INNESTI / GRAFTING Conference Report
The 3rd UPPER policy conference, themed on Nature-Based Solutions for Sustainable Urban Policy and Social Inclusion, was held on 24-25 September 2021 in Latina & online.
Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) are at the heart of the innovations imagined by the UPPER project to co-design Latina’s public green spaces with citizens in order to improve environmental conditions, safeguard biodiversity and promote green entrepreneurship, environmental education and the inclusion of disadvantaged people.
The concept of ‘grafting’, adopted in the conference’s title, is a metaphor referring to the practice of grafting diverse plant species onto robust local roots, well acclimatized to their native territory, with the goal of successfully germinating new and more resilient fruits. Following this concept, the two day conference was aimed at bringing innovative practices and knowledge into well established community frameworks, with a special focus on using NBS to support new urban policy paradigms, with a strong systemic approach based on sustainability and social inclusion.
The conference, organised within the frame of the Urban Innovative Action UPPER project in the Italian city of Latina, featured an international session (in English) dedicated to EU perspectives on day one, and a second in Italian on day two, focused on applications of NBS in national and regional contexts. Owing to pandemic limitations, the conference was held in a hybrid format, with the international session taking place online and the second day activities carried out face to face in Latina.
The conference was rounded off with visits to project sites in Latina and the sharing of experiences within the project (also included in the UPPER action plan), aimed at concretely linking theoretical discussions with the real-world application of ideas in target communities and territories.
The conference was the third in a series of policy events organised by the UPPER project, with the first ‘kick off’ event taking place in December 2019 and the second, Intorni online conference, occurring in October 2020.
The event was organised by Tesserae Urban Social Research in collaboration with Ce.R.S.I.Te.S. – Centro Ricerca e Servizi per l’Innovazione Tecnologica della Sapienza – Università di Roma.
Event Summary – Day One – Friday September 24, 15.30-17.30
The first day of the two-day conference focused on the framing of innovations in Nature Based Solutions in policy and research. After a theoretical introduction, some projects working on nature based solutions in Italy and internationally were invited to present their actions and share their insights.
The conference opened with a speech by Lorenzo Tripodi, Senior Researcher and co-Founder of Tesserae, who explained the scope of the conference – exploring NBS as an essential form of innovation to improve the quality of life in cities, while also considering European policies and urban development issues. The conference’s name “Grafting / Innesti” is meant to highlight a focus on the idea of innovation as a means of creating blooming territories.
After introductions by the Municipality of Latina, Tommaso Galli, Project Officer at Urban Innovative Action (UIA) gave a presentation of what UIA is and the future of the initiative. UIA is an initiative of European Commission DG Regio, financing projects throughout the European Union which are thematically aligned with the topics of the EU Urban Agenda, including urban poverty, circular economy and employment and skills in the local economy. UIA, with a commitment of more than 52 million euros, is supporting 13 projects in 13 Italian municipalities, among which is the UPPER project. In 2022, UIA will evolve into a new entity called the European Urban Initiative (EUI), which will focus on supporting innovative actions, capacity building, knowledge, policy and communication.
Intza Balenciaga, Project Officer at ICLEI, gave a speech on the Institute NATure-based Urban innoVATION (NATURVATION) project, a four-year project funded by Horizon 2020, building Nature-Based Solution orientated partnerships between European cities. The project involves 14 institutions across Europe working in the fields of urban development, geography, innovation studies and economics.
The project aims to build bridges between policy and practice, advancing assessment, enabling innovation and building momentum whilst also addressing issues of justice, equality and sustainability. The project has already produced numerous key outputs, including the Urban Nature Atlas (a collection of more than 1000 inspiring NBS projects from European cities and beyond), the book Making Urban Nature Bloom, and the CitiesWithNature knowledge and research hub, alongside many other events and dedicated web portals.
Tadhg MacIntyre (National University of Ireland Maynooth) was next to speak, coordinator of GoGreen Routes, a project aimed at exploring novel, inclusive and natural approaches to fostering urban health and well-being. GoGreen Routes promotes a shared Urban Health Agenda across six European cities, namely Versailles, Burgas, Lahti, Limerick, Umea and Tallinn, through joint activities and knowledge sharing between city mayors. One of the unique practices of GoGreen Routes is its application of a “multi-dimensional health model”, which utilizes a mix of objective measures combined with self-reports and perception-based evaluation of environmental quality for measuring health. The project also addresses gender, inclusion and diversity dimensions through co-creative, participatory processes and citizen decision making.
Giacomo Pirazzoli, professor at the Department of Architecture DIDA of the University of Florence, is coordinator of GreenUP, an EU-funded project which aims to develop, apply and validate NBS-based methodologies for renaturing urban spaces, in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, improve air quality and water management and increase the sustainability of our cities.
Pirazzoli explained how “green approaches” can be considered a constant need for communities. He also discussed the future potential of vertical gardens, with existing buildings becoming the hardware and temporary units becoming the software in a system aimed at decreasing overall CO2 consumption through recycling and re-use. His research in this area aims to give proper consideration to climate change issues and to bring sustainable green areas to citizens of cities in which little green space is available. The research also explores innovative ways of (vertically) providing extra-space for growing plants and vegetables, which may realistically reach up to 40% self-sufficiency and better air quality as a side effect.
Engie, partner of the UPPER project, is a multinational player in the energy field, committed to accelerating the transition towards a carbon-neutral world through reduced energy consumption and more environmentally-friendly solutions. Hubert Dusausoy, Smart Cities & Carbon-Free Sales Manager, started his presentation by introducing the main challenges for smart cities and sustainable mobility, which include improving local air quality, contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions, providing safe access to light mobility (e.g. cycling, bike sharing…), financing sustainable mobility initiatives and improving citizens’ quality of life by managing traffic flow. Dusausoy then introduced the Mobility Footprint, an environmental assessment solution able to analyse, in real time, climate-altering emissions from vehicular traffic and their reduction given by quantifiable and traceable soft mobility strategies. The solution utilizes cameras for traffic monitoring and direct CO2 conversion and real-time air quality monitoring stations, with data collected by these devices being archived on the Sustainable Urban Mobility Platform, a tool for historical, predictive, and comparative analyses of mobility footprints.
The panel closed with some critical reflections by professor Cristina Simone (University of Rome La Sapienza) on NBS, and on why we need transformative resilience in urban management.
Against a background of constant growth of environmental pressures and the increasing exploitation of natural resources, with consequent impact on the environment and the people’s health, Simone urged the need for transformative resilience in cities, and proposed NBS as an “umbrella” tool providing both benefits to biodiversity and human well-being and offering important ecosystem services. She cautioned however, that when using NBS, attention must be paid to avoid the risk of simply applying buzzwords, as this could be used to justify projects that harm local communities or deflect attention away from the need to pursue rapid reductions in carbon emission. She also highlighted the need to avoid the potential pitfalls of poorly designed solutions, as these can distract from the need to decarbonize energy systems, e.g. tree planting rather than pursuing NBS, as these can bring potential adverse impacts on local communities and fail to ensure benefits for biodiversity.
Simone concluded by discussing the urge for an EU (re)conceptualization of NBS, which risks being exploited as a lever for adaptive resilience through adjustment policies, stressing the elasticity of the system and the need for institutional paradigm shifts towards rights-based approaches to support viable sustainability in the EU.
Day two. Saturday September 25, 10.00 – 18.00
The second day of the conference focused on applications of Nature Based Solutions on national and regional scales in Italy. Projects from across the country were invited to share their insights and innovative actions, while UPPER project partners shared their approaches and the progress made so far in Latina. The main objective of the day was to discuss the different possibilities offered by NBS to improve the quality of life in Italian cities, and to engage citizens in Latina in a conversation about the actions taking place in their region.
Cristina Leggio (Comune di Latina) stressed the importance of UPPER as a strongly innovative project which is rooted in a long-practiced artisanal tradition. Knowledge has been systematised in Latina for years and UPPER, offering a very deep vision of development, will provide the basis for innovative processes stemming from enlightened relationships between nature and urban developments.
The panel started with a presentation by professor Alberto Budoni (Ce.R.S.I.Te.S, Sapienza University of Rome) framing NBS within wider contemporary megatrends such as urbanization, climate change, demographic and social inequalities and globalization. As the need to address these issues is becoming more and more urgent, Budoni stressed the importance of integrated – environmental, urban, economic and social – approaches, and defined NBS as actions aimed at protecting, sustainably managing and/or restoring ecosystems that address social challenges effectively and adaptively, while providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. He went further to say that NBS should integrate tools already provided by nature to address problems deriving from the misuse of land or resources, and to stimulate long-term economic, social and environmental benefits.
The next to speak was Francesca Riolo, who shared the experiences of the Picasso Food Forest in the city of Parma, the first recorded urban public food forest in Italy, which was started in 2012. The history of urban food forestry is very recent and early projects represent highly valuable operational case studies for obtaining information on challenges, best practices and results.
The Picasso Food Forest represents the earliest documented case study of urban community food forests in Italy. By hosting several perennial woody plants, it provides ecosystem services typical of a tree system including making biodiverse fresh edible fruits, vegetables and herbaceous plants easily accessible to adults and children, reconnecting them to healthy eating habits, food growing and the special experience of foraging and harvesting food directly from nature. The project’s activities have contributed to developing the neighbourhood community and creating attachment and meaning for the citizens that participate in or even simply attend the forest area. Compared to more traditional community gardens, the food forest provides a deeper interaction with the natural world and related benefits. This is achieved by exposing people to a greater understanding of ecological processes that are at the base of the food forest’s design, as well as to more complex physical structures and biodiversity, which stimulate a sense of wonder, exploration, curiosity and observation.
The Picasso Food Forest represents a hotspot of biodiversity, providing a nursery for plants and wildlife and a seed bank for several heritage and local plant varieties. In doing so, the Picasso Food Forest successfully challenges issues such as biodiversity loss, community segregation, food insecurity, climate breakdown and unsustainable consumption, whilst providing a model for rethinking not only how cities should be designed but also how we, as a species, can provide for our needs and live on this planet.
Professor Francesco Di Iacovo (University of Pisa) shared insights on the experience of the city of Lucca within the EU H2020 IN-HABIT project and on human-animal (hum-animal) bonds as the next step for Nature Based Solutions. Cities that value nature are considered smart, yet there is actually very little in literature on the inclusion of animals in cities. In the city of Lucca, the University of Lucca, together with the public administration, is developing NBS through social innovation processes which mobilizes resources for the inclusion of animals within the urban context, thus building the first European city with policies specifically regarding animals. In practice, this means designing an urban transition from cities designed exclusively for people to cities designed to be hum-animal.
Prof. Di Iacovo went on to explain that, in Lucca, IN-HABIT is building a sort of “hum-animal council” responsible for integrating animal inclusive concepts into the city and building “animatable” structures and “pet policy”. Di Iacovo also pointed to the necessity for “animal citizenship” to be integrated into urban planning and transport policies, social policies, education policies, trade and tourism policies, thus bringing many public and private entities into play in rethinking shared visions of the city environment, and implying a new type of collaboration between public administration, active citizenship and entrepreneurial actors.
The second panel of the session focused on the city of Latina and the innovations of the UPPER project, with various project partners sharing their experiences, actions and methodologies.
Alberto Budoni presented the actions of the Ce.R.S.I.Te.S (Centro Ricerche e Servizi per l’Innovazione Tecnologica e Sostenibile – Research and Services Center for Sustainable Technological Innovation) within the UPPER project. As a multidisciplinary research centre, Ce.R.S.I.Te.S has been working on environmental, urban and economic actions. Within the project, the centre has conducted several analyses and land surveys on environmental and urban themes in different areas of Latina; developed the WHiP platform for collaborative and interactive mapping of the city and played a role as editor of the UPPER project’s main report, along with the other partners. The centre has also started a collaboration with Innovaction Europe, exploring economic factors through seminars and meetings with several local horticultural businesses.
Ce.R.S.I.Te.S is currently working on green and blue infrastructures: the creation of a network of green areas organically connected to the hydrographic network that passes through the inner city. This entails restoration and conservation of permeable surfaces, containment of water runoff, groundwater recharge and accumulation of rainwater.
Within UPPER, Engie is in charge of the analysis, monitoring and display of environmental data collected at 8 urban sites: 6 with NBS and 2 ‘neutral’. Engie began by carrying out a survey of the areas, in preparation for installing a total of sixteen monitoring stations. These stations detect substances in the area and collect meteorological and atmospheric data, which is shared via an internet connection. The stations are solar powered, and are accompanied by signs informing citizens of their function and use. All the data collected from the stations is sent to the UPPER platform, which was created by Engie for the UPPER project, where it is archived and made available for open access.
Roberta Cocchioni, project manager of the Cooperativa Labirinto, gave a presentation on the social aspects of NBS and the role of the cooperative in the project. In UPPER, the concept of NBS has been extended to encompass the sphere of human behaviour, and includes a nature based approach called UPPER Seeds: a series of educational, sporting, social and cultural activities based on promoting contact with nature and the transformation and care of green spaces in Latina. These activities typically involve local schools, associations and citizens co-designing projects together in relation to urban spaces chosen by the municipality or proposed by stakeholders.
The expected results of the project include benefits to psychological, social and spatial well-being of local communities, better use of urban green spaces ( including abandoned/underused ones), increased environmental awareness and civic purpose and increased care for natural spaces. So far, various thematic paths have been explored by the project, including the co-design of workshops for green areas involving children, adolescents and young adults, eco awareness raising activities, synergies between agricultural land and school gardens, and the discussion of nature through dramatized readings and theatre laboratories.
Chiara De Grandi, project manager at Tesserae Urban Social Research, gave a speech on the actions of the organisation within the UPPER project, which encompass communication, citizen participation and co-design. Tesserae has so far focused its attention on the involvement and activation of communities through three key areas of action:
Tesserae played an important role in helping to shape the shared language and shared NBS concepts of the project internally during its initial phase. It also developed much of UPPER’s external digital communication and engagement strategy. This lead to Tesserae establishing the project’s social media presence as a platform for spreading project concepts to a wider audience and for connecting with other relevant international projects, with the result that UPPER now engages with over 2400 people via its social media profiles. In addition, Tesserae oversaw the construction of upperlatina.eu, the project’s main website, which has so far had 15000 views (of which over 30% are recurring visitors), and established the project’s digital newsletter, which currently has 600 subscribers.
2. City Labs
Tesserae lead the creation of UPPER’s city laboratories, aimed at co-designing parks and experimental sites for the project. The laboratories offered a way of engaging citizens with interactive methods of participation in a playful way, facilitating group investigation into issues of spatial design and environment. Several high schools and associations participated in the labs, in addition to individual local citizens.
3. UPPER Stories
Tesserae introduced stories and storytelling into the project as a tool for creating shared narratives about the city of Latina. The stories collect personal experiences and perspectives from around Latina, with particular focus on the neighbourhoods involved in the UPPER project, and represent an opportunity for shared reflection and imagination of possible futures.
The stories are produced in several formats and media, including text, photographs, videos, audio and maps.
Nicoletta Valle presented the activities of the Caetani Foundation, which has been carrying out the Job & Skills work program within the UPPER Project, dedicated to increasing social and work-related inclusion through NBS experiments. Together with Labirinto and the municipality of Latina, the Caetani Foundation has been coordinating the training phase of the program, called UPPER Jobs, including setting themes and creating content, selecting teachers and conducting face to face training in the field. The program will eventually train “operators of production parks” – new professionals specialized in the cultivation and maintenance of greenery and plants, with skills in welcoming the public, environmental communication, management and organization of urban parks. The course is comprised of 6 modules, and will last 10 weeks for a total of 150 hours.
The panel ended with a speech by Angelica Vagnozzi, manager of the Public Works and Programming Department of the Municipality of Latina, on the next steps of the project. Vagnozzi praised the synergic and collaborative work within UPPER and between the partners and the municipality. The project provides many new resources to the city for the future, and the report produced by UPPER will also provide the municipality with the information and tools to perform a feasibility study around three parking areas which are heat islands. Finally, the municipality is planning to apply for funding at the Italian Ministry of Ecological Transition to build blue and green infrastructures across the region.
The activities of INNESTI continued in the afternoon with the UPPER Stories site visits; narrative walks to discover some of the areas of interest in the UPPER project accompanied by the locals engaged in their transformation. The following short videos, produced by Tesserae, document some of these project sites: