Speaker Series 2023 #13 | Humans and Habitats

Dec 2023

About the Session

The Speakers

The world is warming and as humanity encroaches on more and more nature to continue expanding our cities, we are seeing devastating effects on the environment and in society. Heatwaves and floods are set to increase with global warming, but because of urban development, many of nature’s natural barriers against extreme weather events have decreased. Barriers like wetlands and tree cover protected these areas in the past and can protect them again. Cities worldwide have opportunities at their fingertips and cities that have yet to completely implement grey infrastructure have a unique opportunity to integrate nature-based solutions (NBS) seamlessly with their infrastructures. These benefits are far from technical beyond creating efficient waste systems; cities can turn threats into assets by utilizing flood seasons to grow food in urban centers, provide water to industry, and create a circular approach to water systems for the entire city.

The final Cities on the Frontline session of the year, jointly organized by Resilient Cities Network and GHD, “Humans and Habitats: Harmonizing nature, places and spaces for the community” unveiled pioneering nature-based solutions from Chennai and Rotterdam, offering profound insights into the realities of the integration of nature-based solutions within urban landscapes. Our speakers Leon Kapetas, Lead for Climate Resilience, Programs, R-Cities; Tina Marano, Future Communities Lead – Canada, GHD; Sander Klaasen, Senior Landscape Architect, City of Rotterdam, Netherlands; & Shilesh Hariharan, Madras Terrace, Chennai, India, explored the diversity of possible solutions in diverse local contexts.

Chennai showcased groundbreaking water balance pilots that improved accessibility to unflooded educational institutions for differently abled children while addressing severe backflow issues during summer periods. The city ingeniously used anaerobic sewage treatment, managing significant daily water volumes while transforming urban areas into vibrant, lush, and odor-free zones. Educational institutions detached from municipal systems were integrated into the aquifer, fostering thriving ecosystems. Additionally, Chennai actively revitalizes wetlands and bio-swells to reduce sewage inflow, offering sustainable water management solutions tailored to urban needs.

Meanwhile, Rotterdam presented forward-thinking flood-resilience strategies through NBS, engaging the public in greening landscapes and enhancing biodiversity in parks. Their initiatives emphasized vulnerable neighborhoods, intertwining biodiversity, water management, and green public spaces. The city’s innovative projects, including man-made islands, rain gardens, and national contests promoting sustainability, serve as role models for diverse NBS solutions addressing various challenges.

Both cities underscored community engagement as pivotal in fortifying urban resilience and nurturing biodiversity. Their integration of NBS highlighted the necessity of collaboration between governmental bodies and local communities, fundamental to sustaining and scaling such initiatives. Despite geographic disparities, Chennai and Rotterdam showcased parallel approaches to harnessing the potential of NBS, fostering a shared vision for resilient urban futures worldwide.

Discussions during the session explored challenges like engaging diverse stakeholders, associated maintenance costs, strategies for implementation in densely populated areas, and the role of Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) in facilitating successful collaborations between government bodies and communities. These practical implementations of NBS from Chennai and Rotterdam set a precedent, offering resilience and sustainability amidst urban challenges, shaping the trajectory of future urban development globally.

In essence, the session unveiled practical implementations of nature-based solutions, showcasing successful projects and strategies from Chennai and Rotterdam. These initiatives highlight the integration of NBS into urban landscapes, offering resilience and sustainability in the face of urban challenges, thereby setting a precedent for future urban development worldwide.

Key insights

  • Implementation of nature-based solutions like anaerobic sewage treatment, rain gardens, and wetland revitalization, need city wide buy in and support from local government in order to have the funding allocated and for sustainable implementation.
  • Initiatives involving citizens in the process & guardianship of green landscapes within cities can provide additional benefits like food security & community spaces that not only enhance biodiversity but create sustainable, resilient spaces.
  • The engagement of diverse stakeholders poses significant challenges due to varied objectives and priorities. Before beginning these projects, it is important to clearly articulate the benefits of working together and make sure that the value of NBS is clearly understood.
  • One additional barrier is that NBS is implemented and maintained by different departments in some cities, which can create confusion or mismanagement. Differing responsibilities regarding maintenance, some systems need public upkeep and the expertise to do so, while others can be stewarded by community members.
  • Challenges in cities with high population density and limited green spaces need to be addressed by leveraging public areas and situating grey infrastructure outside city limits. Beyond the benefits to energy systems, green infrastructure can have immense impacts on the health and well-being of populations and should be prioritized.
  • Ensuring a balance between biodiversity preservation and diverse urban settings is important; it is necessary to consider how reintroducing historical biodiversity can support cities’ efforts to be more resilient to weather events.
  • Contrasting government approaches exist, from quick pilot projects to more extended timelines for longer-term city-wide initiatives. Because implementation durations vary widely, spanning over a decade, the long-term impacts of these changes must be stressed to all stakeholders.
  • Chief Resilience Officers play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between government bodies, communities, and projects, ensuring successful and sustainable implementation of NBS.

Sander Klaassen, Senior Landscape Architect, Rotterdam

“We also try to educate people on how they can be a part of it (greening Rotterdam) because 60% of the city of Rotterdam is in private hands and 40% is public.

Shilesh Hariharan, Principal Architect, Madras Terrace, Chennai

“We are working in cities that are more than 300-400 years old, we are working at the heart of it, and we are trying to solve problems which have been layered for generations before. So, I don’t think I will be the only person who will be able to solve it. … It will take many people working on this for many years.”

Tina Marano, Business Development & Strategy Leader, Future Communities Lead, GHD Canada

“And I think when you’re able to show the finished project … that’s the best way to actually demonstrate how people walk through there and see the benefits and … hear it from the community and the residents that are benefiting.”

Leon Kapetas, Lead, Climate Resilience, Resilient Cities Network

“Circularity plays a huge role in the conceptualization of nature-based solutions. You don’t, you no longer have these linear systems, water in, water out.”

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