The importance of urban green and blue space and nature based solutions…

By Niamh O’Kane from the Centre for Public Health & Bakul Budhiraja from the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s

Cities are at the forefront of climate change, with increases in extreme weather events, flooding and heatwaves, as well as biodiversity loss and air pollution. The most vulnerable groups in society face the biggest impact of the climate crisis, for example, older people, children and marginalized communities. Furthermore, the rise in the cost of living crisis is causing further widening of inequalities, the population of most countries is ageing and the rate of urbanisation is increasing rapidly. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas (United Nations, 2018). Therefore, urban planning is a crucial leverage point for building and shaping sustainable cities, which will allow people to live and age well.

Access to good quality urban green space (e.g., parks, greenways and gardens) and blue space (e.g., seas, rivers and lakes) can provide a myriad of benefits to those living in urban areas, including health, social and environmental. Usually widely open, these spaces can promote physical activity and active travel, and encourage lively and inclusive communities. Therefore, Urban Green and Blue Space (UGBS) have the potential to act as an important setting for improving public health and reducing health and social inequalities. However, these spaces are not always high quality, accessible, or developed with sustainability in mind.

UGBS can play an important role in climate adaptation in urban areas, through carbon capture, reduced emissions, and improved biodiversity. Cities can be regenerated with the power of nature; Nature Based Solutions (NBS) is inspired and supported by nature to provide cost-efficient solutions with a multitude of ecosystem services. To deliver the benefits, the NBS require locally adapted, resource efficient and systematic interventions implemented through co-design and co-creation with local communities.

Three projects at Queen’s University Belfast are addressing UGBS and nature-based solutions:

  • The SPACE project is investigating environmental factors (e.g., air, noise, and light pollution) and how they can impact our brain health as we age, specifically looking at, and engaging with, older people
  • The GroundsWell project aims to better understand the different components of policy-making, practice, perception and people which affect the presence, location, quality and use of UGBS – it involves three main research hubs including Belfast, Edinburgh and Liverpool
  • The UPSURGE project aims to build an EU Regenerative Urban Lighthouse as a reference framework offering implementation of NBS for renaturing urban spaces, to address the challenges of cities’ carbon footprint and air pollution. It involves five demonstrations in Belfast, Breda, Maribor, Budapest and Katowice.

During the Festival of Social Science 2023 programme, we have three events which all address the festival theme of ‘lifelong wellbeing’ and which aim to demonstrate learnings and findings from our three projects:

Mon 30th Oct, 11.00-13.00 (CS Lewis Square, Connswater Community Greenway)

Walk-shop on the Greenway: Healthy ageing and the SPACE project

An event specifically targeted towards older people, though all welcome, to highlight some of the findings from the SPACE project. Involves a gentle 45 min walk where we will learn about the development of the Connswater Community Greenway, and hear about findings from the SPACE project including different environmental factors which impact how we live and age.

Thurs 2nd Nov, 12.00-14.00 (Online)
How do urban green spaces play a role in shaping sustainable cities?

Join us online to hear from researchers on UPSURGE, GroundsWell and SPACE about the role of Urban Green Spaces in shaping our sustainable cities; the future of green spaces in urban environments. Hear some of the work our researchers have been doing locally, nationally and globally.

Thurs 2nd Nov, 18.00-20.00 (Elmwood Hall, QUB)
Connecting with nature for public and planetary health and wellbeing

Join us as we showcase some of the artwork and drawings developed by participants in our Connecting With Nature workshops over the last number of months with the GroundsWell project. Also hear from speakers on how connecting with nature can benefit our health and wellbeing and also encourage and motivate climate action.

Other free events in the festival include:

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