NEW PAPER: urban greening, equity, and climate adaptation

Originally posted on Urban Green Adaptation Diary

This post summarises the main findings of the paper ‘What might ‘just green enough’ urban development mean in the context of climate change adaptation? The case of urban greenspace planning in Taipei Metropolis, Taiwan’, which we have had published in World Development.

What is the key point of this paper?

Our main argument is that climate change adaptation requires urban planners, governors and decision-makers to think differently about what equity and justice mean in the context of urban greenspace. It is well understood that urban greening actions may disproportionately accrue to more affluent areas, and that thinking in terms of equity across space can help to redress these imbalances. Yet much of this thinking to date has concentrated on the health, well-being and social capital benefits that greenspace provides. The way in which greenspace delivers climate change adaptation benefits may, however, be more complex. It requires thinking in terms of greenspace function at a whole-city level. As such, additional skill sets are required to balance these imperatives to deliver urban greening that is both appropriate from a technical and scientific perspective, and also desirable from a social justice viewpoint.

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What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

We sketch out what these challenges might look like in practice through the case of Taipei Metropolis in Taiwan. Through evaluation of greenspace debates in Taipei, we suggest three actions required to work towards effective and equitable climate adaptation through urban greening. First is finding pathways that can guide planning and governance processes with scientific understanding of how greenspace functions are delivered, even in the face of development pressures and site-specific controversies. Second is acknowledging the societal benefits that can come with small-scale greening actions at the neighbourhood level, whilst also realising the most effective ecosystem services may be delivered through coordinated city-wide actions. Third is building wide-reaching rationales for urban greening which extend beyond climate adaptation, all the time ensuring that delivery of benefit to the most vulnerable remains front-and-centre throughout the decision-making process.

Why is this research important?

There has been something of a backlash in social science thinking against ideas of ‘resilient’ cities and thinking of the natural environment in terms of the ecosystem services it provides. Much of this concern is based on on the idea that these ways of thinking maintain the social and political status quo, especially if their aim is to build cross-sector consensus. That is, they do not really address the root causes of why some people end up being more vulnerable to climate change than others. At the same time, though, climate change is a real and pressing issue, which requires urgent and coordinated action across cities with good collaboration across sectors such as local government, private sector developers, NGOs, communities and academia. This is especially true in cities like Taipei, which even with aggressive emissions reduction are already on-track for harmful levels of climate change. We believe it is therefore crucial to find ways to realise the immediate risk reduction that can be gained if we use concepts like ‘resilience’ and ‘ecosystem services’ to get buy-in for adaptation actions from all sectors of society, but also to show sensitivity to the structural drivers of inequity and vulnerability.

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How was the research conducted?

The research involved review of existing scholarly literature on equity and justice in urban contexts, with a particular focus on issues relating to urban greening. The concept of ‘just green enough’ actions developed by Wolch et al (2014) as a guard against green gentrification were especially helpful in this regard. Then, for information specific to Taipei, the two largest English-language newspapers in Taiwan were sampled: the Taipei Times and the China Post. Content analysis was undertaken on articles referring to greenspace and/or climate change adaptation issues, with an emphasis on urban heat as a focus issue. Peer-reviewed scholarly articles on planning and urban governance in Taipei were also reviewed for contextual understanding.

Who funded the research?

The initial data collection was undertaken by Dr Leslie Mabon in his own time without funding. However, further literature reviewing, and additional analysis of the dataset, was undertaken as preparation for the Royal Society of Edinburgh-Ministry of Science and Technology Taiwan Joint Research Project ‘Spatial relationship of heat hazard and socio-economic characteristics in urban neighbourhoods – the role of green infrastructure’. Wan-Yu Shih and Leslie Mabon are Co-PIs on this project.

 

Mabon, L and Shih, W-Y (2018) ‘What might ‘just green enough’ urban development mean in the context of climate change adaptation? The case of Taipei Metropolis, Taiwan’ World Development 107: 224-238. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.02.035

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