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2020 Natural Capital Symposium

Short Talks: Urban Nature – Solutions for Sustainable and Healthy Cities

March 16, 2020 - 4:00 pm to 5:45 pm
Munger Conference Center, Paul Brest West

Nature is highly valuable to tackle a range of key challenges in cities around the world. Green and blue infrastructure provide nature-based solutions to control urban heat islands and flooding, and improve water management and public health. Nature in cities provides possibilities to reduce biodiversity loss and provide over half of the world’s population with space to relax and recreate. In this session, speakers will present research from cities around the world and address a large range of questions revolving around the importance of nature in cities. They will present innovative methods, data analyses and new insights to develop sustainable and healthy cities.

Session Leads: Roy Remme, Postdoctoral Researcher and Christopher Nootenboom, Researcher at the Natural Capital Project, Stanford University

  • Clara Veerkamp, Environmental researcher & PhD candiate at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
    • Title: Ecosystem services for urban sustainability challenges – what do we actually know? 
    • Abstract: The increasing urban population worldwide is facing challenges imposed by climate change, decreasing environmental quality and threats to human health. Urban green and blue infrastructure (GBI) and the ecosystem services (ES) they provide are increasingly recognized for their potential to help tackling these challenges. However, quantitative knowledge on the contribution of urban GBI to address urban sustainability issues is largely scattered. 
      We have carried out a literature review to synthesize the current quantitative knowledge on ES provided by urban GBI. We focused on seven ES that are particularly relevant in urban areas: local temperature regulation, stormwater regulation, waste treatment, air quality regulation, pollination, recreation and aesthetic appreciation. More than 800 peer-reviewed papers were selected providing quantitative data on an indicator or proxy of ES provisioning. Across these studies, we identified where (e.g. geographical location, within which urban GBI) and how (e.g. assessment methods, indicators) ES have been assessed. In this presentation we will share the results of our literature review, with a focus on the characteristics of the current knowledge base in the light of the need to assess the effectiveness of GBI in solving urban sustainability challenges.
 
  • Yuan Pan, Research Associate at University of Cambridge
    • Title: Enhancing natural capital in an ecological civilization
    • Abstract: China is moving towards an “ecological civilisation” and our project explores the concept’s real-world application, supported by the new Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation. We use methods from ecology, economics and the social sciences, developing tools for use within and outside academia. The project consists of three modules: 1) natural capital & ecosystem service assessments at site scale; 2) mapping urban ecosystem services in Nanjing; 3) ecological civilisation and relational values. Module 1 operationalises the natural capital framework at site-scale using the Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-based Assessment (TESSA). TESSA was developed by the University of Cambridge and five other Cambridge based conservation organisations, providing land managers with a tool to assess natural capital and ecosystem services at site scale. Module 2 will use Urban InVEST to model impacts of urban designs on the provision of ecosystem services in the newly developed Nanjing Jiangbei New Area. Module 3 will explore societal relationships with nature, human well-being and cultural identities. We will investigate how to balance the needs of different stakeholders. This will help to improve urban planning and form impact metrics to better capture qualitative changes in people’s lives. 
 
  • Erin Gray, Economist at World Resources Institute
    • Title: Green-Gray Assessment: How to Assess the Costs and Benefits of Green Infrastructure for Water Supply Systems
    • Abstract: A growing body of research shows that healthy watersheds are a vital component of a well-functioning urban water supply infrastructure system. Yet, water suppliers and regulators often lack clear guidance on how to identify the best green infrastructure solutions, how to value their costs and benefits, and how to incorporate green infrastructure into their decision-making processes. WRI’s Green-Gray Assessment (GGA) methodology can help stakeholders fill these gaps. The GGA allows stakeholders to value the costs and benefits of integrating green or natural infrastructure into water supply systems to improve performance. This talk will present results from a recent WRI working paper that provides detailed guidance on how to conduct a GGA. It will also cover useful pre- and post-assessment steps that can help ensure a GGA study influences decision-makers including: 1) engaging the right stakeholders throughout the GGA process; 2) understanding important contextual conditions; 3) ensuring the analysis team is equipped with the right skillset; and 4) presenting and communicating results. Finally, we will discuss how four recent applications of the GGA (using InVEST) in three major urban areas in Brazil supported development of this paper.

 

  • Mikaël Maes, PhD student at University College London
    • Title: Woodland impacts children’s mental health and cognitive development in London
    • Abstract: Large scale epidemiological studies have established associations between nature, mental health and cognitive development, but the underlying drivers remain unknown, especially in children. Few epidemiological studies have assessed how this relationship could vary across different natural habitat types. Here, we analyzed natural habitat types for associations with mental health and cognitive development. We used 2,959 schoolchildren from a baseline and follow-up cohort aged 10 to 15 years at 31 schools across London, UK. We assessed mental health through the Strength and Difficulties and KIDSCREEN questionnaires, while cognitive development was assessed through the executive function. We assessed natural habitat types using OS MasterMap, satellite and laser scanning data in buffer areas around each child’s home and school. We showed that high levels of woodland were associated with improved mental health and cognitive development during late childhood and early adolescence after adjusting for parental occupation, area-level deprivation, gender, age, ethnicity and school type. We found no association with other natural habitat types, highlighting that woodland during late childhood and early adolescence is associated with better mental health and cognitive development. This suggests not all natural space should be treated equally in urban planning decisions linked to children’s mental health and cognitive development.
 
  • Roland Kraemer, PhD candidate at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
    • Title: Beyond presence-absence scores: Advancing quality assessment of urban public green space regarding usability and ecological value.
    • Abstract: We took the City of Leipzig, one of the fastest growing cities in Germany, as case study to assess the quality of publicly available green space in a detailed and multi-dimensional way. We set up multiple indicators that describe (a) natural elements, e.g. types and configuration of vegetation or share of water bodies, (b) built elements, e.g. various recreational facilities or path density, and (c) the embeddedness of green spaces within the built, social and natural environment, e.g. neighbouring number of residents, (alternative) nearby green or blue elements or exposure to traffic. In order to allow a better evaluation of green spaces, we use these initial and non-judgemental indicators to develop scores for usability (for residents) on the one hand and for the ecological value on the other hand. Ecological value in this context focusses on the capacity to provide regulating ecosystem services relevant for cities facing impacts of urbanization and climate change and to benefit biodiversity. Both, partially contrary scores should facilitate particularly urban planning to balance trade-offs between usability and ecology and to find untapped potentials in either dimension; to improve green space for residents, for nature, or for both at the same time.
 
  • Caroline Vexler, Economist at Vivid Economics
    • Title: Subjective Wellbeing Approach to Valuing Urban Natural Capital
    • Abstract: Recent conceptual and theoretical work has shown that the quality of and access to urban green infrastructure is linked to the wellbeing of urban residents. However, natural capital valuation approaches typically use a narrow definition of the benefits to people, such as mental health or recreational value, which may underestimate the value it provides. 
      Vivid Economics and University of Exeter use a subjective wellbeing (SWB) method to estimate the benefits of greenspaces in the UK and show these to be driven by the number and duration of visits. A visitor who spends more than 120 minutes per week in greenspaces has increased wellbeing equivalent to $3,600 per year or $36 per visit. By comparison, travel cost methods typically estimate recreational values at less than $6 per visit.
      The SWB approach broadens the definition of mental health and captures more of the value greenspaces provide. This valuation method represents one way to elevate the impact of the environment on human health in decision-making and justify the costs of maintaining natural capital. The talk will explore the practical challenges of using this method for valuing urban natural capital.
 
  • Xiao Ping Song, PhD Researcher at Singapore-ETH Centre; National University of Singapore
    • Title: Data-driven approaches to understand human interactions with urban nature
    • Abstract: Parks and green spaces provide opportunities for outdoor recreation in cities. Recently, social media has become a prominent part of research on human interactions with nature and the environment. While studies have shown that geo-located photographs are useful indicators of park visits, each location attracts a diversity of park users who vary in their recreation behaviour and preferences. This talk demonstrates how the location and content of photographs were used to derive various types of park use in the tropical city of Singapore, and to distinguish between different groups of park users. Over 250,000 and 300,000 photographs on the respective platforms Flickr and Instagram were analysed. Results were compared to self-reported preferences from national household surveys (n = 2,000), and we find that geo-located photographs represent popularity better than the visit frequency of urban parks. We also analysed the spatial attributes of parks and their relationships with the frequency and types of photographs shared, and found potential differences in the types of users represented on each online platform. While social media can provide reasonable assessments of park popularity, there are opportunities to integrate data sources to mitigate user selection biases, and to consider a diversity of goals beyond park use.