- 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.
In Tallinn, green infrastructure projects are passed from a planning department to another department for implementation. The Strategic Management Centre plans green infrastructure projects while the Environmental and Communal Works department designs and implements them. As the competence around green infrastructure planning is stronger in the Strategic Management Centre, changes to the design in later phases can weaken the effectiveness of the nature-based intervention Thus, communication between the two departments, and all involved, is essential throughout the process.
The Alliance Model has been used as a model for collaboration in Finland. A project’s various parties enter into a joint agreement where the different actors share the risks and benefits of the project in a pre-agreed manner. The Alliance Model is used in the transport sector and can be formulated by the client, a city or infrastructure design and construction service providers. The basic principles of the Alliance Model are transparency, trust, jointly agreed risk-sharing, solidarity and joint decision making. The strategic goals are improved construction productivity, to change the operational culture of construction, learning and innovation development. The B.Green project has also been working in a local alliance: The Kalasatama-Pasila Tramway Alliance. These actors collaborate to integrate innovative sustainable infrastructure solutions based on environmental and social values along a tramway that is being built to connect the neighbourhoods of Kalasatama and Pasila.
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 .
The Green Area Factor is an influential planning tool that supports land use planning of the quality and quantity of green areas at the design stage. Originally developed in Germany (as Biotope Area Factor), and now in use in cities across Europe, including Helsinki, Malmö, and Stockholm, the Green Area Factor assigns weights to different types of green infrastructure according to the social and environmental features they offer, and awards points accordingly. The tool incentivises quality green space that offers important functions to cities, such as heat island effect mitigation, enhanced biodiversity, or recreational space. Green Area Factor is aimed primarily at city planners and landscape architects, but the involvement of various experts, such as ecologists and stormwater and noise experts, helps achieve more functional and higher-quality results.
In Germany, binding land use plans applied at the district level in cities can be leveraged to advance implementation of green roofs. The Federal Building Code in Germany stipulates that a land use plan must guide regulations on spatial development at the regional, municipal and district/area levels. The Binding Land Use Plan is a sub-national planning document that is prepared at the district level or lower. This plan can enforce urban greening measures as part of new urban development projects. As of 2016/17, about half of all cities in Germany had districts that had made green roofs compulsory in new developments based on a Binding Land Use Plan .
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].
As part of the B.Green project, a workshop on financing solutions for green infrastructure was conducted with public officials from different departments in Helsinki and Tallinn. Among the major barriers identified to green infrastructure funding were lack of collaboration, lack of long-term thinking, insufficient expertise and knowledge related to financing solutions and the lack of a policy mandate to facilitate the uptake of finance.
The city of Tallinn is developing a methodology for charging rainwater to reduce the city’s costs for rainwater drainage and increase investments in the development of a separate rainwater system. The rainwater tax would be the basis for charging property owners for rainwater charges by water companies. The concept is developed using existing examples from Estonia, elsewhere in Europe, and national guidelines, to offer the most suitable solution for Tallinn. The methodology and the report are already created, but it is not yet known when it will actually be implemented.
Swedish municipalities are exploring synergies and cost saving measures through the different benefits that green infrastructure delivers on climate adaptation, mitigation and ecosystem services. The government envisages the integration of urban greenery and ecosystem services into planning, building and the administration of Swedish cities by 2025. Furthermore, green streetscapes can be pursued through transport budgets rather than environmental protection budgets, and thus indirectly supported from revenues and taxes. Overcoming the perceived conflict between policies on urban greening and dense urban infrastructure will help to unlock public infrastructure investment .
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 .
In Tallinn, initial visions for allotment gardens based on a study of potential solutions had to be adapted to fit the needs of local communities late in the planning process. NGOs representing the local communities were brought into the discussions with the city landscape architects. During this discussion, the need for community gardens and space for other activities, such as community meeting areas, a community stage, were identified as needs in addition to the original individual allotments. Furthermore, the need for fences and locked entry during the night were identified as necessary for the individual allotments based on discussions with locals.
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 City of Tallinn is conducting an open competition for art installations along different parts of the Pollinator Highway. First, residents were involved in mapping parts of the Pollinator Highway – specifically places that needed something to liven interaction and enjoyment opportunities. Second, an open competition was held to get ideas for innovative and ecologically sustainable pieces of art, which would be temporary in nature. A diverse expert jury selected two pieces while the public was allowed to vote online for a third installation.
The Alliance Model has been used in Finland as a model for collaboration. A project’s various parties enter into a joint agreement in which the different actors share the risks and benefits of in a pre-agreed manner. The Alliance Model is used in the transport sector and can be formed by the client, a city and, for example, infrastructure design and construction service providers. The basic principles of the Alliance Model are transparency, trust, jointly agreed risk-sharing, solidarity and joint decision-making. The strategic goals include improved construction productivity, changing the operational culture of construction, learning and innovative development. The B.Green project has also been working in a local alliance: the Kalasatama-Pasila Tramway Alliance. These actors collaborate to integrate innovative sustainable infrastructure solutions based on environmental and social values along the tramway being built to connect the neighbourhoods of Kalasatama and Pasila.
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 .
‘Connecting the plots’ is a transdisciplinary research project in the City of Vantaa, Finland, that explores the potential for traditional and non-traditional urban allotment gardens to work as networked green infrastructure that improves vitality and social cohesion in the most ethnically diverse, fastest growing and most under-studied city in Finland. The goal of the project is to investigate whether these allotment gardens and other urban green spaces are enabling the establishment of social connections and supporting the strengthening of social capital.
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.
In B.Green, we asked small group of spatial planners (n=31) across the Central Baltic region about the obstacles they experience to effectively planning green infrastructure in an urban setting. In response, 85% of the respondents rated levels of awareness in their departments as average or higher, and 64% felt it was not a barrier to planning green infrastructure. However, several aspects were often found to be problematic. The lack of financial resources not just to implement, but also to make comparative assessments between options, followed by the lack of a mandate to consider green infrastructure were rated the most problematic issues. These were followed by a lack of experience of working with green infrastructure planning and the lack of collaboration between different departments and areas of expertise.
A well-constructed communication plan is of the utmost importance for transparent planning and should be a continuous task throughout the planning process. Language must be adapted so that everyone can understand, including non-professionals, but without obscuring the truth. If used in the right way, social media can be a key component of citizen participation. It is an easy way to gain knowledge of people’s fears and expectations, and can make planning easy to understand and accessible. In one example, Norrköping has used the city’s existing social media channels (Facebook and Instagram) to actively communicate about the development of the Inner Harbour. The City’s communications experts planned and managed posts and answered questions.
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.
The LIFE Urban Storm project aims to reduce the vulnerability of Estonian cities to the effects of climate change and to increase the capacity of cities to mitigate floods caused by torrential rain. Through the use of sustainable stormwater systems in Viimsi manor park, the project aims to drain the soil and reduce the flow rate into the ditch that runs through the park to protect the banks of the ditch from erosion. This would prevent the area from flooding and make it more enjoyable for members of the public. The project was conceived through high-level collaboration across teams and by bringing different scientific and technical experts on board to support its success. This expert collaboration resulted in capacity building among Estonian municipal water management specialists and engineers.
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.
Often, the systems which exist underground are less known to non-infrastructure specialists. This was an issue in B.Green pilots in both Tallinn and Helsinki. For example, in Tallinn, initial visions for allotment gardens based on a study of potential solutions had to be adapted to the technical requirements of underground cables and gas pipes in the area that were not known about beforehand. These areas are highly regulated and require permits for construction. Similarly, in a new neighbourhood in Helsinki, lines of bushes that were planned to be a central and repeating green infrastructure element of a new apartment block development could not be planted in key spaces due to the need for continuous access to pipes and cables below ground. In Helsinki, green infrastructure projects pass from one team to another within the planning department (KYMP), rather than collaborated on simultaneously. Sometimes, this results in green infrastructure projects losing key elements mid-way because of spatial conflicts with other communal works.