‘If we adapt our cities at an early stage and make them resilient against future crises, we stand a much better chance and there are also economic gains. We need to create new green jobs to give protesters tools and opportunities to do something. Changing our view of what a job is and working with ecosystem services can create many jobs.’ says Johan Colding, Director of Urban Studio at the University of Gävle.
Examples of such jobs could be crop growing in cities and management of parks and wetlands that are needed in peri-urban landscapes. Maintenance of the highly endangered wetlands that were common in old agricultural environments is crucial to the survival of dragonflies, amphibians and other species that depend on freshwater ponds. Golf courses, which have many ponds, could be given support to create more resilient landscapes.
Growing crops and plants in the city also help pollinators, which are disappearing fast because of the current monoculture in old agricultural land. The effort to maintain biodiversity also becomes a learning experience. Committed people are always better than their opposites. In this way, new norms are created and also a sense of belonging, an attachment to a place. Then you take care of your backyard in a completely new way.
We need people to become committed
Johan Colding points out that formal institutions, in which countries are supposed to sign universal agreements, do not work properly. ‘If one country doesn’t sign, nothing happens.’
The researchers in Gävle instead advocate investment in informal institutions, in which people take their own initiatives, make their own decisions and in which local solutions are rewarded. A city or a government should be able to grant management rights to a group of individuals who together form a community and act in unison.
‘We want people to become involved and to be able to contribute in a constructive manner.’
Ecosystem services pure profit
Granting management rights of green urban spaces to a group of people, even a whole park, which has been done in Berlin, builds long-term sustainability, as people become involved and as city management costs are reduced.
‘Berlin is an excellent example. Management rights of green spaces, but also of artistic activities, residential areas etcetera, have been granted to grassroots. In this way, vibrant and amazing residential areas are created which soon attract restaurants.’
A study from Stockholm shows that green spaces and wetlands absorb 40% of all carbon dioxide from traffic. This is proof of the air purification efficiency of urban green spaces; the promotion of biodiversity is another benefit.
‘This means that we can put a price on the value of these ecosystem services. Ecosystem services become pure profit for a city if they can be protected,’ Johan Colding says.
Without resilience, it will be hard for us to survive
A study from the UN’s Environmental Protection Agency shows that if costs for adaptation to future crises in 2030 are not increased now, the cost will be 13 times higher. A recent article from Urban Studio emphasises the importance of allowing local civil societies to find their own ways of adapting to climate change. ‘If we fail to build resilience against unknown crises, we will find it much harder to survive these crises,’ Johan Colding says.