CLEARING HOUSE in 2021 – Project overview

During 2021, CLEARING HOUSE has seen its first mid-term project review in June 2021. This milestone was planned to mark the end of the first phase of the project. Unfortunately some outcomes were delayed due to the COVID-crisis, but other outcomes were on time and exiting. Highlights of the year where the Urban Forestry Days, the Inspirational Package for teenagers and the first full CLEARING HOUSE webinar.

What are urban forests as nature-based solutions (UF-NBS)?

To answer this question, our colleagues at HUBerlin developed a novel typology for UF-NBS. In contrast to more traditional approaches that apply unidimensional approaches to typologies (e.g. focussing on form, structure or functions), our typology is innovative: through applying OWL (Ontology Web Language) to describe urban forests as nature-based solutions, multiple dimensions can be included in the typology (form, function, composition, surroundings). This approach is not only better in gathering the complexity related to UF-NBS, it is also more compatible with digital tools such as inventories and decision-support tools. This tool has been presented in a webinar.

What is the actual status of UF-NBS in practice?

CLEARING HOUSE partners – coordinated by partner UNIBA – have collected data from 22 selected UF-NBS case studies in Europe and China. These cases are accessible through NetworkNature. An analysis of these cases in China and Europe illustrated the high importance of UF-NBS as contributing to health, well-being and quality of life. Shortcomings identified include a lack of understanding on public perceptions and expectations by the urban residents, and a lack of awareness of the different species used and their diverging impacts). The report is available here.

A specific analysis of the governance and institutional frameworks for UF-NBS in these case studies showed some differences and similarities between Europe and China. A group of experts lead by EFI and CAF-RIF showed that in both continents the engagement of the private sector is underdeveloped, with UF-NBS generally being publicly funded (with local authorities as main funders). Projects are also mainly top-down, with limited public engagement. However, getting access to capital funding seems to be easier and faster in China, with projects in China overall being larger. More information in the report.

A review of the scientific literature on UF-NBS resulted in an interactive online dashboard developed by HUBerlin, that acts as the evidence base for studying UF-NBS within CLEARING HOUSE. The dashboard summarizes information, e.g., on societal/environmental challenges addressed through UF-NBS and related actions, the desired impacts (benefits) of such interventions, undesired effects studied or observed, types of elements of the green infrastructure etc. The database can be filtered according to criteria that are most relevant to you.

A first round of exploratory research was finalised in the European case study cities and regions, coordinated by VUB. A GIS analysis mapped the UF-NBS potential in the European cases, and compared this to the broader regional and national forest availability. A more detailed analysis in Leipzig illustrated how UF-NBS can have be analysed from a socio-demographic perspective. A qualitative in-depth analysis looked at communalities, differences, and challenges in the five European case studies. These include densification; land development; renaturing cities; fragmentation through infrastructure; institutional silo thinking; challenges related to stakeholder and public involvement; diverging scales, resources (HR, financial) and timelines between ecosystem processes on the one hand and administrative and policy processes on the other hand. More details, including an overview per case study, is available here.

All the items mentioned above were brought together in the online Sino-European co-design workshop in June 2021, organised by EFI and CAF-RIF (report coordinated by LGI available here). The co-design workshop brought together all the project partners in China and Europe and the members of the User Advisory Group and the Stakeholder Mirror Group. This workshop contributed to selecting the research questions to be dealt with during the second phase of the project.

Earlier in the year, CLEARING HOUSE was co-organiser of the Urban Forestry Days in March. About 750 participants from 68 countries attended one or more of the sessions on integrated “Urban Forest Management” and “Urban Forests as Health Infrastructure”. Presentations and recordings are available at the webpage of the European Forum on Urban Forestry.

Local workshops have been organised in some of the Chinese and European case study cities, including in Gelsenkirchen (EFI and Stadt Gelsenkirchen), Krakow (Sendzimir Foundation and Krakow region) and Brussels (Brussels Environment and VUB). We opened the Series of UF-NBS Webinars with an overview of the State of the Art, introducing the first outcomes of the CLEARING HOUSE project.

Last but not least, our colleagues at BOS+ and CREAF have produced a very appealing inspirational package to introduce urban forests as nature-based solutions to teenagers (10 – 14 years). This package is available in English, Catalan, Italian and Mandarin, with more translations to come. The package has featured as a good example during the Educational Innovation Event “Let Nature Be The Solution” in December.

We have planted lots of seeds in 2021, more exciting news and outcomes are to come in 2022 and 2023.