Keynote: Mainstreaming nature in urban green space planning and management

Mainstreaming nature in urban green space planning and management. Dr Mario Balzan delivers a keynote lecture at the 117° Congresso della Società Botanica Italiana (VIII International Plant Science Conference), which was held in Bologna between the 7 and 10th September 2022.

During the keynote, Dr Mario Balzan discussed how policy and institutions are increasingly looking at integrating nature in decision-making and investment because of the associated benefits to communities and the potential contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Within this context, nature-based solutions, or solutions that harness nature and natural processes to alleviate well-defined societal challenges by delivering multifunctional solutions as part of governance and business, can be prioritised to expand existing green infrastructure while addressing climate resilience, natural hazards, urbanisation and environmental quality, inequalities in availability and access to green space, public health concerns, and biodiversity loss. However, the mainstreaming of nature, and nature-based solutions as socio-ecological-technological innovations, in urban planning and decision-making in cities remains underexplored.

During his presentation, Dr Balzan discussed some of his recent research on barriers and enablers to mainstreaming nature and nature-based solutions in decision-making, and evaluated the recent deployment of nature-based solutions to address societal challenges and sustainable development goals. Current bottlenecks include knowledge gaps regarding the scope, cost-effectiveness and benefits arising from nature-based solutions, and limited practical experience with implementation. Recent research on the effectiveness of current urban green space management in providing benefits to communities, and opportunities for mainstreaming nature in policy and planning to address inequalities in availability and access to urban nature was also discussed.

Dr Balzan presented some of the work being led by Ecostack Innovations focusing on planning and assessing the effectiveness of nature-based solutions through big data and monitoring approaches. In the ReCreate project, which is funded under the EIT Community New European Bauhaus Initiative, Ecostack Innovations is working with local citizens to transform unused public spaces through citizen science and nature-based placemaking activities. Results from a recent bioblitz, during which the Ecostack Innovations team engaged with residents to carry out a rapid urban plant assessment in Isla were presented.

By sharing recent research work in the SELINA Horizon Europe project, Dr Balzan explained how Ecostack Innovations is engaging with business stakeholders to improve the uptake of natural capital assessment in decision-making and how this can lead to co-benefits to biodiversity and well-being and economic development.