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Incorporating human nature in urban ecology: Measuring functional quality of Urban Green Space

  • 6 February, 2024
  • 11:45
  • VU University Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)
  • Prof. P.H. Verburg
  • Dr. Ž. Malek

Access to urban green spaces (UGS) is essential for the health of urban residents. Nonetheless, urban vegetation is often undervalued in urban development because the way we value nature does not properly consider the range of benefits it provides us. The social benefits provided by UGS rely on complex interactions between urban residents and urban nature and are therefore not easily quantified. Therefore, knowledge is needed on how to measure subjective values and quantify demand and supply of social functions to improve urban planning processes. This thesis explores how we can better measure the subjective qualities of UGS and how they relate to social benefits. In each chapter of this thesis a different valuation method is developed, used and tested by exploring the following questions: How do different approaches measure the ways in which UGS quality is related to delivery of social benefits? How is demand and supply of the benefits obtained from UGS influenced by the location or the user? How does UGS quantity and quality and the delivered benefits relate to urban development? Chapter two of this thesis shows that nature-based methods enable large-scale and rapid assessment of UGS. The results of our global analysis using vegetation data derived from remote sensing suggest that UGS quantity is insufficient in dense urban areas in many parts of the world. However, nature-based methods do require that assumptions are made about which characteristics enable social benefits. Additionally, it is not possible to consider differences in demand for social benefits between resident groups. Statement-based methods are more applicable to local scale and enable collection of insights into how residents prefer, perceive and value specific qualities to inform urban planning processes. In chapter three we test the use of a dedicated mobile app to measure how people perceive aspects of a local park and compare it to traditional survey methods. Taking the perspectives of residents into account is important in planning green spaces and we show that it is essential to carefully consider which method is used and whose perspectives are measured. Besides measuring people’s statements, observing their behaviour can provide additional insights into how green spaces are used. In chapter four we compare how social media uploads relate to statements gathered in the mobile app, but also to physical observations in the park. Combining respondent statements and physical observations gave the most useful insights into how people value and use specific locations, including those suitable for more quiet functions, such as relaxing. Chapter five investigates integrated valuation methods. We adopt an ecological approach and assume that specific combinations of UGS characteristics form functional niches that are related to how people use and value that UGS. Urban planners need to consider mismatches and trade-offs to ensure that UGS provide relevant functions where needed, and that there is sufficient green space to provide a range of functions even when there is high demand pressure for functions that might displace others. This thesis demonstrates that accounting for, and integrating, social values of UGS is possible in valuation and planning processes. It points out how important it is to ensure that biases are acknowledged. Integrating methods that include subjective and objective measures enables consideration of a broader range of benefits than single method approaches. Appropriate use of these methods to design accessible and suitable UGS can improve human-nature interactions within the urban landscape to reconnect people with their environment and to enhance the liveability of cities and the health of their residents.

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E.A. (Bep) Schrammeijer

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