Julia Neidig: “A socially inclusive and green city needs to go beyond instrumental and economic framings of nature”

Cities are often claimed to be a core driver of both environmental change and an increasing disconnection of humans from nature. Yet, people connect, relate with, and appreciate nature in more diverse ways than most current policies’ instrumental lens towards nature’s contribution to people’s well-being allows for.

Especially in urban planning, a one-faceted description of nature’s values through (instrumental) green branding may risk undermining the social community, their local needs and the deep historic connections to local places, including those which support urban biodiversity.

While there is an increasingly scientific and political focus on conceptualizing plural values of or about nature, in ways that can help policymaking to propel concrete actions for environmental sustainability, only a few studies exist that offer practical and empirical insights into how plural values can serve as a leverage for transformative action.

This is the core objective of the latest study published in Cities by the team of the REVALUE project, led by BC3 PhD researcher Julia Neidig. REVALUE consists of an in-depth single case study of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Autonomous Region and 2012 European Green Capital. 

“A socially inclusive and green city needs to go beyond instrumental and economic framings of nature. Nature comes in multiple facets, colours, contours, such as people, and their multiple relationships with nature. Local urban policies should build upon these connections with nature.” (Julia Neidig, BC3 PhD researcher) 

In REVALUE researchers Julia Neidig (BC3), Unai Pascual (principal investigator of the project at BC3 and Ikerbasque), Isabelle Anguelovski (BC3 and UAB-ICTA), and Aitor Albaina (UPV-EHU) aimed to understand how to move urban environmental policy-making towards deeply greens outcomes responding to the needs of diverse urban residents based on a plurality of values. 

“The goal of the research is to understand practical implications for environmental policies through examining how a better understanding of the way environmental values are created, sustained, — or actually unfulfilled – especially in the context of urban re-naturing interventions, in ways that this understanding can help create sustainable and equitable urban nature management schemes.” (Unai Pascual, BC3 Ikerbasque professor) 

The example from Vitoria-Gasteiz shows that besides strong motivations for greening cities via instrumentally based economic values (e.g., tourism or real estate investments) or via ethical motives for urban biodiversity conservation (so-called nature’s intrinsic values), understanding and communicating the relational values of urban green spaces through their importance for place-making, place attachment and sense of belonging can be a key motivation to help to strengthen urban planners understanding and policy designs for enhancing the connectivity of urban green spaces to all urban dwellers.

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María de Maeztu Excellence Unit 2023-2027 Ref. CEX2021-001201-M, funded by MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033

©2008 BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change.

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