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

Lead Research Organisation: UK Ctr for Ecology & Hydrology fr 011219
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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Hutchins M (2021) Why scale is vital to plan optimal nature-based solutions for resilient cities in Environmental Research Letters

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/T000244/1 16/05/2019 30/11/2019 £304,566
ES/T000244/2 Transfer ES/T000244/1 01/12/2019 15/05/2022 £241,334