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
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’.