How nature-based solutions help cities to reach their ecological objectives

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Starting this april Tom Hawxwell will be responsible for the UNaLab project at Fraunhofer IAO. It is one of several projects funded by the European commission within the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Together with the Finnish research institute VTT Fraunhofer will develop nature-based solutions to enable cities to reach their environmental objectives, as well as companies to develop business models in this certain area.


1.    Tom, how would you describe the idea behind UNaLab?


T.H.: UNaLab is all about getting the idea of nature-based solutions off the ground in European cities. The over-arching idea behind nature-based solutions is to work with nature, rather than against it, to address the ecological objectives of a city (often in terms of climate change adaptation and improved resilience), while making social and economic gains by, for example, making the city a nicer place to live or opening up new avenues for entrepreneurship.


2.    Whats is the projects ultimate goal?


T.H.: The project is going to demonstrate a range of nature based solutions in the frontrunner cities Eindhoven, Genova and Tampere. These cities have already identified a range of urban challenges that they will address using different nature-based approaches with a high degree of engagement with local actors. Utilizing these demonstration projects, UNaLab aims to create a range of tools that will help transfer the interventions to the follower cities Başakşehir, Cannes, Castellón, Prague, Stavanger, and beyond. With the inclusion non-European follower and observer cities Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Guangzhou as well as the Network of Brazilian Intelligent Cities, it is hoped that we will facilitate significant learning exchange and really get the concept rolling.


3.    Please provide us a few examples of natarue based solutions.


T.H.: Nature-based solutions might include developing bio-sensor-supported green roofs and green facades that absorb local air pollution, decrease flood risk, and make the city more attractive, like one intervention in Eindhoven. Or upgrading the storm water system to combine recreation, flood protection, biodiversity conservation and improve overall aesthetics, like one intervention in Tampere. Or the development of “rain gardens” that offer an upgraded public space and double as a sink for excess water run-off to address flooding, like one intervention in Genova.


4.     What is the contribution of the Fraunhofer Institute?


T.H.: Fraunhofer, together with the University of Stuttgart is coordinating the replication framework to ensure the interventions can be transferred effectively to the follower cities and beyond. On the one hand, we will be working on the solution level, helping do develop a business case around the solutions through the development of value, financing and business models to improve their appeal. On the other hand, we will be working on the governance level, developing recommendations for municipalities to create the right regulatory conditions that help finance, build and manage nature based solutions. The consortium will deliver a range of tools that will facilitate the dissemination of these solutions.  


5.    What are you doing within the project?


T.H.: I will be conducting project management from the Fraunhofer side.


6.    For whom will be the framework developed?


T.H.: The replication framework will assist all cities who are interested in implementing NBSs. Policy makers will be able to identify the important regulations and procedures, and other urban actors will know where to apply pressure to facilitate a better uptake of NBSs in their cities.


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UNalab develops a reference framework for nature-based solutions. Water management systems will be developed using a city ecology approach.