A post-industrial revolution with nature – proGIreg at the European Urban Resilience Forum
17 September 2022
Throughout proGIreg innovative nature-based solutions (NBS) have been harnessed to revive post-industrial districts for multiple benefits, such as addressing pollution, improving wellbeing and building resilience. The project findings were showcased in a session, workshop and marketplace at the premier resilience event in Europe: The European Urban Resilience Forum.
The session aptly took place in the post-industrial Technopolis site in Athens, Greece. ProGIreg expert Iva Bedenko, from the City of Zagreb presented the therapeutic garden of the Sesvete Living Lab. She discussed how through the engagement of local associations working with people with disabilities, the city has been able to design a very accessible garden that serves the needs of various user groups.
Photo: Therapeutic garden users in Sesvete, Zagreb. Credit: Mali Dom
Anacleto Rizzo, expert at Iridra in R&D and design of nature-based solutions for sustainable urban water was a quest speaker in the proGIreg session. He discussed the potential of NBS to create circular water in cities, displaying examples from EU-funded projects such as NICE: “Unexpectedly wastewater is more resource rich. It would be a pollutant in a river – but it can be a resource for agriculture if treated correctly - with its nutrients such as nitrogen derived from urine”. Creating NBS like this in drought prone cities can be a key way to save funds, support cooling and address water shortages.
Photo: Green wall for greywater treatment. Credit: Iridra, NAWAMED
Laura Guaita, Specialist in Urban and Landscape Design at KEAN Cell of Youth Activities – and proGIreg expert - highlighted the work the organisation has done in schools and universities in proGIreg follower city Piraeus to engage children and young adults in planning, designing and monitoring nature-based solutions for their districts. This has been a tangible and concrete way to teach about the potential of NBS and for the organising team to gain new ideas from the inspiring youth.
Photo: Posters created for NBS planning in Piraeus, Credit: KEAN
Teresa Ribeiro, from the Cascais Municipality (another proGIreg follower city), stressed the importance of flexibility in nature-based solutions design and implementation, as the processes are rarely as streamlined as imagined. Cascais has successfully engaged citizens with the aim to understand their needs, to ensure community involvement. The city has excelled by way of giving citizens agency to ensure they feel ownership of the community gardens they manage – for example, the citizens are responsible for maintaining equipment together and use a common water point for several gardens.
Photo: Community-garden gathering, Cascais. Credit: City of Cascais
A lively discussion ensued with on how to ensure that the great NBS will actually see the light of day. To engage decision makers, collaboration and communication towards them is key, and showcasing existing results and their benefits. Getting around bureaucratic regulations calls for flexibility to adapt plans – and patience. In addition, to get funding those working to spread NBS in cities should consider sourcing from a variety of places, e.g. grants, EU, municipal or private. Addressing pollution and utilising some welcome contaminants as Anacleto Rizzo pointed out, is key for success in post-industrial sites, and NBS practitioners need to take into account the additional efforts that need to go into targeting degraded districts.
How to ensure the relatively small-scale interventions truly transform whole post-industrial districts? The speakers agreed on the value of the small, as many small interventions can add up to a grand one. ProGIreg’s work in engaging the front-runner and follower cities – and those external to the project - in workshops for sharing knowledge aims to ensure the knowledge generated is not lost but built upon, even beyound the project.
Photo: Workshop utilising NBS for and equitable transition towards urban resilience at the European Urban Resilience Forum
To this end - a workshop gathering the NBS experts in the event, saw proGIreg partner Julia Tzortzi, from the City of Piraeus facilitate a session on ‘Utilising NBS for and equitable transition towards urban resilience’. The participants discussed how to best gather momentum and ensure NBS becomes the go-to solution for politicians. Experts highlighted unusual, but successful, avenues for engagement such as participatory visualisation exercises. The REGREEN project had conducted an interactive mapping of Aarhus, Denmark, showing concrete changes that can be enacted around the city. The workshop participants agreed that getting decision makers to approach NBS from a proactive angle is key; thinking about what can be done now, even if small-scale, can help overcoming hesitation to embrace new solutions - and to get the ball rolling.