Nature Based Solutions in modern urbanism

Is it time to turn to nature for solutions to the climate emergency?

04 September 2020

sustainable green building

By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

Nature Based Solutions (NBS) encompass a range of sustainable management solutions inspired or supported by nature. NBS are aimed at tackling modern environmental challenges related to climate change, disaster management, human health and water and food security among others. The concept has been gaining in popularity in recent years due to the variety of environmental, social and economic benefits as well as its adaptability in diverse settings. It attracts government institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private entities interested in transforming our urban environments in a less intrusive and more sustainable manner.

One of the most exciting branches of NBS is the implementation and incorporation of nature in urbanism. Cities around the world face acute environmental challenges related to air pollution, water management, heat waves, overpopulation and general quality of life. NBS are an innovative way of tackling these concerns, addressing the core of these problems and utilising the power of nature to solve them.

Let’s take a look at some interesting examples of NBS in action:

The city of Munich in Germany utilised NBS in a major redevelopment of the Isar River, by comprehensively reducing flood risks, improving water quality, ecological recovery of a semi-natural riverside area and provision of a recreational area in the heart of the city.

The city of Melbourne in Australia adopted the concept of NBS in their Urban Forest Strategy in order to tackle intensifying summer heat waves. The local government subsidised private rooftop gardens and green walls, and planted thousands of new trees in the city’s parks and boulevards. In both cases the results not only addressed the environmental challenges and aesthetically transformed the cities, but also engaged local communities, inviting them to take action and have their voice heard.

The scale and range of NBS is as diverse as nature itself. It is important to point out that the initiatives do not have to follow a top-down multilevel organisational structure. NGOs in Edinburgh are working on increasing local populations of bees, butterflies and other insects by installing raised beds gardens on corporate building rooftops. In Utrecht, in The Netherlands, a group of local gardeners runs a cooperative initiative in order to grow organic food and support local community. The communal garden simultaneously serves as a therapeutic environment for special needs individuals and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reflect on the current state of our world and has intensified calls for a major redesign of our urban environments. Cities such as Berlin, Barcelona or Milan are already considering introduction of new bicycle lanes and car bans in city centres. The concept of Nature Based Solutions has the potential to support these transformations as it aims at making our cities more integrated with, and inspired by, nature.