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Photo by Kunal Shinde on Unsplash

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Nature makes an intervention

A new €11m project funded by the European Commission will apply novel solutions such as urban nature-based interventions, big data analysis and citizen science to investigate the links between green spaces and human health and well-being – a topic that has gained worldwide attention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a network of almost 40 partners across Europe, Latin America and China, GoGreenRoutes foresees the implementation of transformative nature-based solutions in six pioneering cities. An innovative knowledge ecosystem will be established involving another nine urban centres, 14 universities and research institutions, 12 small and medium enterprises and five NGOs, sowing the seeds for increased nature-connectedness in urban environments.

The four-year project shifts the traditional focus of nature-based solutions – actions inspired and supported by nature which simultaneously address societal challenges – towards the co-benefits to multidimensional health-termed “360-Health”.

The aim is to identify and monitor positive effects of green spaces to stress reduction, attention restoration, mental resilience and pro-social behaviour.

Digital innovation will be used to investigate how green corridors impact physical activity and active travel. As a result, a new set of environmental indicators will be developed to inform the design process of green routes, ensuring that they meet the needs of their users and address challenges which are unique to different cities.

GoGreenRoutes will take the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration and evaluate the impact of reduced air pollution during and after lockdown, as well as the effects of quarantine on mental health.

Piret Noukas, Project Adviser at the Executive Agency for Small and Medium sized Enterprises of the European Commission said: “GoGreenRoutes will show the benefits of urban nature-based solutions for health and well-being. It devotes particular attention to cutting-edge digital innovations, notably soundscape, digital placemaking, emotional mapping, and virtual reality. The project will also put emphasis on co-creation, diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Dr. Tadhg MacIntyre, coordinator of the project at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, said: “COVID-19 has reminded us how the thread of our existence is intertwined with biodiversity and the natural world. Access to greenspace, which was highly limited during lockdown scenarios, is critical for mental health and well-being. UN SDG target 11.7 is to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities by 2030. What we have learnt from the pandemic is that citizens need more greenspace than ever, especially in urban areas. Spending time outdoors while physically distancing reduces the risk of transmission and promotes a positive psychophysiological response which is key to our resilient response to global challenges”.

More specifically, the project’s urban interventions will:

•          harvest the full potential of natural spaces to foster a more active lifestyle and better well-being in Burgas (Bulgaria);

•          mitigate air pollution and noise pollution from traffic congestions by creating segregated active travel routes in Lahti (Finland);

•          address the challenges from traffic congestion through the development of a green corridor, additional street trees and restorative spaces in Limerick (Ireland);

•          optimise the re-purposing of a sports stadium through the use of green infrastructure to connect the venue with local communities in Tallinn (Estonia);

•          segregate motorised vehicular traffic from cyclists and pedestrians for the benefit of all gender and age groups in Umeå (Sweden), where gender-sensitive interventions will be considered;

•          cultivate co-ownership of urban green spaces in Versailles (France), future-proofing the city for planned new developments and reducing risks of gentrification;

•          generate knowledge and innovation to increase the uptake and acceptability of nature-based solutions in Munich (Germany), the region of Murcia (Spain), Gzira (Malta), Beijing (China), Mexico City (Mexico) and Tblisi (Georgia).

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