The Blue-Green Dream paradigm is a relatively simple concept to grasp. It is about combining the management of water and green spaces in urban environments to better complement each other, reducing the need for more expensive grey infrastructure, while improving local environmental conditions and better preparing towns and cities to adapt to the challenges of climate change. However, implementing the BGD concept is harder than it sounds, as solutions bring together a wide range of stakeholders and the appropriate time in project planning and providing them with the tools to see how maximising the synergies of blue and green ecosystem services can provide benefits to everyone.
It was acknowledged that many options exist to conserve or enhance specific blue-green solutions in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services. These goals can be achieved in particular by improving the synergy between the “disjoint” functions of the existing urban water (blue) systems and urban vegetated areas (green infrastructure). It was further stated that significant changes in policies/governance, institutions and practices are needed to achieve this.
For example, the United Kingdom has produced a White Paper on the Environment to outline government policy in this area and referred specifically to the innovative approach in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA). The UK NEA classifies the goods and services arising from the natural environment and highlights the synergies to be gained when blue and green infrastructure are considered in tandem. The report concludes that whilst new technology has driven improvements in spatial mapping and process modelling, some fundamental problems for urban ecosystem assessments have to be addressed. The report also notes that various organisations collect substantial data that are often at different temporal and spatial scales, not available through any centralised system, with few mechanisms to support stakeholder collaboration. This is just one additional excuse for urban water and urban green managers and urban planners not to share information, communicate with each other and collaborate in their efforts to improve the urban environment and make it more resilient to climate change.
Furthermore, in France, the Grenelle Environment Round Table was set up to define long-term key points of government policy on ecological and sustainable development issues. For the first time, the Round Table brought all the private sector, NGO and public service representatives together, forming 5 panels: the State, unions, employers, NGOs and local authorities. Workgroups met to propose concrete actions to be implemented at national, European and international levels. Regarding water, it announced new ambitions to improve the quantitative management and the quality of water resources through combined effects of measures including BG solutions.
Synergies between the goods and services provided by aquatic ecosystems have important implications for urban design and management. Urban river restoration can provide multiple benefits similar to sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS). Urban vegetation is essential to ecosystem service provision and can have a dramatic impact in reducing urban heat island effects. Vegetated areas can serve as “buffer” for temporal redistribution of various types of water; storing water when it is in abundance for the days when it is in short supply. Coupled with new urban water management technologies and engineering there is much to be gained when multifunctional benefits are identified and prudent solutions based on the synergy are implemented. For example it is assessed that, when properly “synergised”, the combined effects of blue – green technologies can reduce the risk (or hazard) of surface water flooding by up to 100% for low return period events and up to 50-80% for the return periods of 50 years.
The Blue Green Dream (BGD) project addresses these challenges by applying innovations in bringing stakeholders together and linking blue-green assets at various scales across urban areas, including both existing and newly developed green spaces together with urban water infrastructure and amenities in order to exploit their synergies and to obtain a wide range of additional co-benefits. These additional benefits can be considered as ecosystem services arising when the systems are combined.
Blue services include: flood protection, water supply (for irrigation, drinking water, land subsidence control), recreational water, and thermal energy collection, transport and storage, space for living and working on or above water, landscaping, habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species and cultural services (physical health, aesthetics, spiritual), climate regulation (equitable climate), detoxification and purification of water (pollution control) and hazard regulation.
Green services include parks and recreation grounds, brown-field remediation sites, woodlands, gardens, churchyards and green corridors, trees and standing vegetation (food and timber), wild species diversity, regulating (detoxification) and cultural services (physical health, aesthetics, spiritual) in addition to their natural ability to improve the delivery of climate-related services.
This project will develop and implement specific types of monitoring and a rating system to assess, quantify and certify the current state of these services, identify natural and engineered solutions to enhance them, examine what happens when they are brought together to maximise their natural synergies, and rate them according to the level of services (and goods) applied.
In the participating countries these environmental issues feature highly in the agenda of the national and local governments policies. However, the integrated concept of integrated blue and green service components, as suggested in this project, is still in its infancy, especially in the technology development and implementation phases, where there is an overall lack of systematic incentives for their implementation and enforcement. This project will address not only the technical but also the socio-economical and legal frameworks issues to develop and implement new blue-green solutions. The project will produce new, marketable methodologies, technologies and tools that can be characterized as BG solutions and ways on how to get these solutions implemented in practice, both in new urban developments and for retrofitting in already existing urban areas. This will also result create job and business opportunities to address the needs of specific target groups.
The main target stakeholder groups for BGD are:
- planners, architects and city managers (receptivity development; expertise update/upgrade)
- infrastructure designers and modellers (receptivity development; expertise update/upgrade)
- property developers and managers (receptivity development, exposure to market products and procedures)
- young entrepreneurs for start-ups and business development in BG solutions (Inspire, coaching, education)
- young generation professionals (education)
- general public (information and education, incentives to develop pro-activity, supply of BG product hardware)
Market needs are huge. While they need to be met, there is also a big requirement for an “informed paradigm shift” with most stakeholders. This will be created, fostered and implemented by the project by refocusing the attention of key stakeholders from “greening” (cities/economy) to “blueing/greening” them in a prudent systematic fashion such as will be implemented in this project. There is no doubt that brand new products are required, along with new deployment mechanisms. These will be created through the BGD project. Supporting knowledge and technology (for example for smarter use of harvested storm water, and improved performance of bio-filtration using urban vegetation, etc.) also offers the biggest market potential through the creation of new innovative solutions by customising the existing separate Blue and Green technologies, integrating them and demonstrating that they provide multiple benefits and better performance, and finally in demonstrating their advantages through the certification of upgraded assets.