JPI Urban Europe/NSFC: Designing Sponge Cities for multiple benefits: integrating nature based solutions to create sustainable places

Lead Research Organisation: NERC CEH (Up to 30.11.2019)
Department Name: Pollution (Wallingford)


Climate change will intensify current urban problems like flooding, water quality, high temperatures and air pollution. In China, where cities are expanding rapidly, and Europe, there are opportunities to better manage the greenspace (parks, trees, woodland) and bluespace (rivers, lakes) to provide multiple benefits to people. This project uses the idea of 'Sponge Cities' where nature-based solutions' soak up high rainfall, reduce water and air pollution, high temperatures and noise, and improve recreation and health opportunities. We will work with businesses to design and finance innovative solutions in Chinese and European cities, which can be followed around the world.

Planned Impact

The project aims to become the European and Chinese reference point for Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for citizen-science participants, practitioners, researchers, policy makers, industry and society. It will allow a whole range of local stakeholders to assess how best to design NBS for optimal benefit (i.e. maximising co-benefits and minimising trade-offs in different environmental health and societal domains). As the project is designed specifically to identify suitable ways in which policy can be developed to incentivise business and society to help cities adapt successfully to future pressures from climate and population growth, it should have direct influence on Chinese economic development and welfare. In summary it should foster a more informed decision-making process for a wide range of users.

In order to achieve this, the project will invest in disseminating outputs and available materials / trainings to external stakeholders, with the purpose of motivating them to become engaged users and have a durable and significant impact all over Europe and China beyond the duration of the project.

The consortium has already taken important steps towards building up an initial understanding of key stakeholders. This first mapping will be further developed through the project, but a first categorisation of stakeholders has already emerged. Relevant project stakeholder groups and actors to involve in the process include: (1) the general public, including NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) and citizen scientists; (2) academia and institutions of learning, including career scientists, and primary and secondary school teachers; (3) policy makers and regulatory authorities in the fields of environment, city planning, nature-based solutions and sustainability; science journalists and science media; industry, including SMEs.

We have links with scientists involved in urban environmental research at NIWA (New Zealand) with whom we will share best practice in terms of NBS implementation. NIWA are exploring collaboration between New Zealand and China on urban sustainability.

Our findings will reach out to local authorities. In Suzhou, the authority is supportive of the project and will be engaged in an advisory capacity. This will provide essential groundwork for dissemination of findings. Our workshop activity will bring together governing authorities and businesses, and this linkage will provide a route to continued engagement to raise awareness of project findings.

Earthwatch, who are sub-contractors on the project, are engaged in global citizen science projects on urban sustainability. Our research activity and case study assessments will provide momentum and a logical focus for sustaining citizen participation towards the monitoring of indicators of environmental health in urban parks and waterbodies in response to implementation of NBS. In this way, citizens will directly and actively be involved with the outcomes and impact of the project which will support widening of awareness of NBS benefits amongst local communities.


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Description Academic collaborations with University of Nottingham Ningbo China 
Organisation University of Nottingham Ningbo China
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Delivered a seminar about the project to a group comprising academic staff and postgraduate students from University of Nottingham Ningbo and Chinese Academy of Sciences (Institute of Urban Environment Ningbo). Training provided to staff and final year undergraduate students on use of the QUESTOR river water quality model.
Collaborator Contribution Lead authorship of a collaborative paper (through Dr Faith Chan) for submission to MDPI Water journal. Provision of data from a peri-urban river network downstream of a large public water supply reservoir. This is supporting a collaborative QUESTOR model application with Dr Meili Feng which will inform DeSCIPHER project development.
Impact QUESTOR river quality model application
Start Year 2019
Description Stakeholder survey to inform preparations for forthcoming stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A selection of approximately 25 individuals from local authorities, consultants and water industry professionals were contacted and invited to a forthcoming workshop. The invitees were provided with links to an online survey designed to identify the demand for, plans for and barriers to nature based solutions in local authority areas. The focus at this stage is on Birmingham, Responses have informed the workshop preparation. The survey will also be used as part of a H2020 project (REGREEN) which has some common objectives with DeSCIPHER. It is intended the survey will reach out internationally to over 50 people in the coming months.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020