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Informal greenspace as green infrastructure? Potential, challenges and future directions

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Green infrastructure can provide a wide range of urban ecosystem services, from recreation and health benefits (Tzoulas et al. 2007) to pollution reduction, biodiversity habitat and high temperature reduction (Norton et al. 2015). However, using exclusively formal greenspaces such as city parks and street trees poses two problems. First, implementing and maintaining green infrastructure in cities carries substantial costs (Naumann et al. 2010). Land acquisition may be prohibitive for rapidly growing cities with high land prices (e.g., Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong), while implementation and maintenance costs may limit feasibility for shrinking cities (e.g., Detroit, Leipzig, Kyoto). Second, projects are often tied to expectations for economic returns on investment, which may not benefit local residents but can cause eco-gentrification (Wolch, Byrne, and Newell 2014). In this paper we draw upon recent research (Rupprecht and Byrne 2014; Rupprecht and Byrne 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Garden, et al. 2015; Rupprecht, Byrne, Ueda, et al. 2015) to argue that ‘informal urban greenspace’ (e.g. vacant lots, street and railway verges, brownfields and power lines etc.) could be used as green infrastructure, and that it indeed already performs this function to some degree. We discuss how informal greenspaces may complement traditional elements of green infrastructure, how both growing and shrinking cities may be able to integrate it into green planning strategies, and what challenges its use may pose. We conclude by presenting a multi-layered provisional roadmap of directions for future research on geographical, planning-related and ecological aspects of informal greenspaces relevant for its use as green infrastructure.
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Informal greenspace as
green infrastructure?
Potential, challenges
and future directions
Christoph Rupprecht (@focx)
Jason Byrne (@citybyrne)
Environmental Futures Research Institute
Griffith University
AAG Annual Meeting 2016
Formal green space vs. green infrastructure
Green space
Parks, gardens,
conservation areas
Nice to have’ (Benedict
& McMahon 2006)
Focus on recreation
Planned & designed
Green infrastructure
Conflicting definitions on what
counts as green infrastructure
Must have’ (Benedict &
McMahon 2006)
‘human-modified’ intentional
landscapes’ (Matthews et al.
2015/Byrne et al. 2015)
Functions & problems of parks and green infrastructure
Potential functions, e.g.
Air quality regulation
Tem per at ur e r egulat ion
CO
2
absorption
Water management
Noise filtration
Conservation, habitat
Recreation, human health
Aesthetic improvement
Food/fuel production
Economic development
(e.g. real estate value)
(Luque & Duff)
New York High Line,
David Berkowitz, Flickr
Potential problems, e.g.
Implementation & maintenance
costs (Naumann et al. 2010)
Expectations of economic returns
Eco-gentrification (Wolch et al. 2014)
Failure to meet diverse needs of
local residents (Campo 2013)
What about spontaneous, informal green spaces?
Street verges Gap spaces
Railway verges
Brownfields
River/canal banks
Vacant lots
Overgrown structures Powerlines
Informal greenspace: A shift in perception
Nuisance Nice to have Must have?
Ecology
Planning
Decay
Temporary use
Abandonment
Just green enough tool
Crime
Recreation
Dead space
Novel ecosystems
Urban ecology
de facto natives’
Invasives
Diverse habitats
Beyond parks: Research on informal green spaces
Recreation studies (>65)
(e.g., Jorgensen & Keenan 2012; Campo 2013;
Barron & Mariani 2013; Franck & Stevens 2007;
Foster 2014; Rupprecht et al. 2015a/b)
ü Lack of official recognition leads
to freedom from purpose
ü Can be used flexibly as needed
Aesthetic value contested (wild
vs. orderly & bucolic)
Vulnerable to development
Biodiversity studies (>170)
(e.g., Bonthoux et al. 2014; Brandes 1983, 1992;
Cilliers & Bredenkamp 1998, 1999a/b; Kowarik
2011; Rupprecht & Byrne 2014; R. et al. 2015c)
ü Important role for conservation
ü De facto native vegetation
ü ~14% of urban green space
Maintenance common and
negative impact on diversity
Can harbor invasive species
Informal greenspace as green infrastructure: Functions
Function
Studies
(examples)
Recreation
(human health)
Rupprecht & Byrne 2014
Conservation, habitat
Bonthoux et al. 2014, Rupprecht et al.
2015
Food/fuel production
Diaz-Betancourt et al. 1999, McLain
et al. 2014
‘Just
green enough’ devel.
Foster 2014, Rupprecht & Byrne 2015
Air quality regulation
Weber et al. 2014, McPhearson et al.
2013
Tem per atu re reg ula tio n
McPhearson et al. 2013
CO
2
absorption
McPhearson et al. 2013
Water management
McPhearson et al. 2013
Aesthetic improvement
Rink and Emmerich 2005, Qvistm
2012, Rupprecht et al. 2015
Noise filtration
studied?
Economic development
negat. effect?
IGS as green infrastructure in shrinking cities
Expansion of vacant land, but:
Lack of resources to convert it
easily into formal green infra
Depopulation dividend’ (Matanle):
chance for sustainability,
reconfigure urban space
Shift to needs-based
community management?
Coming to terms with loss of
control over urban nature?
Intentional rewilding vs. non-
intervention approach (Hard 2001)
Potential to satisfy growing
demand for urban agriculture &
gardening, shrink cities’ food
shed
Lot
42%
Gap
19%
Street
verge
16%
Brownfield
10%
Waterside
10%
IGS as green infrastructure in growing cities
High land cost for green infra
Strong development pressure
Sinking per capita private &
public green space provision
Temporary benefits from
spontaneous vegetation in
transitional sites
Source of unclaimed territory’
(Cloke & Jones 2005),
that disciplines neither people
in their actions nor nature in its
development (Nohl 1990)?
Opportunity to maximize
benefits via policies (e.g.,
interim use, street verge
gardening)
Lot
8%
Street verge
80%
Brownfield
5%
Railway
5%
Informal greenspace as green infrastructure: Problems
Liminal
space
Access
Liability
PollutionPlanability
Cultural
norms
IGS as green infrastructure: Roadmap for future research
“Basic” research
IGS quantity
IGS types
Spatiality
Tem por alit y
Current usage
Past usage
Ecology
Biodiversity
Lifecycle / generation
Towards theory of IGS?
Implications for theory
(e.g. more-than-human)?
“Applied” research
Ecosystem (dis-)services
Potential future usage
Management approaches
Anti-gentrification potential
Legal dimensions
Planning & policy…
IGS as green infra: Interdisciplinary research endeavor!
IGS
Ecology
Conservation
Political
ecology
Environmental
justice
Geography
Planning
Landscape
architecture
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