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Informal greenspace as green infrastructure? Potential, challenges and future directions

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Informal greenspace as green infrastructure? Potential, challenges and future directions

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Green infrastructure can provide a wide range of urban ecosystem services, from recreation and health benefits (Tzoulas et al. 2007) to pollution reduction, biodiversity habitat and high temperature reduction (Norton et al. 2015). However, using exclusively formal greenspaces such as city parks and street trees poses two problems. First, implementing and maintaining green infrastructure in cities carries substantial costs (Naumann et al. 2010). Land acquisition may be prohibitive for rapidly growing cities with high land prices (e.g., Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong), while implementation and maintenance costs may limit feasibility for shrinking cities (e.g., Detroit, Leipzig, Kyoto). Second, projects are often tied to expectations for economic returns on investment, which may not benefit local residents but can cause eco-gentrification (Wolch, Byrne, and Newell 2014). In this paper we draw upon recent research (Rupprecht and Byrne 2014; Rupprecht and Byrne 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Garden, et al. 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Ueda, et al. 2015) to argue that ‘informal urban greenspace’ (e.g. vacant lots, street and railway verges, brownfields and power lines etc.) could be used as green infrastructure, and that it indeed already performs this function to some degree. We discuss how informal greenspaces may complement traditional elements of green infrastructure, how both growing and shrinking cities may be able to integrate it into green planning strategies, and what challenges its use may pose. We conclude by presenting a multi-layered provisional roadmap of directions for future research on geographical, planning-related and ecological aspects of informal greenspaces relevant for its use as green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure can provide a wide range of urban ecosystem services, from recreation and health benefits (Tzoulas et al. 2007) to pollution reduction, biodiversity habitat and high temperature reduction (Norton et al. 2015). However, using exclusively formal greenspaces such as city parks and street trees poses two problems. First, implementing and maintaining green infrastructure in cities carries substantial costs (Naumann et al. 2010). Land acquisition may be prohibitive for rapidly growing cities with high land prices (e.g., Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong), while implementation and maintenance costs may limit feasibility for shrinking cities (e.g., Detroit, Leipzig, Kyoto). Second, projects are often tied to expectations for economic returns on investment, which may not benefit local residents but can cause eco-gentrification (Wolch, Byrne, and Newell 2014). In this paper we draw upon recent research (Rupprecht and Byrne 2014; Rupprecht and Byrne 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Garden, et al. 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Ueda, et al. 2015) to argue that ‘informal urban greenspace’ (e.g. vacant lots, street and railway verges, brownfields and power lines etc.) could be used as green infrastructure, and that it indeed already performs this function to some degree. We discuss how informal greenspaces may complement traditional elements of green infrastructure, how both growing and shrinking cities may be able to integrate it into green planning strategies, and what challenges its use may pose. We conclude by presenting a multi-layered provisional roadmap of directions for future research on geographical, planning-related and ecological aspects of informal greenspaces relevant for its use as green infrastructure.

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Informal greenspace as green infrastructure? Potential, challenges and future directions

  1. 1. Informal greenspace as green infrastructure? Potential, challenges and future directions Christoph Rupprecht (@focx) Jason Byrne (@citybyrne) Environmental Futures Research Institute Griffith University AAG Annual Meeting 2016
  2. 2. Formal green space vs. green infrastructure Green space • Parks, gardens, conservation areas • ‘Nice to have’ (Benedict & McMahon 2006) • Focus on recreation • Planned & designed Green infrastructure • Conflicting definitions on what counts as green infrastructure • ‘Must have’ (Benedict & McMahon 2006) • ‘human-modified’ ‘intentional landscapes’ (Matthews et al. 2015/Byrne et al. 2015)
  3. 3. Functions & problems of parks and green infrastructure Potential functions, e.g. • Air quality regulation • Temperature regulation • CO2 absorption • Water management • Noise filtration • Conservation, habitat • Recreation, human health • Aesthetic improvement • Food/fuel production • Economic development (e.g. real estate value) (Luque & Duff) New York High Line, David Berkowitz, Flickr Potential problems, e.g. • Implementation & maintenance costs (Naumann et al. 2010) • Expectations of economic returns • Eco-gentrification (Wolch et al. 2014) • Failure to meet diverse needs of local residents (Campo 2013)
  4. 4. What about spontaneous, informal green spaces? Street verges Gap spaces Railway verges Brownfields River/canal banks Vacant lots Overgrown structures Powerlines
  5. 5. Informal greenspace: A shift in perception Nuisance Nice to have Must have? Ecology Planning Decay Temporary use Abandonment ‘Just green enough’ tool Crime Recreation Dead space Novel ecosystems Urban ecology ‘de facto natives’ Invasives Diverse habitats
  6. 6. Beyond parks: Research on informal green spaces Recreation studies (>65) (e.g., Jorgensen & Keenan 2012; Campo 2013; Barron & Mariani 2013; Franck & Stevens 2007; Foster 2014; Rupprecht et al. 2015a/b)  Lack of official recognition leads to freedom from purpose  Can be used flexibly as needed ✗ Aesthetic value contested (wild vs. orderly & bucolic) ✗ Vulnerable to development Biodiversity studies (>170) (e.g., Bonthoux et al. 2014; Brandes 1983, 1992; Cilliers & Bredenkamp 1998, 1999a/b; Kowarik 2011; Rupprecht & Byrne 2014; R. et al. 2015c)  Important role for conservation  ‘De facto native vegetation’  ~14% of urban green space ✗ Maintenance common and negative impact on diversity ✗ Can harbor invasive species
  7. 7. Informal greenspace as green infrastructure: Functions Function Evidence level Studies (examples) Recreation (human health) Systematic review Rupprecht & Byrne 2014 Conservation, habitat Systematic reviews Bonthoux et al. 2014, Rupprecht et al. 2015 Food/fuel production Case studies Diaz-Betancourt et al. 1999, McLain et al. 2014 ‘Just green enough’ devel. Case studies Foster 2014, Rupprecht & Byrne 2015 Air quality regulation Case studies Weber et al. 2014, McPhearson et al. 2013 Temperature regulation Case studies McPhearson et al. 2013 CO2 absorption Case studies McPhearson et al. 2013 Water management Case studies McPhearson et al. 2013 Aesthetic improvement Mixed evidence Rink and Emmerich 2005, Qviström 2012, Rupprecht et al. 2015 Noise filtration Not studied? Economic development Indirect negat. effect?
  8. 8. IGS as green infrastructure in shrinking cities • Expansion of vacant land, but: • Lack of resources to convert it easily into formal green infra • ‘Depopulation dividend’ (Matanle): chance for sustainability, reconfigure urban space • Shift to needs-based community management? • Coming to terms with loss of control over urban nature? • Intentional ‘rewilding’ vs. non- intervention approach (Hard 2001) • Potential to satisfy growing demand for urban agriculture & gardening, shrink cities’ food shed Lot 42% Gap 19% Street verge 16% Brownfield 10% Waterside 10%
  9. 9. IGS as green infrastructure in growing cities • High land cost for green infra • Strong development pressure • Sinking per capita private & public green space provision • Temporary benefits from spontaneous vegetation in transitional sites • Source of ‘unclaimed territory’ (Cloke & Jones 2005), that ‘disciplines neither people in their actions nor nature in its development’ (Nohl 1990)? • Opportunity to maximize benefits via policies (e.g., interim use, street verge gardening) Lot 8% Street verge 80% Brownfield 5% Railway 5%
  10. 10. Informal greenspace as green infrastructure: Problems Liminal space Access Liability PollutionPlanability Cultural norms
  11. 11. IGS as green infrastructure: Roadmap for future research “Basic” research • IGS quantity • IGS types • Spatiality • Temporality • Current usage • Past usage • Ecology • Biodiversity • Lifecycle / generation • Towards theory of IGS? • Implications for theory (e.g. more-than-human)? • … “Applied” research • Ecosystem (dis-)services • Potential future usage • Management approaches • Anti-gentrification potential • Legal dimensions • Planning & policy…
  12. 12. IGS as green infra: Interdisciplinary research endeavor! IGS Ecology Conservation Political ecology Environmental justice Geography Planning Landscape architecture
  13. 13. References Barron, P., Mariani, M. (Eds.), 2013. Terrain Vague, Interstices at the Edge of the Pale. Routledge. Benedict, M.A., McMahon, E.T., 2006. Green infrastructure. Island, Washington, DC. Berkowitz, David, 2009. High Line Park - New York City - July 09. Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/3692427372/in/album-72157620875473693/ Bonthoux, S., Brun, M., Di Pietro, F., Greulich, S., Bouché-Pillon, S., 2014. How can wastelands promote biodiversity in cities? A review. Landscape and Urban Planning 132, 79–88. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.08.010 Brandes, D., 1992. Flora und Vegetation von Stadtmauern. Tuexenia 12, 315–339. Brandes, D., 1983. Flora und Vegetation der Bahnhofe Mitteleuropas. Phytocoenologia 11, 31–115. Byrne, J.A., Lo, A.Y., Jianjun, Y., 2015. Residents’ understanding of the role of green infrastructure for climate change adaptation in Hangzhou, China. Landscape and Urban Planning 138, 132–143. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.013 Campo, D., 2013. The Accidental Playground. Fordham University Press, New York. Cilliers, S., Bredenkamp, G.J., 1999. Analysis of the spontaneous vegetation of intensively managed urban open spaces in the Potchefstroom Municipal Area, North West Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 65, 59–68. Cilliers, S., Bredenkamp, G.J., 1998. Vegetation analysis of railway reserves in the Potchefstroom municipal area, North West Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 64, 271–280. Cilliers, S.S., Bredenkamp, G.J., 1999. Ruderal and degraded natural vegetation on vacant lots in the Potchefstroom Municipal Area, Noth West Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 65, 163–173. Cloke, P., Jones, O., 2005. “Unclaimed territory”: childhood and disordered space(s). Social & Cultural Geography 6, 311–333. doi:10.1080/14649360500111154 Diaz-Betancourt, M., Ghermandi, L., Ladio, A., Lopez-Moreno, I., Raffaele, E., Rapoport, E., 1999. Weeds as a source for human consumption. A comparison between tropical and temperate Latin America. Revista de Biología Tropical 47, 329–338. Foster, J., 2014. Hiding in plain view: Vacancy and prospect in Paris’ Petite Ceinture. Cities 40, Part B, 124–132. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2013.09.002 Franck, K.A., Stevens, Q. (Eds.), 2007. Loose space: possibility and diversity in urban life. Routledge, Abingdon. Garvin, E.C., Cannuscio, C.C., Branas, C.C., 2013. Greening vacant lots to reduce violent crime: a randomised controlled trial. Injury Prevention 19, 198–203. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040439 Hard, G., 2001. Natur in der Stadt? Berichte zur deutschen Landeskunde 75, 257–270. Jorgensen, A., Keenan, R. (Eds.), 2012. Urban Wildscapes. Routledge, Abingdon. Luque, A., Duff, M., n.d. Urban Green Infrastructure: Capturing Ecosystem Value [WWW Document]. URL https://www.rudi.net/books/8935 (accessed 3.25.16). Matthews, T., Lo, A.Y., Byrne, J.A., 2015. Reconceptualizing green infrastructure for climate change adaptation: Barriers to adoption and drivers for uptake by spatial planners. Landscape and Urban Planning 138, 155–163. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.010 McLain, R.J., Hurley, P.T., Emery, M.R., Poe, M.R., 2014. Gathering “wild” food in the city: rethinking the role of foraging in urban ecosystem planning and management. Local Environment 19, 220–240. doi:10.1080/13549839.2013.841659 McPhearson, T., Kremer, P., Hamstead, Z.A., 2013. Mapping ecosystem services in New York City: Applying a social–ecological approach in urban vacant land. Ecosystem Services 5, 11–26. Naumann, S., Davis, M., Kaphengst, T., Pieterse, M., Rayment, M., 2010. Design, implementation and cost elements of Green Infrastructure projects (Final report to the European Commission, DG Environment, Contract no. 070307/2010/577182/ETU/F.1, Ecologic institute and GHK Consulting.). Nohl, W., 1990. Gedankenskizze einer Naturästhetik der Stadt. Landschaft und Stadt 22, 57–67. Qviström, M., 2012. Taming the wild: Gyllin’s Garden and the urbanization of a wildscape, in: Jorgensen, A., Keenan, R. (Eds.), Urban Wildscapes. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 187–200. Rink, D., Emmrich, R., 2005. Surrogate Nature or Wilderness? Social Perceptions and Notions of Nature in an Urban Context, in: Kowarik, I., Körner, S. (Eds.), Wild Urban Woodlands. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, pp. 67–80. Rupprecht, C.D.D., Byrne, J.A., 2014a. Informal urban green-space: comparison of quantity and characteristics in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. PloS ONE 9, e99784. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099784 Rupprecht, C.D.D., Byrne, J.A., 2014b. Informal urban greenspace: a typology and trilingual systematic review of its role for urban residents and trends in the literature. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 13, 597– 611. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2014.09.002 Rupprecht, C.D.D., Byrne, J.A., Garden, J.G., Hero, J.-M., 2015a. Informal urban green space: A trilingual systematic review of its role for biodiversity and trends in the literature. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 14, 883–908. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2015.08.009 Rupprecht, C.D.D., Byrne, J.A., Lo, A.Y.H., 2015b. Memories of vacant lots: How and why residents used informal urban greenspace as children and teenagers in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. Children’s Geographies. doi:10.1080/14733285.2015.1048427 Rupprecht, C.D.D., Byrne, J.A., Ueda, H., Lo, A.Y.H., 2015c. “It”s real, not fake like a park’: Residents’ perception and use of informal urban green-space in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. Landscape and Urban Planning 143, 205–218. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.07.003 Weber, F., Kowarik, I., Säumel, I., 2014. Herbaceous plants as filters: Immobilization of particulates along urban street corridors. Environmental Pollution 186, 234–240. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2013.12.011 Wolch, J.R., Byrne, J., Newell, J.P., 2014. Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities “just green enough.” Landscape and Urban Planning 125, 234–244.

Editor's Notes

  • When we talk about green infrastructure, it’s important to understand what exactly that means. In this regard, it helps to have a look at both green space and green infrastructure and some subtle differences in terminology.

    - Green space points. Compared to green space, the term green infrastructure is less clearly defined. Green infrastructure points.
  • Before we look at the question whether more informal green spaces could be a part of green infrastructure, it’s important to recall the variety of functions green infra performs.

    Potential function points. However, as the green infrastructure literature has grown, people have pointed out that simply investing massivly in greening has some downsides as well. Potential problem points.
  • With these functions and problems of green infrastructure in mind, what about green spaces beyond parks, gardens and conservation areas? Over the last years, my colleagues and I have worked on a group of spaces we call informal greenspace. We’ve put out a preliminarly definition of informal greenspace as anthropogenic, socio-ecological space covered partly with spontaneous vegetation, that is not recognised/managed by owners as recreational, agricultural or conservation space. Could these spaces perform similar infrastructure-like functions as formal greenspaces?

    To answer this question, let’s have a look at how their perception has shifted.
  • Until around the 1980s, such spaces were perceived almost completely negatively. Planning side, Ecology side.

    Starting with some pioneering studies in planning and ecology, this slowly changed from the 1980s onwards, with another big jump in interest over the last 5 to 10 years. More recently, some people are arguing that such spaces may have qualities more formal greenspaces are lacking, and may therefore have a value of their own, not just as a substitute.
  • Most research on informal greenspace to date looks at either urban recreation or urban biodiversity. Recreation and biodiversity details.

    But what if we look at the whole range of functions we expect from green infrastructure?
  • The current evidence we have about informal greenspace functioning as green infrastructure is mixed. For some aspects the answer is clear: yes, IGS performs as green infrastructure, even if we don’t recognize it as such. For other aspects, some early studies suggest a similar picture, but it’s really too early to say. For aesthetic improvement, there is mixed evidence. Finally, there are infrastructure services we know nothing about, or those where past research indirectly suggests a negative effect.

    To summarize the current status: there’s a lot more work to be done! But is it really worth? Let’s look at two different scenarios – shrinking and growing cities – to see how they could use IGS.
  • Shrinking cities often have a problem growing cities would love to have: more land than they can easily use. How does this play out?

    Example from fieldwork I did: Sapporo, a city of about 2 million inhabitants located in northern Japan. Like most Japanese cities very high density, little private greenspace. Lots are largest IGS type, residents use it for example for urban agriculture.
  • Growing cities struggle to provide soaring population with green space and green infra services, but land cost and development pressure is high. Other points.

    Example from my fieldwork: Brisbane. Street verges dominate IGS but are still mostly unused.

    Is IGS then an ideal solution with no downside? Of course not.
  • The problems can be largely divided into 5 categories. IGS is not always accessible. Legal liability issues produce incentives to keep it inaccessible. IGS sites can have a history of industrial pollution, creating problems for agriculture. How do you plan for something that does not exist on your maps? Finally, the shift in perception is slow. Many residents but also planners and scholars still have largely negative views.

    So what questions do we need to tackle moving forward?
  • When it comes to IGS as green infrastructure, we’ve barely scraped the surface. First there are basic questions which affect if and how IGS can work as green infra. Such as. Then there are applied questions. As you can see, this topic clearly goes beyond geography.
  • I know interdisciplinary research has been both hyped for a long time and simultaneously called a career killer, but when trying to understand complex phenomena there is no way around it: all these fields and probably more are needed to understand and unlock the potential of IGS as green infrastructure.
  • ×