Seminars and conferences with a focus on urban nature really seem to be the trend this year. Last week we (Outi and Anna) visited a seminar in Turku, Finland. The title of the seminar was “Does nature fit in Turku as it is becoming more compact? Urban nature as the maintainer of health”. The seminar was in Finnish and here is a link to the seminar website and the seminar material. At the end of this post there is the seminar program (in Finnish).
So far, our research project has focused on urban nature generation in the cities of Helsinki and Tampere (in Finland). Yet, there is a lot of progressive projects and interesting discussions going on all around Finland (not to mention for example Sweden, Germany and Switzerland). Thus, we gladly took this opportunity to visit Turku and to see and hear how urban nature is perceived and discussed there. The seminar was open for all and organised by the Forum for Environmental Information, City of Turku, and University of Turku.
Here is our recap of what we found most interesting during the seminar:
Turku has very high biodiversity – how to maintain it? Turku area is one of the most biodiverse areas in Finland, and it includes many different habitats from seashore to old oak forests. A common theme in the presentations was that Turku, like many other cities is becoming more compact, and therefore the biodiversity might be in danger. While compact city structure has clear benefits (for example, less CO2 emissions from traffic), it also puts a strain on urban green areas. It was pointed out that preserving and diversifying urban nature is always a strategic choice made by the city officials. While local communities are, at least in theory, able to influence these decisions, it seems that we need more ways to engage local people in urban planning.
The biodiversity hypothesis. According to the biodiversity hypothesis (von Hertzen et al., 2011), reduced contact with people with the natural environment and biodiversity leads to detrimental effects on health. The Finnish Environmental Institute (SYKE) has described how the health benefits of urban nature can be taken into account in city planning. The institute has published a policy brief titled “Promoting health through interaction with nature in urban areas”. For more information and publications, see SYKE’s website ”Realising the health benefits of nature through urban planning”
Also in a more specific level the seminar related in many ways to the research we are conducting. Tuuli Vesanto, a landscape architect from the city of Turku, discussed storm water controlling as part of the zoning of cities. She described the way Turku has included green ratings of different solutions as part of the planning and creating of zoning plans. Jouni Heinänen, a landscape architect from Helsinki, in turn talked about the effects that green roofs have on the urban nature. He described the green roof policy the city of Helsinki has made and discussed the benefits that green roofs have in the densifying cities. An interesting idea of ecological compensation was presented by Eeva Primmer, a research professor from Finnish Environmental Institute. Ecological compensation can be summed to the idea that those who have negative impact on nature somewhere have to compensate that by preserving nature somewhere else.
All in all the seminar brought together many interests groups from Turku area as well as other interested parties to talk about urban nature. The discussion after the presentations was lively, showing that this issue is topical. Looking forward to next conference, Nature-based Solutions (NBS), organised in Tallinn, 24.-26.10.2017.
von Hertzen, L., Hanski, I., & Haahtela, T. (2011). Natural immunity. EMBO reports, 12(11), 1089–1093.