Glimpsing through the trees – Round of introductions to projects on urban green space, trees, and human health and well-being

On the second day of the Urban Forestry Days (23 – 24 March 2021), policy planners, decision-makers, practitioners and researchers from all around the globe gathered online to explore the role of urban forests for health infrastructure. The two-day collaborative event of integrated Urban Forestry activities was hosted by the European Forest Institute (EFI), the European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) and the Horizon 2020 CLEARING HOUSE project and welcomed 750 unique participants from over 68 different countries. The afternoon session on projects exploring linkages between urban green spaces, trees, and human health and well-being invited participants to glimpse through the trees and learn about projects fostering urban green space development.

Glimpsing through the trees, Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Starting off the session, Annebel Soer (EFI) presented Green4C (GreenForCare), a project looking at nature activities that promote physical and mental well-being, health and social inclusion. The three-year project, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, aims to contribute to the development of Green Care entrepreneurial opportunities and to facilitate capacity and skills for students, researchers, professionals and practitioners. New learning approaches and platforms step into place that help develop and enhance knowledge exchange in the field of Green Care.

Walking further down the green path, Tadhg MacIntyre (Maynooth University) took participants on a tour to learn about natural ways to foster urban mental health and well-being: GoGreenRoutes. The project pursues to grow nature-connectedness across Europe, Latin America, and China. Restoring our natural surroundings and ensuring accessibility to urban green spaces are essential steps to promote increased usage of green corridors, increased ways of active mobility, and contributing to society’s health and well-being. A multidisciplinary consortium of 40 organisations teams up to link participatory approaches and citizen science with digital innovation, co-creating so-called “Urban Well-being Labs” in six “Cultivating Cities”, developing a set of environmental quality indicators and exchanging lessons-learnt among different “Seed Cities” and a “Cross-Pollination Network”. Let’s start sowing!

People enjoying a park with multifunctional GBI, Photo by Hector Argüello Canals on Unsplash

How to ENABLE green and blue infrastructure (GBI) potential in complex social-ecological regions? A systematic approach for assessing local solutions was presented by Erik Andersson (Stockholm University Resilience Centre). For society to thrive in urban areas, cities need to provide social and environmental benefits. This can be achieved through well-designed GBI, which comes with significant potential to deliver multifunctional opportunities for social inclusion, health and human well-being, stormwater retention and habitat functions. Focusing on five case study sites, ENABLE examines how and under what conditions people favour those benefits the most. The project further looks into the distribution of GBI benefits among urban residents and their accessibility and how to ensure a GBI benefit-flow in the long run.

So how should a forest look like to make us feel well and to contribute to our health? And can this be aligned with site-specific biodiversity conservation and forest ecosystem management? A group of researchers united within the scope of the Dr. FOREST research project to answer these questions and quantify the impacts of forest diversity on human health and well-being. Michael Scherer-Lorenzen (Freiburg University) gave insights into the effects and underlying mechanisms with which tree diversity in temperate forests influence human health and well-being.

Time to dive into the forests of Belgium. Katriina Kilpi (Nature Minded) introduced the benefits of strategically designed forest bathing trails to enhance resilience, health and well-being and highlighted the need for nearby and accessible nature spaces. Furthermore, Katriina Kilpi presented the International Forest Therapy Days (IFTDays), which provide a meeting place for international forest therapy practitioners, scientists, and people eager to apply nature’s healing effects in their work. Throughout a range of events in nature, participants are invited to learn about different practices, share their knowledge and experience, and expand their tools regarding forest-based health practices.

Experiencing nature with all senses, Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

It is in our nature to network – Bettina Wilk (ICLEI) introduced NetworkNature, a resource for the nature-based solutions (NBS) community, which aims to spread the word about NBS and to create opportunities to maximise their impact on a local, regional and international scale. Funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme and guided by strategical impact pathways, NetworkNature seeks to synthesise and strengthen the NBS evidence base and engage existing stakeholders and expand related communities. Further activities aim to ensure a mutual informing between NBS science and the policy agenda and accelerate the uptake of NBS across different sectors. Learn more here.

The session packed with manifold insights on how urban green spaces provide a window to connect with nature, recreate, interact with others and enhance the way we feel was brought to an end with a short discussion. Stay tuned for the Urban Forestry Days recordings to learn more. Do you want to tell others about an exciting project involving urban green spaces and nature-based solutions? Don’t miss the opportunity to engage with other urban forestry enthusiasts through the myEFUF app – here you can upload posters directly to the app or create a local event via the marketplace. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play.

 -The CLEARING HOUSE project has received funding from the European H2020 Research and Innovation programme under the Grant Agreement n° 821242.-

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