Author Archives: Mathias Lehner

Metropole Ecology Course

In spring 2021 the Master on Earth Sciences Future Planet Ecosystem Science at the University of Amsterdam and its course ‘Metropole Ecology’ held by Prof. Judy Shamoun-Baranes, Dre Verena Seufert (VU).
An increasing part of Earth’s terrestrial surface is taken up by urban and peri-urban land use, forming large agglomerates known as metropoles. These intensively-used areas are dynamic ecosystems with distinct properties, hosting particular species and communities, but also creating nuisances e.g. through invasive species or human-wildlife conflicts. At the same time, metropolitan ecosystems are pivotal in supporting human well-being, as over half of the global human population lives in cities, facing challenges related to e.g. air quality, heat, storm water, and space for leisure. Urban ecosystems can provide services to address some of these challenges. In this course we use an interdisciplinary approach to understand specific challenges and opportunities of an urbanizing world for biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and people. Specifically, we will learn about biodiversity, human-wildlife interactions, urbanization, human well-being, and the role of ecosystems and their services in addressing these challenges”

On Monday April 12, Mathias will speak on Nature inclusive building: Dive into the Anthropocene and find out how the rapid growth of metropoles is not only a threat but also an opportunity to bundle forces and design a new generation of cities based upon the hypothesis of the Next City that provides Quality of Life – for all Species.

How to combat climate change & its impact as architects?

The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects BNA is offering the Course on Circular Designing and Building, including a session on Designing Nature-inclusive and Climate-adaptive. This session on April 13 2021 addresses biodiversity, quality of life for plants and animals, building with green as well as dealing with the influence of heats, droughts and heavy rain. 

Next to Mathias explaining on how to contribute to UN SDG 13 “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” and how to think in systems and processes from a spatial point the co-speaker in this session will be Robbert Snep (WUR).

Urbanisation? Landscapisation!

In the coming 20-30 years a million new dwellings will be built in the Netherlands because people want to live in the urban regions. Densifying existing cities is the best strategy for this task for many reasons, but because of its complexity again and again the idea pops up to build ‘just a little bit’ in the adjacent landscape. Not only because of its irreversibility this is only a shallow win, while at the same time climate change, health and sustainable mobility would require the opposite strategy: bring nature and landscape into the cites, even if it is ‘just a little bit’. As tiny acupuncture or large scale intervention this process of ‘Landscapisation’ is one of the smartest and nature-inclusive urban strategies contributing to improve quality of life in cities – for all species.

Vienna, for its traditionally hiqh quality of life (rated nr. 1 by Mercer), and hit by urban heats each summer, is doing some of these ‘little bits’. “Although sunshine and beach weather are a source of joy for most people in Vienna, a long run of very hot days (with temperatures exceeding 30°C) prevents many from getting a good night’s sleep. Children, elderly people and the chronically ill, in particular, suffer under these very high temperatures. The City of Vienna is providing relief with its climate-adapted streets initiative, one of which is Zieglergasse in the 7th municipal district. “

“The ‘Zieglergasse cool mile’ project, completed in 2020, is a timely countermeasure. The initiative has created a new shared space with ample seating, while 24 trees provide shade. Public water points provide refreshment for people and animals, and cooling arches effectively lower the temperature by several degrees in certain sections. Traffic-calming measures were incorporated, with extra-wide pavements and 150 parking spaces for bikes. Areas of light-coloured paving allow rainwater to trickle away more slowly, which helps to improve the micro climate.”

Read more here. Image by Zoom VP.

[L] GreenCity Landscape Laboratory

Looking for the balance between green thinking and economic thinking the Groenstad Landscape Laboratory is an afternoon full of inspiration about the balance between nature and (urban) development as part of the [L] Dutch Landscape Triennal.
The online programme includes key notes, master classes and 1-to-1 meetings addressing the question “How can the quality of nature and water become the supporting principle for urban development?”.

Date: April 21 from 13:45 – 18:00 hours (Dutch spoken).
Programme and registering via the Dutch Landscape Triennial website.

Trees, Urban Ecosystem Services and the ‘Internet of Nature’

In the 2020 virtual tour on her city’s Arboreal Wonders Amsterdam based researcher Nadina Galle lines up a variety of beneficial ecosystem services of city trees as key ingredients for a biodiverse city.

Already when planted the service expected by the elm trees in Amsterdam was to strengthen the canal quay sides with their vertical roots. Today there are 400.000 trees along streets and canals, and more than one million trees in the entire city offering many services. Software like iTree helps quantify these value of trees. Next to cooling and a pleasant soundscape these values include the increase of property value, and safety by lowering traffic speed and decreasing crime. In addition, trees help to buffer storm waters, store carbon dioxide and improve health by lowering stress and blood pressure, says Galle.

The Amsterdam Urban Nature Map (also available for Breda) shows all the green and blue public spaces, and how to better use urban nature. More information on trees and their benefits can be seen on the Interactive Amsterdam Tree Map, and MIT’s Treepedia. Or use an identification app such as PlantSnap, iNaturalist or PictureThis. Speaking with Nadine get one and have ‘a botanist in your pocket!’

© Still by Nadina Galle, video by Christiaan Kanis

The Nature of Cities Festival 22-26 February 2021

“The 2021 TNOC Festival pushes boundaries to radically imagine our cities for the future. Join a diverse international community of urban thinkers to re-imagine our cities today, to build the cities of tomorrow.

This virtual festival spans 5 days with programming across all regional time zones and provided in multiple languages. TNOC Festival “offers the ability to truly connect local place and ideas on a global scale for a much broader perspective and participation than any one physical meeting in any one city could ever have achieved.

Look at the program and register (100 USD for Global North).

Green ‘city skin’ delivers many ecosystem services

Protecting the ‘skin’ of the city with all forms of greenery delivers a wide array of ecosystem services, as Nicole Pfoser shows in her research already in 2012. While the unprotected skin leads to noisy, hot and flooded cities, the ‘city skin’ composed of roofs, facades and public space surfaces delivers sound absorption, water buffering, reduction of urban heat islands – and an increase in urban biodiversity, when protected with urban flora.

Download the full (and free) report of Mrs. Pfoser at the German Fraunhofer Insitute.

Viennese public transport company contributes to biodiversity

There is also positive news from Vienna these days: Because securing biodiversity on public green spaces is important – they are not only attractive areas to be used by people and animals and help cooling down the city in the summer – the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (Boku) was asked by the metropolitan public transport company (Wiener Linien) how to preserve and maintain these spaces appropriately. A large scale investigation into insect and plant species on 20+ green spaces along the public transport network has shown surprising results.

In the only 3.7 hectares studied 378 species of plants and a third of all 460 bee species in Vienna could be found. This is remarkable, given the more than 200 km2 of green space in the entire metropole, and stresses the importance of transport infrastructure for green-blue urban networks in the city, and Quality of Life.

Read more on the still ongoing research of Bärbel Pachinger and Sophie Kratschmer at Wiener Linien or Der Standard. Final results will be published in 2021, see the university website for details. Image is (c) Boku.

Porosity for closed buildings and a park instead of parked cars: the new BUas campus in Breda contributes to quality of life in the city

The city of Breda has formulated the ambition to become the first ‘City in the Park’ and has been working consequently on improving biodiversity and nature-inclusive building. Recently the Breda Architecture Award 2020 (BLASt Prize) was awarded to the new Breda University of Applied Sciences Campus, a design by Inbo and Culd. In the heart of the project a formerly car-lined road was transferred into a new park. The courtyard of the adjacent cloister was opened up towards the new green campus. Even when the university buildings might be closed due to covid-19, the new campus space is open to the public and contributes to quality of life in the city.

Stichting BLASt
Inbo architects
Culd landscape architects

“A leafy neighbourhood feels 15°C cooler than areas with no trees.” TU Delft now has a test set up with 75 tree species to check what is the coolest tree.

Trees provide all kinds of ecosystem services, such as converting CO2 into carbohydrates, producing oxygen, and purifying the air by trapping particulates. They provide habitats for fungi, mosses, insects, mammals and birds and so form the basis of all ecosystems, including in urban areas. But trees also help to keep city squares, streets and buildings cooler. Their leaves absorb solar radiation, transpire water and create shade, so lowering the temperature in their immediate environment. During a heat wave, a dense foliage provides much-needed shelter and a park or public garden with lots of trees quickly feels like an oasis in the urban desert. On a hot, windless day, a leafy neighbourhood may well feel 10 to 15°C cooler than an urban area that is more exposed to the sun, which can be enough to prevent heat stress. Trees thus play a key role in the design of climate-proof and healthier cities.

To determine the cooling performance of various species of trees, in 2018 TU Delft’s Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment and the Dutch Association of Landscape Gardeners (VHG) formed the Urban Forestry joint research programme to support fundamental research into the relationship between tree architecture and the urban microclimate. Urban landscape specialist René van der Velde, who is affiliated with the Faculty’s Chair of Landscape Architecture, is leading the programme. Lotte Dijkstra joined the programme as a researcher. “Although gardeners and other ‘green’ professionals already understand a great deal about the performance of tree species in the built environment, there is very little empirical knowledge about their cooling capacity.”

In order to determine how physical properties such as the trunk and crown shape, the branch structure, and the leaf characteristics influence the local air temperature and the apparent temperature, this spring the research team designed and built special ‘climate arboreta’, experimental plots containing tree species that are common in Dutch parks and gardens.

Read more