Social innovations for delivering Blue and Green Infrastructure: connecting multiple benefits, multiple stakeholders, and multiple disciplines
Policy Brief from the Interreg North Sea Region BEGIN project
Dr. Jannes Willems, Prof. Richard Ashley, Dr. William Veerbeek, Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk & Ellen Kelder (July 2020)
Background on BEGIN
The Interreg North Sea Region project BEGIN (2017-2021) aims to deliver Blue and Green Infrastructure through Social Innovation. The project is a unique partnership in which 10 cities and 6 research institutes combine forces to develop Blue and Green Infrastructure (BGI) solutions and exchange experiences. The urgency to construct BGI is growing, because climate change and urbanisation impact the resilience of our cities. To illustrate, we are faced with the increasing risk of local floods impacting our communities and urban environment, because drainage systems are struggling to cope with more frequent and intense rainfall. Moreover, cities increasingly experience a loss in biodiversity, feel the urgency of addressing heat stress and periods of drought, and want to promote citizens’ health and wellbeing, to which BGI can contribute.
The utilisation of BGI can provide numerous opportunities when compared with traditional grey infrastructure to capitalize on co-benefits and engage stakeholders, since BGI integrates (urban) drainage into and with disciplines such as urban design, city planning, environmental management, and public health. Through BEGIN, 10 cities in the North Sea area are developing and implementing social innovation approaches in order to pursue the opportunities BGI offers in different BGI-oriented cases of varying scale and function, since up until now exploitation of these opportunities has been often overlooked. The BEGIN-project helps cities to identify, plan, value and deliver the benefits to those that could get the most from them. Likewise, BEGIN has supported cities in engaging stakeholders, including citizens, in a design process that could significantly enhance the liveability of their neighbourhoods.
Blue and Green Infrastructure (BGI) utilises natural and nature-based systems, providing multi-functional blue and green spaces in cities that are strategically planned and managed to provide not only water management benefits, but also a variety of ecological, social, and economic benefits1. There are a wide range of BGI measures, such as green roofs, urban parks and rain gardens2. BGI is appealing because it provides attractive spaces and measures that can function in combination with existing urban systems. Moreover, the multi-functionality of BGI facilitates the integration of multiple societal goals, in which not only urban drainage is improved, but also public health, biodiversity and urban regeneration are supported. Overwhelming evidence shows that, unlike traditional buried piped drainage, the use of BGI can increase property values and provide energy savings and carbon use reduction3 4. In application, BGI requires citizen engagement and cooperation among local governments and private and commercial stakeholders much more so than piped drainage systems, because BGI depends upon land use and thus also entails urban planning5.
The European Commission (2013) defines social innovation as the development and implementation of new ideas (products, services and models) to meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations6. Social innovation often demands regulatory, behavioural and cultural changes and is often entwined into three components7. Applied to the field of urban water management, the BEGIN-project has explored social innovation as part of a response to providing better public infrastructure that reduces flood risks, heat stress and biodiversity loss while simultaneously improving public wellbeing and economic development:
- New combinations: these combinations relate to the multi-functional nature of BGI, which brings goals from different policy areas together. BGI does not just offer water management benefits, but improves the quality of life in cities (related to wellbeing, biodiversity, economic development etc.);
- Cutting across boundaries: because of the involvement of different interests, knowledge, expertise and drivers are fragmented and dispersed among stakeholders. Therefore, organisational and disciplinary boundaries have to be crossed. Moreover, BGI depends on land use and has to be integrated into urban design and planning;
- Compelling new relationships: the multiple benefits of BGI will often require and result in co-production and collaboration between governments (at all levels), local residents, developers, private landowners and others, that requires a shift away from a more traditional, hierarchical approaches by governments and sectoral ‘experts’, where for example ‘the engineer knows best’.
The main lessons from the social innovation initiatives developed in the BEGIN-project are used to support this policy brief. We set out four recommendations to ensure that BGI and its delivery is included in policies.