Rethinking urban nature to promote human well-being and livelihoods
The benefits of green areas in towns and cities are familiar and well-documented, as they provide important ecosystem services for urbanites. This includes improving air quality by filtering particulates through leaves, and buffering the effects of hot temperatures in the summer; they can also can support food production and offer recreational opportunities that benefit mental health and wellbeing.
Across Europe, urban green areas are valued and often managed by public bodies that allocate public resources for their maintenance and management. However, pressing environmental and social issues, as well as of the economic crisis, have led to budget cuts and questions about how to best manage green areas. The role of citizens and social movements that engage with these green areas and contribute to their maintenance, has thus become of political and academic interest. There is increasing reporting on initiatives led by associations, dedicated individuals or social entrepreneurs who engage with these green spaces in novel ways, contributing to new opportunities for urban employment, recreation and food production.
These trends were the focus of a transdisciplinary gathering that included academics, social entrepreneurs, garden and housing associations, and city policymakers, to encourage innovation in the use and governance of green spaces in the City of Malmö. The event was organised by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in partnership with Södertörn University, the City of Malmö, and the University of Copenhagen. The role of non-state actors in the governance of urban green areas is particularly relevant to Södertörn University’s research project, Environmental Governance in Context,and more specifically in relation to current debate about models of alternative governance in which non-state actors have a role and can participate in the management and maintenance of green areas.
The meeting included presentations about current innovative practices by social entrepreneurs, representatives of the City of Malmö and other public bodies. There was also a practical activity in which groups of participants discussed and visualised thematic scenarios that centred on integrated solutions for the use and governance of green areas in Malmö. The result of these thematic scenarios was a collection of LEGO models to display the integrated solutions discussed and identified by the groups. The meeting offered a great deal of valuable inspiration and resulted in novel ideas that this partnership is now pursuing in collaboration with an extended network of practitioners and academics.