Five governing approaches for greenspace in urban areas

Published on
January 25, 2019

Greenspace is very important for quality of life and sustainability of urban areas. But greenspace development does not keep up with urban development, leading to scarcity of greenspace in cities. In her PhD thesis at Copenhagen University, Carmen Aalbers (senior researcher at Wageningen Environmental Research) looked into the regional and local governing of greenspace in urban areas. She found what governing approaches can make greenspace more responsive to urban development. These insights help decision-makers on how to integrate greenspace in urban development.

Scarcity of greenspace in urban areas leads to missing out on important benefits of ecosystems. Greenspace provides natural services, such as reduction of flooding, groundwater restoration, attenuation of soil pollution and reduction of urban heat. It also renders greenspace exclusive, which contributes to socio-ecological inequality. For example when wealthier people depart for greener areas, leaving the lower income groups behind. “There is broad concern about the sustainability of urbanization”, Carmen Aalbers says. “Better insight in regional governing of greenspace in functional urban areas helps to understand how greenspace can keep up with urban development. This asks for a study from the perspective of multilevel and multi-actor governance: between state, market and civil society. Therefore I also looked into what is happening in local greenspace initiatives by citizens.”

Governing approaches

Carmen Aalbers’ research provides evidence on how to preserve greenspace and integrate it in urban development. Five results are highlighted:

  1. Based on an international comparison of urban regions, she found that vertical government cooperation at the scale of the urban region, combined with cooperation between municipalities, is needed.
  2. There is need for an integrative discourse on the meaning of greenspace for urban development.
  3. In peri-urban areas, making room for urban development means countering the urban-rural dichotomy, interweaving the urban and greenspace.
  4. For the adaptation to local and private needs, a workable strategy is to pursue complementarity between the means of local parties, citizens, companies and the municipality.
  5. Innovation calls on all involved parties, not only the municipality. The higher level of structuration by socio-technical systems needs more study, to better understand how more sustainable developments can be facilitated.

Multiple dimensions

This thesis shows that integration of greenspace in urban development has multiple dimensions: spatially, financially, functionally, and economically. Carmen Aalbers highlights: “I am eager to go further, together with urban-rural coalitions and national and international researchers, to study and deploy perspectives that came forth from the use of transition studies in my PhD research.” Carmen Aalbers’ research adds new knowledge to the programme Metropolitan Solutions of Wageningen Environmental Research. With this programme, we want to achieve metropolitan solutions with the aim of realising cities and metropolitan areas that – in close relationship with the surrounding rural areas – are liveable, healthy and resilient, and have circular economies. With the University of Copenhagen for example, we are in the process of developing a new cooperation on the issue of transport infrastructure innovation. This may form an important contribution to reducing the environmental impact of commuting, to strengthening of urban-rural interactions and desealing urban areas.