Since receiving our funding from Innovate UK to develop a tool which can more accurately assess the economic, environmental and social contribution of urban green infrastructure, we have, as a team, been wrestling with the key question of scope and what we ‘want’ but also specifically ‘need’ this tool to do.

Through our fabulous pilot group, we opened discussions by reviewing the challenges and opportunities as they see them, and immediately, given the variety of perspectives from which developers, investors, local and regional governance, parks and town management specialists emerge, we established a long the list of ‘wants’. Yes, there are numerous tools in existence today within this field or any other field of Urban Planning – OrVal, I-Tree, Create Streets, SuperSpace, SidM  – but none (from our review at least) provide a comprehensive view of value in the round, few are easy to engage with, and none have, to date, successfully embedded themselves in both the public and private sector to deliver a reliable and common platform for discussion.  The keenness of need is therefore, very apparent.

Our first challenge is one of scale. The scope of the tool to assess green infrastructure, beyond just parks and gardens, to consider the impact of green corridors, tree-lined streets and even green roofs, has been widely debated.  Our tool needs to measure the benefits to physical and mental health these spaces deliver, quantify its contribution to biodiversity and active transport while also consider what the characteristics of this specific space are so that these benefits might be repeated.  The difficulty here has therefore been more one of where does the scope end? In some ways the limitations here are being dictated by the availability of reliable data and evidence. We remain adamant however, that being able to measure the impact of smaller, less formalised urban green infrastructure is critical to the success of this tool.

Our second challenge when considering the scope, is the specific scenarios our tool must respond to. From a public sector perspective, Local Plans need to assess volume and quality of their open space provision, and yet there is no standardised methodology in place to guide these assessments. They need to maintain and enhance existing spaces and yet there is little to inform how or where their funds should be focused. From a developer perspective, spatial standards rule application processes, and yet with urban intensification are increasingly challenging to meet, and as we know size isn’t always everything. A tool which can provide a level playing field (pun intended) of information about the contribution existing and proposed urban greenspace can make to place is needed by the industry to not only provoke considered responses – both proposals and decisions – but also to tackle some of our major societal challenges in the UK.

As we complete Q2 of our project we are being forced to make some key decisions, and this is where our collection of designers, planners, analysts, economists, researchers and academics comes into its own. Together we can challenge and debate what is desirable but also what is possible. We can access a broad range of potentially supporting data sources, and question assumptions being made. It’s not a fast process, but it’s certainly thorough. We’re edging our way closer to the specifying and delivering the ultimate tool, so do watch this space!

Author: Jenni Montgomery



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