T3.6: BEGIN Panel on NBS and Social Innovation

This sessions focuses on many methods and projects within the BEGIN framework, a collaborative project that takes place between 10 cities and 6 research institutions in the North Sea Region. The goal of the project is to promote City to City learning and social innovation for creation of blue-green infrastructure (BGI).

BGI is the use of green infrastructure in cities to recreate a natural water cycle to reduce flooding and provide a myriad of other benefits for cities. BGI not only makes cities more climate-resilient by addressing issues of rising water levels, but also makes cities more resilient against increased pressure on urban services and declining community health.

The five presentations in this session represent different aspects and developments within the BEGIN framework which is a network designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge in regard to BGI project implementation and encompasses 10 cities and 6 research institutions within the North Sea Region.  BGI is an important aspect of building urban resilience not simply in its ability to control flooding by incorporating a natural water cycle into an existing city, but also cultivating forms of social resilience through community revitalization and its benefits to physical and mental health.  A common thread throughout the presentations was that to ensure successful implementation of BGI, strategies need to be reframed to involve engagement of stakeholders, such as youth populations, health departments, and the private sector, that don’t fall within the traditional technical approach to BGI.  Given their relatively new nature, however, more time is needed to analyze whether an initiative like BEGIN will yield a notably more resilient collection of cities.

BEGIN- Blue Green Infrastructure through social innovation
Saira Ali

In her presentation, Saira Ali spoke about the importance of blue green infrastructure (BGI) in promoting sustainability, reducing costs and losses associated with floods, improving mental and physical health, sparking a tourism industry, creating jobs, and increasing community links with the landscape.   The presentation primarily focused on the success of transforming the €40 billion Shipley Canal Road Corridor in Bradford, UK into a BGI project. In a reaction to major damages and losses due to flooding in 2015, what was originally intended to be merely a highway expansion project was altered to include a comprehensive linear park through the center of the city.   The goal of the project was to help create a vibrant new sustainable community within the underserved Bradford Beck neighborhood , with high quality homes, new job opportunities, better green connectivity, and space to promote ecology, increased biodiversity, and recreation. The ability to co-opt an existing project into a BGI project was engagement of stakeholders at early stages and strong focus on the economic benefits of BGI for the city.  It was also important to properly convey to residents and local authorities, the role a project like this would serve in both the vision and branding of the city.   

The governance of Blue Green Infrastructure Funding: A case study comparison from the UK and the Netherlands
Anna Kenyon, Jannes Willems, Astrid Molenveld, Liz Sharp

In their presentation, Anna Kenyon and Jannes Willems provided a comparative analysis of the governance of blue-green infrastructure projects in Bradford, UK and Dordrecht, The Netherlands.  The project in Bradford seeks to develop greenspace, increase connectivity, and enhance biodiversity along a highway expansion in the underserved community of Bradford Beck.  The project involved collaboration of external stakeholders and several government agencies such as those for highways, landscaping, drainage, health, and the environment. In this example, stakeholders tended to find shared agendas and funding streams became a diver of the collaboration process.  The project in Dordrecht in seeks to reduce flooding and social issues in the underserved neighborhood of Vogelbuurt by incorporating sewer management with the redevelopment of recreational sports facilities.  This project, which was a bid for EU funding, also incorporated strong collaboration between external stakeholders and government agencies, however there was a challenge in communicating the connection of city-wide improvements with the day-to-day lives of residents.   One notable difference between these two examples was the involvement of the municipal health department.  In Vogelbuurt, the project was led primarily by the spatial planning department with only consultation to the health department.  However, in Bradford, the health department was incorporated a central stakeholder which ultimately made the project more successful.  Health issues were more central to project proposal and collaboration with the health department provided a significant increase in resources and funding allocated to the BGI project.

Design for Social Innovation in the Context of Urban Resilience
Qian Sun, John Makepeace, Nicolas Rebolledo, Nick de Leon

In this presentation, Qian Sun discussed how social-institutional barriers, and not technical ones, were the greatest challenge to successful implementation and continuation of blue-green infrastructure (BGI).  This talk focused principally on the how to get larger community involvement and ownership of BGI in the context of the Park Wellands in Enfield, UK and and the High-Street redevelopment in Kent, UK.  Four projects were conceived in order to address issues regarding a disconnect in where flooding occurs and BGI is proposed and relational issues between different groups and the local authorities: Park Frog, Little Gardens Club, Open Parks, and Compass.  Park Frog is a video game modeled after Pokemon Go to promote use of green space and address the under representation of youth in BGI decision-making.  Little Gardens Club is a project that unites stakeholders to more efficiently share resources among high school gardening clubs, therefore ensuring their longevity in their ability to foster appreciation of gardening among youth populations  Open Parks is a park and community management service.  It involved workshops ad social media marketing to address and resolve issues in the current model and level of engagement.  Compass is a project focussed on communication and addressing the lack of trust between the public and the city council, especially in addressing community concerns that BGI investment is a waste of money.  All four of these projects are exploratory in nature and there is likely little chance that they will be implemented for long term use.

Rhetoric to Practice: Getting to new government forms for urban blue-green infrastructures
Jannes Willems, Sebastiaan Herk

In his presentation, Jannes Willems discusses how blue-green infrastructure (BGI) poses a diverse array of benefits for cities including enhancing biodiversity, improving community health, and reduced strain on drainage systems.  Traditional conversation surrounding BGI, however, tend to be driven primarily by engineering and technocratic perspectives.  In recent years, dialogue has evolved to acknowledge a more holistic interpretation of the nature  and benefits of BGI.  Public policy on BGI, however, still lags on,adapting this understanding and this can be a barrier for implementation.  In order to move BGI concepts into reality, it is vital to take advantage of both internal and external integration of stakeholders and to broaden the conceptualization of BGI projects.  Internal Integration involves greater collaboration with stakeholders within the public sphere by processes such as integration of new government departments, public participation, and increasing educational services.  External integration involves greater crossover with the private sector by methods such as collaborative governance and engagement with non-public stakeholders.  To broaden the conceptualization of BGI, it is beneficial to move from “Closed BGI” projects, which focus on nature-based solution and engineering approaches, to “Open BGI” projects, which take a more holistic developmental approach to BGI which provides opportunities to also revitalize neighborhoods.   Both the greater levels of engagement and more holistic visioning of BGI can help both in public buy-in and accessing public and private funding streams.

BEGIN: Experiences, methods, and guidelines to accelerate effective city to city learning to reach transformational change
Sebastiaan Herk, Lorenzo Chelleri, Wolfgang Haupt, Max Berkelmans

In his presentation, Sebastiaan van Herk discusses how City to City (C2C) learning is a vital process in which cities can exchange best practices to facilitate transformational change in in fields such as urban resilience.  The concept of C2C learning is nothing new and many initiatives strive to provide successful platforms to foster these types of exchanges. Often time, however, the result is carried out in an unstructured manner which limits the efficacy of the approach.    Research demonstrates that in order to be effective, C2C leaning needs to be practice-focused, well-documented, and reviewed during and after projects reach completion.  Within the BEGIN framework, certain tools have been developed with help from the european innovation firm, Bax & Company.  Successful C2C engagement should be structured to match participating cities based on expertise, strengths, and needs.  Projects should be organized on how they performed according to the “10 Essentials of BGI.” These “essentials” help asses local capacities at the time of implementation and can be used in order to match corresponding cities.  In this way, successes such as the Shipley Canal Road Corridor in Bradford, UK can be shared with municipalities with similar developmental goals and administrative constraints.  Future applications of this knowledge sharing could also involve individual and non-public stakeholders.