- Green infrastructure
- Climate Change and Resilience
- Challenges for Green
- The Collaborative Planning Process
- Digital Tools for Planners
- Stakeholder Participation
Green infrastructure is a promising approach to helping cities adapt to climate change, reduce risk and increase resilience through better urban planning and governance. These interventions seek to resolve multiple problems and have the potential to deliver positive environmental, social and economic benefits. However, delivering these benefits requires systematic, comprehensive and collaborative approaches . Successful implementation of green infrastructure interventions requires that various technical, political, financial and social challenges must be examined and addressed.
This section identifies and groups the challenges facing successful collaboration on planning or co-planning green infrastructure solutions in cities into four main themes: governance and institutional factors; stakeholder engagement; a focus on knowledge and skills, and technical integration. Drawing on the B.Green project, as well as the existing literature, these themes cover all the phases of the collaborative planning process. It is important to remember, however, that the challenges described intersect and cannot be addressed in isolation.
Shared political will and continuing political support are prerequisites for holistically tackling any societal challenge . However, many studies have identified governance and institutional challenges as the main barriers to green infrastructure planning. To design and build effectively requires capture of the multiple benefits of green infrastructure and a break away from traditional ways of working. In addition, short-term political cycles and fragmented governance and decision-making frameworks are critical issues when addressing climate risk and green infrastructure implementation. These require a long-term perspective for which new and appropriate governance structures and practices must be put in place.
In contrast to conventional grey solutions, innovative multi-functional green infrastructure solutions demand a departure from traditional ways of working. Although the municipality is often thought of as a single entity, it is made up of different stakeholders and departments, which in addition to planning can include environment and climate adaptation and mitigation, finance, social development, housing, transport and innovation. These entities often have their own organisational cultures, values and principles , as well as competences, processes and regulations. ‘Siloed’ municipal working structures where one department plans and another designs and implements make it challenging to create a shared understandings of project aims and of technical and societal requirements throughout the project lifecycle. Alignment at different levels of governance is essential for successful implementation of green infrastructure. There is therefore a need to change working practices and processes, and budget flows to reflect iterative collaboration.
The mainstreaming of green infrastructure solutions requires a suitable regulatory environment . Green infrastructure is tailored to locations and often lacks standardisation. Furthermore, even the most collaborative governance structures often lack clear legal arrangements that systematise the distribution of long-term benefits and maintenance responsibilities . The newness of the solution presents a further regulatory challenge in that many authorities lack a clear mandate to consider green infrastructure alternatives over grey or conventional infrastructure solutions. Frequent rainfall events have significant implications for the design of cities. In this scenario, are planning systems capable of facilitating a shift from gravity stormwater, wastewater and flood management systems, to more yielding systems such as ‘sponge cities’ or ‘water-sensitive cities’? . Although private sector actors can be more agile, they can also be reluctant to act in the absence of a clear and consistent political direction .
Lack of finance is frequently mentioned as a barrier to green infrastructure projects. Unless the city or municipality has a strong commitment to climate adaptation, green infrastructure is often neglected in annual budgeting. As non-traditional solutions, such projects often compete with more standard grey infrastructure solutions that do not provide further co-benefits. Moreover, green infrastructure requires long-term thinking and the benefits can take 10–15 years to be realised. This pushes the impacts beyond the borders of shorter-term political cycles . In general, green infrastructure projects impose higher upfront costs and present challenges in terms of maintenance support. The inclusion of the private sector in the implementation and management of green infrastructure projects helps to overcome budget constraints and allows better risk sharing in long-term infrastructure investments. Currently, there is a lack of financing models and regulatory frameworks for such collaborations . Thus, green infrastructure financing needs be considered throughout different phases of planning from the pre-planning to the implementation stage, but also for later maintenance and monitoring of the site for which funding from the private sector needs to be unlocked [29, 30].
Planning processes require not only shifts in governance paradigms but also changes in the level of active engagement with communities. A resilient green intervention requires engagement both in the communities where green infrastructure solutions are being implemented, and in any ‘downstream’ communities affected by the interventions. Evidence shows that social, economic and environmental benefits can be more effectively delivered when the interests of citizens are fundamentally incorporated into the planning process. Nonetheless, communities are only rarely involved in genuinely co-designing such interventions [31, 32].
Communities are seldom consensual homogenous entities and existing spaces are used by different user groups in different ways. Green infrastructure planning needs to recognise this and plan spaces where uses are complementary rather than conflicting. Lack of public support and acceptance can be an impediment to the successful implementation of green interventions and is closely tied to the extent to which socio-cultural context is considered. In addition, political trust and legitimacy, along with awareness and appreciation of green infrastructure benefits, are important precursors to public acceptance and require detailed attention from the start . Fear of gentrification as a product of green infrastructure upgrading without complementary housing policies can also generate resistance among local communities but is rarely problematised .
Given the challenges with local community engagement, many politicians, managers and professionals consider co-creation or participatory planning with citizens an unreliable and expensive process. The local knowledge and expertise acquired from lived experiences is often disregarded and/or overlooked. However, shared decision making means that citizens should continually be part of the process and have veto power. This requires an investment in time and building capacities for collaboration on all sides. There is no room in the traditional hierarchical arrangements of institutions to invite citizens to participate as equals  and to shift from being end-users to becoming key stakeholders. Other experts and decision makers may also be reluctant to transfer decision making power to communities. Thus, significant changes in institutions, processes and attitudes are needed to enable shared decision making on urban spaces. One way to gain experience of and capacities for shared decision making is to start with smaller pilots.
The 2022 IPCC report makes a strong call for ‘meaningful participation’ in climate adaptation. Despite the strong evidence of need, however, non-inclusive governance continues to dominate . An active civic role in green infrastructure planning does not guarantee socially inclusive outcomes, as people with social status and ‘insider’ knowledge can dominate the planning process. The interests of groups such as women, minorities, children or disabled people might not be given equal consideration and some citizens might not have access to standard participation tools .
All the main themes and challenges mentioned above are closely related to the need for specific knowledge and skills. Effective governance, financial independence and stakeholder engagement can be considered cross-cutting issues. Successful implementation of green infrastructure requires awareness, expertise, communication and technical integration.
There is general lack of awareness of the multiple benefits and co-benefits that green infrastructure offers. Proper promotion and communication of these to general public and decision makers in a way that increases support has presented challenges . The digital divide can also be a barrier to raising awareness using digital and online tools. There can also be a lack of local knowledge and expertise among planners, which are important tools for providing an understanding of the local context . In a B.Green survey of spatial planners across the Central Baltic region (n=31), only around 12% of respondents categorised the level of awareness about green infrastructure in their department as low. Even so, 35% of respondents felt that the current level of awareness was a barrier to green infrastructure planning. Two of the open-ended answers also implied a lack of awareness related to green infrastructure and its benefits among stakeholder politicians and construction companies.
The green infrastructure planning process requires a diverse set of skills and expertise. Among the scientific and technological knowledge required is an understanding of the complex processes of natural systems, and of the appropriate design features and options needed to ensure that resilient solutions are adapted to local conditions. All of this is largely absent . In many municipalities, there is a lack of the expertise needed in departments to work with planning processes on green infrastructure. The innovative nature of these solutions makes it difficult to find skilled suppliers and firms that can effectively integrate them into the built environment. This complicates the public tendering process . Experience and skills related to participation, including digital participation methods, and facilitation between experts and residents are also needed because of the need for collaborative planning.
Only in rare cases does urban planning start from scratch. Green infrastructure must be fitted into areas that are restricted by other uses, such as pedestrian or transport corridors, stormwater or sewage connections, and so on. Existing spaces, even open areas, may have many layers of subterranean infrastructure that are invisible to the eye but restrict what can be done in that space.
These infrastructures, such as pipelines, cables and/or tunnels, and the regulatory issues and permit requirements for using spaces that interact with them must be considered as early as possible in the planning process. Knowledge of technical integration is required to create green networks and corridors that enable the movement of people, animals and insects to adapt to existing urban networks, buildings, roads, and so on. Relevant stakeholders need to be on board in the early phases of the planning process. This holds true for cross-departmental collaboration, as well as engagement with external experts and local communities. If the correct stakeholders are not on board at the right time with the necessary data inputs, this reduces the likelihood of effective multipurpose green infrastructure providing systemic benefits.
While 3D models of urban areas are still not at the point where they can depict the real life situation above and below ground, such models will help to communicate technical requirements for both green and grey infrastructure in the future.