Our recent article in Habitat International discusses whether greening of cities actually leads to social inclusiveness. We argue that there are six essential ingredients for fair urban green space development.

As the UN Sustainable Development Goals make clear, a major challenge for urban planning is to prepare cities for growing populations while developing them as sustainable, resilient, safe and inclusive places. To address this challenge, the European Commission has introduced various strategies and funding schemes for green Infrastructure and nature based solutions.

The multiple benefits of such approaches in urban areas are intended to include fostering social cohesion or reducing socio-spatial inequalities. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence supporting this claim. In our recent article we suggest that, under certain circumstances, greening or nature-based interventions can paradoxically lead to greater social inequalities through, for example, green gentrification.

In examples as diverse as Lene-Voigt Park (Leipzig, Germany), the High Line Park (New York, US, pictured) and Sienkiewicz Park (Lodz, Poland) trade-offs exist between different social goals. Even if urban greening projects include community empowerment processes and are not associated with the kinds of high-end housing development traditionally associated with social exclusion, such as the case of Tempelhofer Feld (Berlin, Germany), gentrification and displacement of the most vulnerable social groups might also emerge.

To address this issue, our research suggests that there are six essential ingredients that need to be included in projects to support urban green infrastructure and nature-based solutions being socially inclusive.

First, experts and planners must recognise and take social inequalities into account. Second, any process must not only include different social groups, but make sure that diverse and opposing views are heard during the planning and implementation processes. Third, while such schemes can have multiple benefits there are always trade-offs at work – these trade-offs need to be explicitly acknowledged. Fourth, it is important to consider the development of new urban green spaces as places for multiple, different social groups. Fifth, taking forward green infrastructure and nature-based solution projects in cities will require forms of multi-actor governance that can take these different perspectives into account. And finally research and assessment of the contribution of nature-based solutions towards addressing urban sustainability need to take account of questions of power, politics and contestation to ensure that they are not simply serving one, market-based, agenda for urban regeneration at the expense of others.

The NATURVATION project will take forward these recommendations, seeking to contribute to the development of socially inclusive nature-based solutions that can address urban sustainability for diverse social groups across different urban contexts.

Francesc Baró is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona working on the NATURVATION project.