News July 2023

Nature in the city: not biodiversity, but social gains matter most

An analysis of communication about the benefits of 106 urban "nature-based" projects in Flanders shows that within these projects, not only nature is important. Indeed, these projects most frequently mention relational values such as social connection, identity and feeling at home (55%) followed by ecosystem services such as recreation, flood protection and heat mitigation (30%). Finally, ecological value, biodiversity or plants and animals per se, is put forward least frequently (15%). These proportions vary little between different projects, cities, neighborhoods and districts with diverse demographics. They thus provide a first assessment of the multiple values of urban nature in Flanders.

This survey also confirms a finding on a global scale in the IPBES Values assessment: focusing only on economic or only on ecological arguments is unworldly, and is partly the cause of ineffective or even counterproductive policies.

Especially for urban nature, we need to move away from visions that translate everything into numbers of euros or species. At INBO, the "urban nature" research program continues to explore how these diverse values can be translated into policy. Through interdisciplinary collaboration with social scientists, the inclusion of local knowledge, inclusive participation and (self)critical methods, we try to capture the social values of nature.

Meanwhile, there are dozens of cities and municipalities in Flanders with a total of hundreds of projects that seem to succeed very well in this, and can help us broaden the narrowed focus of urban (nature) policy. The 'Atlas of Nature-based solutions', a collaboration between INBO, ANB, AQUAFIN, VLARIO and the Department of the Environment, will soon map these initiatives. This will allow us to learn from practice and develop realistic supportive policies.

Thomas Bastiaensen, Sander Jacobs, Ewaut Van Wambeke

Read the article:  Bastiaensen T, Van Wambeke E, El Bakkali C, Desair J, Noël C, Kenis K, Vincke L, Jacobs S. Beyond Biodiversity: Eliciting Diverse Values of Urban Green Spaces in Flanders. Land. 2023; 12(6):1186.

Image: Shutterstock


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