New tool will help quantify the revitalizing effects of urban green infrastructure

Readers of Revitalization News know that creating or expanding green infrastructure is often a core component of intelligent community redevelopment, revitalization and/or resilience plans.

Green infrastructure is often the key to implementing the 3Re Strategy (repurpose, renew, reconnect): derelict properties are often repurposed to become bioswales, wetlands and forests. The are then ecologically renewed and—if well-designed—further revitalize the place by reconnecting it. Those new connections could be for people—in the form of trails—or for wildlife, in the form of habitat corridors.

For instance, the City of London‘s 2017 London Plan highlights the importance of green infrastructure for mental and physical health and wellbeing; adapting to the impacts of climate change; improving air and water quality; encouraging walking and cycling; and conserving and enhancing biodiversity and ecological resilience alongside more traditional functions of green space such as play, sport and recreation.

But the whole concept of green infrastructure is so new that a lot of education is needed to advance the agenda. Critically needed is better documentation of its economic, social and environmental benefits. Now, there’s good news on that front.

On April 23, 2018, it was announced that £1 million is being invested in an online toolkit designed to empower cities and developers to accurately assess the multiple benefits of green infrastructure, so as to make informed policy and business decisions.

The toolkit is designed to help put a value on protecting, maintaining and creating green spaces, such as parks, gardens, street trees, rivers and canals. All of these are vitally important for quality of life, physical and mental health in urban areas, supporting recreation and community events, as well providing space for wildlife, absorbing rainwater and removing harmful air pollutants.

Up to now, it has been difficult for those who influence the future of green spaces, such as urban designers and planners, to make a clear business and policy case for why investment in these spaces is beneficial. As a result, green space is rarely given enough weight in decisions, leading to lack of investment, under provision, loss of opportunity, and even over provision of the wrong type of greenspace.

A variety of data and metrics need to be processed to accurately put monetary values on the benefits created by urban green spaces. This is an expensive and time-consuming process that requires depth of expertise and access to big data sets.

In order to help decision-makers overcome this hurdle, Vivid Economics (an economics consultancy) has teamed up with Barton Willmore (a design and planning consultancy) and researchers at the University of Exeter to create an innovative and easy-to-use toolkit. It will calculate location-specific economic values of the health, social and environmental benefits of urban green infrastructure.

Therese Karger-Lerchl, who is co-leading the development of the toolkit at Vivid Economics said, “Once we were able to provide credible estimates for valuing London’s parks, we realised the importance of being able to roll out this idea so that all green infrastructure in urban spaces could be accurately valued. This will help those investing in and maintaining green infrastructure to make informed decisions about how they spend their budgets.”

The project has been awarded funding by Innovate UK, the government agency supporting businesses to realize the potential of new technologies and commercial ideas. Innovate UK is the United Kingdom’s innovation agency. It works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will growth the UK economy.

Dr. Becca Lovell at the University of Exeter noted, “There is mounting evidence of just how crucial green space is to the health and happiness of urban people, particularly for people in more deprived communities. This project will take this evidence and transform it into a practical and comprehensive decision-making toolkit for land owners and managers. The toolkit will help protect existing provision and promote the integration of good quality green space into new developments.

The creation of the toolkit builds upon previous work that Vivid Economics completed for the Greater London Authority on assessing the economic value of London’s public parks. This study revealed that London’s public green spaces bring at least £5 billion worth of value each year – or £27 of value for every £1 spent by tax payers.

Established in 1936, Barton Willmore is one the UK’s largest planning and design practices, with twelve regional offices around the UK: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Cambridge, Ebbsfleet, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Reading and Southampton. Barton Willmore offers comprehensive town planning, masterplanning, landscape, environmental planning, and design expertise. The practice acts for both private and public sector clients across all types of development, from key national urban regeneration sites to local village halls. Notable developments on which Barton Willmore is working include: Kidbrooke Village, Chester Zoo, Coed Darcy, Gateshead BIG, Glasgow HA Regeneration and the former Cadbury Factory in Keynsham.

John Haxworth of Barton Willmore added, “Working closely with developers and local authorities across the UK, the pressures upon our open spaces are huge, but it is notoriously difficult to demonstrate the value they add comprehensively. We believe this toolkit can build upon the plethora of academic work in this area, marrying it with experience of public and private sector needs, to provide an effective methodology for calculating and more fully understanding the benefits and effectiveness of open space, in a manner way beyond quantum alone.

The project is presently at inception stage, with the finished product to be available in October 2019. The project team are keen to hear from urban stakeholders in order to build and tailor the toolkit according to the needs of local authorities and developers.

To contact the toolkit innovation team, email therese.karger-lerchl@vivideconomics.com.

Featured photo (via Adobe Stock) shows the Gapstow Bridge of Central Park in New York City, NY.

See the Green Tool Kit website.

See Innovate UK website.

See Vivid Economics website.

See Barton Willmore website.

See University of Exeter Medical School website.

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