UIRS Connecting Nature
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UIRS Connecting Nature

Project team attended the Training Course Nature based solutions in Urban planning

Green roofs, rain gardens, community gardens and green walls are just some of the Nature based solutions (NBS) defined as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits” (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016:2).

The NBS research field is progressing rapidly, but the implementation of nature-based solutions in urban planning is still complex and often difficult process. Therefore, in February 2020 a training course “Nature based solutions in Urban planning” was organized, at the University of Trento. The course was coordinated by the Horizon 2020 and supported by the project ReNature. Two-day training attended PhD students, post-doc students, research fellows, practitioners, as well as public officers interested in planning and designing NBS to address urban challenges. It was led by the researcher dr. Davide Geneletti, professor of spatial planning at the University of Trento, specialized in impact assessment of projects, plans and policies, spatial and urban planning, ecosystem services and multicriteria analysis.

The Course Focus

The course manly focused on environmental aspects of wellbeing in the city and the potential environmental benefits that NBS can bring. Lecturers from different research fields upskilled participants in understanding the ecological foundations of NBS, assessing their impacts on ecosystem services and applying key principles for NBS design. The teaching approach was based on interrelational lectures, discussions and case study works, conducted in groups. The following main issues were addressed:

  • Current thinking and experiences in European cities
  • Urban ecosystems, their biodiversity and functions
  • Mapping and assessing urban ecosystem services
  • Analyzing demand for NBS and potential beneficiaries
  • NBS design to target specific urban needs and challenges
  • Windows of opportunities and constraints to mainstream NBS in urban plans.

Discussion raised fruitful questions, to expose here some of the most challenging in relations planning-governance-practice-better quality living:

  • How do we know that NBS works better than other technically solutions of grey infrastructure, and how does the dimension of time affect the sustainability of the grey infrastructure comparing to NBS solutions?
  • What are the consequences of NBS for the surrounding area and can NBS also have a negative effect(s), such as rising real estate prices in the neighborhood?
  • How to think about the cities challenges as NBS solution?

Practical exercise

Participants were taken to a field visit in the city center, and then assigned for case studies analysis and design of NBS, considering inputs learnt at the lessons during the course. Case study work conducted in groups followed the process of, firstly identifying city challenges and secondly, proposing the appropriate type of NBS.

The main challenge of the urban planning exercise was to select 4 of the 21 sites, that are classified by the Urban Plan of the City of Trento as urban transformation sites. In the chosen sites we had to propose zoning areas, containing a new residential areas and areas with different type of NBS. The decision on the allocation of zoning areas was dependent on each group, where we had to provide an equivalent proportion of both types of areas within the total surface of the 4 areas.

The planning of NBS is supposed to take a comprehensive approach; therefore, in the area's primary proposed a residential use, our group always included the NBS.

In the Training Course, NBS were also defined within the Ecosystem services (ES) framework. The benefits of NBS planning actions were addressed in terms of changes in human wellbeing, coherently with planning goals that address the specific challenges of the city. 

ES were understood as the measured benefits of NBS in terms of the increased provision of several key ES for population wellbeing e.g. climate mitigation and air purification.

We were provided with the GIS database, consisting of two types of analysis:

  • ES supply, which included the evaluation of the sites in terms of spatial characteristics and their ability to provide certain benefits for the wellbeing of the surrounding population.
  • ES demand including evaluated areas in terms of potential beneficiaries of improved environmental conditions.

Our group determined 4 areas considering the most problematic areas in terms of environmental challenges and the areas with greatest need for mitigating environmental effect in terms of wellbeing. Our planning objective derived from the analyses of the city area in the frame of mapping the provision of NBS benefits - mapping ES:

ES Air purification consider areas regarding their ability to contribute to better air quality and to remove particulate matter.  ES supply analysis assesses areas regarding the different type of vegetation (trees, grass and shrubs) and their proximity to the pollution source (roads). The areas of ES demand were primarily defined as residential areas near busy roads; however, it would also make sense to identify polluted areas, used by people for recreation and socializing (e.g. public spaces, frequently used walking routes).

ES Habitat provision refers to the richness of areas with plant, animal species that are important for the ecological aspects of providing biodiversity in the city. Ecological modeling (Zardo et al., 2017) has considered the potential richness of species biodiversity, hotspots of the biodiversity in the urban area and the ecological value of river ecosystems.

ES Climate regulation refers to the assessment of areas in terms of temperature reduction capacity in Trento. The evaluation process defined the coverage of tree canopy areas and the evaluation of evapotranspiration (ratio of tree canopy cover, soil cover and area size). Areas of demand for ES has been identified in urban areas that are exposed to high temperatures and are inhabited by vulnerable population groups (e.g. children and the elderly).

Food provision ES refers to the assessment of the suitability of an area in relation to the current level of food production and the morphological suitability for agricultural activity (slope, soil and altitude). The analysis also showed areas of demand for ES, where residential areas without a private garden, were assessed regarding the distance to community gardens.

ES Noise mitigation assesses the capacity of vegetation barriers to absorb traffic noise and reduce noise pollution for residential buildings nearby. ES Noise mitigation demand refers to noise level from road and railroads (above 65dB) near residential buildings, but could also consider hospital, educational and recreational areas as a demand for noise mitigation etc.

ES Recreation assesses the areas according to their possibilities of recreation. The evaluation of potential sites was based on the structural characteristics of the area and the ability to identify areas as NBS. Accessibility and infrastructure (e.g. well-maintained cycle lanes and parking facilities) were also considered. The areas of ES demand were defined as residential areas, their assessment varied according to the distance of 300 meters (5min walk) to a quality recreational area.

Runoff mitigation evalues areas regarding the ability to infiltrate and retain stormwater, thus reducing the amount of runoff that enters the sewage system.

Assessment and indicators related to wellbeing of social dimension (e.g. social cohesion, meeting the different needs of different types of users) weren’t use in this assessment, but are also important aspect in the process of spatial planning.

An example of an ES analysis Climate regulation, where a mapping of NBS contributions is mapped in terms of cooling capacity:

The advantage of the method seems to be in the understanding of the NBS as different types of solutions with different spatial components and environmental effects. Current spatial planning practices often address greenery in the city only from a structural point of view or regarding specific functions for residents (e.g. recreation), while NBS concept considers nature primarily from its processes, that can provide pleasant conditions in city.

Further discussion and dilemmas

Although the NBS and ecosystem services (ES) are relatively new concepts and most ES studies, are far from a real-life application, Geneletti (2011) acknowledges the potential of ES assessment to increase the quality of planning processes and decision.

For example, Cortinovis and Geneletti (2018) refine and upgrade the method used in the Training course. The example has not been discussed at Training Course, but it seems important to show its usefulness in real-life urban planning context:

Primer prikazuje primerjavo med obstoječimi značilnostmi območja in scenarijem načrtovanja novega mestnega parka. Novi prostorski predlog prikazuje polmer 300-ih metrov, ki bi prebivalcem omogočil ustrezno razdaljo do rekreacijskega območja z NBS zasnovo in z izboljšanimi mikroklimatskimi pogoji.

Udeležbo na dvodnevnem tečaju Na naravi temelječe rešitve v urbanističnem načrtovanju, je bila podprta s projektom Connecting nature, ki ga financira program Obzorje 2020 v sporazumu o dodelitvi sredstev Evropske unije št. 730222.


Cohen-Shacham, E., Janzen, C., Maginnis S., Walters, G. (2016): Nature-based Solutions to address global societal challenges. Gland, IUCN

Cortinovis, C. Geneletti, D. (2018): Mapping and assessing ecosystem services to support urban planning: a case study on brownfield regeneration. One Ecosyst (sneto 1.3.2020)

Geneletti, D. (2011): Reasons and options for integrating ecosystem services in strategic environmental assessment of spatial planning, Ecosystem and people, 7(3).

Geneletti, D., Cortinovis, C., Zardo, L., Esmail, B. A. (2019): Planning for Ecosystem Services in Cities. In:  Applying Ecosystem Services to Support Planning Decisions: A Case Study, pages: 43–56. Springer International Publishing.

Training Course Nature based solutions in Urban planning: case study material (2020): Trento, ReNature, University of Trento.

Posner, S., McKenzie, E., Ricketts, T.H. (2016): Policy impacts of ecosystem services knowledge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (7).

Zardo, L., Geneletti, D., Pérez-Soba, M., van Eupen, M. (2017) Estimating the cooling capacity of green infrastructures to support urban planning. Ecosystem Services 26: 225‑235.

Although ES research and policy communities are often disconnected from one another, ES knowledge can enter decision-making process through multiple pathways associated with different potential influences, from raising stakeholder awareness to shaping specific decision (Posner et al., 2016, Geneletti et al.). Among the pathways described by Posner et al. (2016) the following example shows how to use ES knowledge to generate actions and produce outcomes. The example assesses the cooling effect of urban green infrastructure in city of Trento and recreation opportunity for its residents. The analyzed data was used as a baseline to determine the potential benefits produced by different brown field regeneration (Geneletti et al., 2019)

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