The climate adaptation project BEGIN is trialling a new liveability concept that increases public health while protecting citizens against flooding.
BEGIN accelerates climate adaptation by reducing urban flood risk while promoting social innovation. BEGIN’s driving ambition is to substitute traditional ‘grey infrastructure’ such as concrete for ‘blue-green infrastructure’ (BGI) such as parks, rivers, and lakes.
Since 2016, BEGIN has been implementing BGI pilots in up to 10 cities in Germany, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Preliminary results indicate a flood risk prevention of over 30%. Meanwhile, higher-level policymakers (e.g. the Dutch and German government) have requested collaboration from BEGIN partners.
A one-year extension now enables the project to build further on its results to create additional social benefits including enhanced public health.
As underlined by the World Health Organisation, green spaces provide multiple health benefits: “Having access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being, and aid in treatment of mental illness”.
With the extension, BEGIN’s partner cities expect the project to generate long-term benefits worth over €430 million – more than 90 times the EU funding.
Public involvement augments benefits
With a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green spaces can be helpful in treating everything from ADHD in children to depression and acute stress, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the BEGIN pilot sites and deliver not only societal benefits, but also save public costs, particularly in the long-term.
To enhance the social benefits of blue-green climate adaptation measures, the BEGIN project applies a social innovation approach, involving hundreds of citizens in generating ideas for the shaping of new parks, wet areas or water bodies in their local area.
In the pilots Sterrenburgpark in Dordrecht and Maidencraig in Aberdeen, local citizens and other stakeholders have been involved through social innovation workshops and events. Preliminary results in these pilots indicate that flood risk has already been reduced by over 30%.
The Maidencraig scheme’s outputs were twofold – developing a “Safe Route to School” footpath as well as building capacity to store large volumes of water to alleviate flood risk downstream.
The new path will encourage the local communities to access the green space, while the stored water prevents the Denburn watercourse that runs through the area from flooding further downstream. The process involved over 2,000 local residents and pupils from neighbouring schools!
The results and methodology from these pilots have been shared among cities via transnational “city-to-city learning” workshops.
The BEGIN Partners now have until July 2021 to develop and apply a new liveability approach which will lead to more blue-green urban spaces and less flood risk as well as increased social involvement and public use of pilot parks, ultimately leading to better urban health.
The partners will use the skills they have honed and insights they’ve already gained in the project to build business cases based on health, social cohesion and amenities which will be further validated and applied within the pilots of the project extension, making them ready for further uptake.
In the BEGIN project, 16 partners in six countries work together:
- The Netherlands: City of Dordrecht, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, IHE Delft
- Belgium: Stad Antwerpen, Stad Gent
- The UK: City of Bradford, London Borough of Enfield, Aberdeen City Council, Kent County Council, CIRIA, University of Sheffield, The Royal College of Art.
- Germany: LSBG Hamburg, Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg
- Sweden: Göteborg Stad
- Norway: Bergen municipality
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Sebastiaan van Herk and Valenti Prat are experts at Bax & Company, a European innovation consultancy involved in the BEGIN project.
Images © BEGIN