference in lockdown conditions across countries?
- How to improve citizen engagement in ULLs, and what are common environmental challenges across all the ULLs?
- How best to communicate scientific results to the general public?
Conceptual Framework, Typology and Biodiversity
Following the Q/A sessions, Laurence Jones from UK Centre for Hydrology & Ecology presented the REGREEN NBS conceptual framework and typology and Marc Barra from the Paris Region Institute presented ways of integrating and thinking about biodiversity as a fundamental characteristic of NBS. This opened for a lively discussion, reflecting the wide range of disciplines involved in REGREEN. The conceptual framework takes a holistic approach, combining natural and human aspects as interaction, i.e. the ecological services provide a potential, which is realized when people use it directly or indirectly. Human aspects are represented as capitals – human capital, social capital and an additional cultural capital to capture values and perceptions. Discussion evolved around how to incorporate aspects of social justice and detailing the different groups benefitting from NBS, political aspects, feedback loops and biodiversity.
NBS typologies are categorised as object types and tentatively characterised with main functions. ULLs have ranked each of them in terms of importance for their specific city /region, which allows us to determine which NBS to focus on in REGREEN. It has become clear that we should move away from looking at single NBS, and instead look at groups or families of NBS, Preferably with multiple benefits.
Integrating the principles of biodiversity into NBS work needs carefully thinking through a hierarchy. Biodiversity is not an ecosystem service but is the support of other ecosystem services. This can be viewed as a hierarchy: biodiversity -> ecosystem functions -> ecosystem services. Design principles and management of NBS can affect biodiversity, which influences the ecosystem functioning, which in turn impacts on the level and quality of ecosystem services provided. Biodiversity is not about ‘species’ only, but the combination of species, genes and ecosystem levels. In order to capture biodiversity in our conceptual framework and definition of NBS we can think about several indicators such as i) species abundance and richness, genetic variability of species; ii) functional traits (number of interactions, level of species and communities); and iii) structural traits (size of NBS, connectivity among NBS, structure of vegetation and soils). The quality of NBS can be ranked considering these indicators.
Biodiversity also plays a role for people in terms of ‘attractiveness of species’ or ‘landscape value’. This aspect of biodiversity provides a cultural ecosystem service to people.
Image 2: Laurence Jones and Marianne Zandersen discussing REGREEN Conceptual Framework
1st Innovation Advisory Board Meeting
At the end of Day 1, REGREEN hosted the first meeting with the Innovation Advisory Board, composed of prominent members from an internationally operating nature visitor attraction centre, ecological-engineering associations, design companies, research and innovation hubs from Europe and China. The IAB discussed with us a long range of issues such as what constitutes the best NBS; the key knowledge gaps for modelling and evaluating impacts of NBS needed in light of ongoing NBS research; how innovation works in China in relation to NBS and how playscapes look like in China. We also debated how to improve revenue streams in NBS projects, main barriers for NBS enterprises and examples of cities paying for ecosystem services to private investors. The meeting with the IAB was very interesting and inspiring, opening up for regular exchange between WP leaders and IAB.
To have more space for in-depth discussions across work packages, day 2 was organised with virtual break-out groups. The ULLs first met the WPs working with challenges and NBS and mapping and modelling ESS and later in the day the ULLs met with the WPs focusing on social science and humanities (governance, education, wellbeing valuation). In parallel, the WP on dissemination, exploitation and innovation met with the same WPs but in the opposite order. This gave us a good opportunity to align and discuss early on our research activities in view of the needs of cities and regions and in view of the final output and innovation planned in REGREEN. Of course, spurred by this big change in our daily lives caused by the coronavirus, the partners figured out how they could, as experts, respond to the situation. Since the project is still in its beginning phase, some activities could be redirected to demonstrate the impact of this crisis to society and to how cities are being used. It could result in having additional rationale for embracing NBS and their beneficial impacts.
Image 3: Marko Ruzic, Velika Gorica Municipality, pointing out what they learned during this meeting
The meeting was concluded by sharing impressions and lessons learned. Also, partners expressed their hope that for our future project meetings we will be able to meet physically, next time in Leipzig in November.