Urban nature based solutions: how can they help us?


Urban nature-based solutions offer a holistic approach in solving problems which many of the world’s cities experience; flooding during periods of heavy rain; high levels of air pollution; climate change induced heat island effects; lack of access to natural environments and lack of biodiversity. Urban nature-based solutions aim to tackle many of these issues at the same time, using nature.

by Amber Luscombe

[1] Urban nature-based solutions, Isar River, Munich

As a multi-faceted approach, an urban nature-based solution can have far reaching and multiple impacts. In contrast a more traditional ‘grey infrastructure’ approach may solve one of those problems in isolation, ignoring or perhaps even making the other connected issues worse.

At Morrow + Lorraine we are continuing to learn and expand our knowledge on how we can tackle the climate crisis with holistic and robust solutions which look far beyond the immediate impact, to ensure the solutions we propose consider the societal, mental health and wellbeing impacts in tandem with the environmental.

A wide range of urban nature-based solutions have been successfully implemented across a differing environments, scales and timeframes. An example of this is the Isar Plan[1], a river restoration project carried out between 2000 to 2011 in Munich. The aim was to provide better flood protection to the city, improve water quality and respond to the increased citizen requests for more green and better biodiversity in their city. The ensuing river restoration transformed the ‘grey’ river by rewilding the river landscape, providing flood protection, better water quality and an attractive amenity space for city residents. Whilst the new landscape requires higher ongoing maintenance costs, the benefits to the mental and physical health of the city residents is significant and the river, park and surrounding areas now attract more visitors than ever before.

Whilst urban nature-based solutions can be implemented into projects of all sizes and budgets, they require lateral thinking in understanding where the value can be found. For example, whilst setting aside budget for green roofs and a landscaping strategy can be expensive the value can be far reaching:

  • Cooling effects to the immediate building environment can lower building cooling costs, therefore using less energy required to cool the building with more comfortable tenants
  • Improved visual aesthetics can generate higher rents
  • Improved water run-off and stormwater management is a benefit to the local authority and surrounding environment
  • Improved air quality can improve health for immediate and surrounding occupants
  • Increased biodiversity can improve footfall and bring societal benefits in providing better access to nature
[2] 47 Great Marlborough Street incorporates a green roof which extends to the perimeter, and cascades over the façade. Photo by Timothy Soar

Urban nature-based solutions are being increasingly implemented and advocated for on political agendas, increasing awareness and future political and financial support for other schemes; the Covid-19 pandemic certainly increased everyone’s awareness for how important having good quality external environments and access to nature is, as well as the mental and physical health benefits they can bring.

Closer to home, The London Plan 2020 very much draws on the same ideas as urban nature-based solutions, promoting the use of joined-up thinking and strategies to tackle the issues that London faces.

In 2022 we should all be aiming to take more inspiration from nature when tackling some of these very large wide-ranging issues within the built environment, not only considering the impact but our mental health and wellbeing at the same time, utilising urban nature-based solutions is just one way of working towards that.

[3] 15 Welbeck Street green wall. While relatively small in scale, the wall enhances the aesthetics of the courtyard and provides natural cooling. Photo by Simon Maxwell

*Amber has recently completed a course in urban nature-based solutions (Urban Nature: Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovation) with Lund University. Please get in contact if you’d like to discuss this topic further.

[1] Munich Snapshot
Image reference  – Isar, Munich
[2] 47 Great Marlborough Street
[3] 15 Welbeck Street