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URBAN GARDENS NETWORK: A NATURE BASED SOLUTION MODEL
City/Region : A Coruña , Spain

The City Council wishes to weave a network of urban gardens that helps connect green areas and provides multiple environmental, economic and social benefits, such as improving biodiversity and resilience against climate change or promoting sustainable, active lifestyles.

The measured impact and the evidence obtained will be useful to scale up the model and place nature based solutions at the centre of green infrastructure policies. 

The use of nature based solutions can help mitigate climate change effects and boost biodiversity, while at the same time improving health and wellbeing and offering new opportunities for leisure and economy.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationBiodiversityGreenfield land and natural space
Water resources and air qualityClimate changePublic space
Social inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Accelerate sustainability and innovation through public procurement
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Support open data standards
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Context
UG monitoring training course

A Coruña is an extremely compact city: surrounded by the ocean and densely populated, the municipality occupies a territory of less than 40 km2, leading to scarcity of green areas. Nowadays, the city is experiencing a declining demography, with many citizens moving to the less densely populated metropolitan area.

The city has developed an integrated strategy for sustainable urban development (EIDUS) whose implementation is supported by ERDF funds, and is one of the pioneer cities to adopt the implementation of the Spanish Urban Agenda, aligned with the European Urban Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the last few years there has been a shift on policies towards a more NBS-focused approach. The exchange of experiences with partner cities within projects like H2020 Connecting Nature and RU:RBAN (URBACT) provides the city with new valuable tools to advance towards an integrated approach based on sustainable urban planning, ecosystems and health.

In Action
Carlos Casares Community Garden

As part of the development of the Green Infrastructure Strategy Plan, urban gardens were selected as potential projects to increase the number of green areas and improve the usability of existing ones.

To develop the urban gardens network we used the Connecting Nature Framework,  considering the following 7 elements to shape this NBS: Technical solutions, Governance, Financing and business models, Nature-based enterprises, Co-production, Impact assessment and Reflexive monitoring.

Some abandoned plots with suitable characteristics for their use as UG were detected, alongside with several underused spaces in some parks with high water requirements for maintenance (lawn areas). At the same time, there was a growing citizen demand for the implementation of this type of spaces, expressed through proposals in the Participatory Budgets.

The implementation of the gardens started as an open participatory process, involving citizens and associations in a co-production process which selected the most suitable spaces, how they should be designed and the services to be provided.

Plots are available free of charge, establishing a priority plot reserve for retirees and people with low income or disabilities. The gardens have a clear educational and inclusive vocation and several plots were reserved for collective management by educational centres and NGOs. By 2018 a total of 218 new plots had been created in three gardens. During 2021, a 4th garden will be available in Adolfo Suarez Park with 97 additional plots.

A training program on urban gardening was promoted by the City’s Employment department. The goal of this program is to boost the employability of the trainees, creating a new productive sector in connection to the fields of urban gardening and ecology. As a promising result, some of the trainees are already starting new SMEs/social enterprise projects related to these topics. This course also included a practical internship during which gardens were created or improved in several primary schools.

The City Council wishes to expand the existing gardens and build new ones, creating a cohesive network that connects the different initiatives, forging synergies and new opportunities.

“Urban Gardens are an outstanding opportunity for cities as urban as A Coruña to walk firmly towards their ecological transition. This project serves to implement green areas in the city and find new ways for a circular economy that, in addition to minimizing the environmental impact, can also guarantee sustainable consumption and the opportunity for new jobs”. Esther Fontán, Councillor for Environment and Sustainability.

Results
School Garden
  • Creation of 3 municipal urban gardens (Agra, Eirís and Mesoiro) and a 4th currently tendered (Adolfo Suárez), with a total number of 305 plots available.
  • Creation of 3 community gardens (Carlos Casares, Oza and San Diego) open to NGOs and associations to develop social, therapeutic or environmental projects with vulnerable groups such as migrants or victims of gender-based violence.
  • Course on Monitoring of Urban Gardens, organized by Employment Department. Two editions of the course. As a result, several of the trainees created a cooperative and an SME.
  • Creation of school gardens in 5 primary schools.
  • Pilot project for the expansion of the school gardens network to up to 11 schools.
  • Creation of a Local Work Group on Urban Agriculture, with the presence of relevant stakeholders (municipality, academics, urban gardeners, garden monitors, NGOs, educational community, etc.) holding periodical meetings, as a key tool for co-designing new initiatives and improvements for the UG Network.
  • Creation of an association of urban gardeners by a large group of users of municipal UG, as a result of the work carried out in the Local Group.
  • Project for the creation of an Information Point on Urban Agriculture that centralizes the demands of citizens on this topic, with online and physical presence, organizing training programs and activities.
  • Participation in the H2020 Connecting Nature project, involved in the co-creation of an innovative and replicable framework for the design and implementation of NBS in cities and the creation of the Urban Gardens Network as the project’s exemplar.
  • Participation in the URBACT Ru:rban Project for transferring the good practice of Rome in urban agriculture (Ru:rban A Coruña City video)
  • Project for Urban Gardens Network awarded in 2021 as national Best Local Practice for Climate in the Category of NBS (award granted by the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces)
Impact

A link between city strategic goals, SDGs and NBS objectives and actions was established. We have been measuring NBS actions effects on expected results, working with a scientific team from University of A Coruña to select indicators, analysing the already available data and the new data to be collected.

  • Environmental indicators: city council has a number of meteorological stations distributed around the city. One of them will be relocated next to one of the urban gardens providing precise data on air temperature, humidity, wind.
  • Noise and air quality levels: city council has accurate mathematical models with data available for all the city in real time.
  • Biodiversity: 2020 map with quite a detailed level of granularity, also accessible in GIS format.
  • Co2 capture: estimations based on type of species planted and surfaces.
  • Water absorption capacity –implementing sensors in some of the UG.
  • Health and Wellbeing and Social data: university team in contact with schools and gardeners associations to collect data and conduct surveys. Valuable data on different indicators like place attachment, trust in community, prevalence of diseases and levels of mental health and wellbeing. Measuring positive effects of UG on mental and physical health, social cohesion and social integration, and the increase on the well-being of citizens and their life quality.
  • Economic indicators: data on the number of jobs created by UG, particularly relevant for the training course for unemployed people on UG. Collecting data on newly created enterprise and SMEs, identifying and promoting new sustainable economic activities, business and job creation linked to UG and nature based enterprises. Development of a local economy connected to nature based solutions strategy. Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform
  • Open data, co-creation and transparency indicators: relevant, detailed data of the participatory processes that led to the creation of the Urban Gardens has been collected.
Challenges and lessons learned

The concept of nature based solutions is relatively new in the city. The lack of coordination between the different departments, working in silos, is a barrier for the integrated strategy that the multifunctional aspect of NBS demands. Collaborative alliances have been built by aligning with different municipal departments and external stakeholders.

Another challenge was involving local NBEs in the maintenance of NBS. Smaller contracts are more accessible to local SMEs, hence the new tender for the maintenance of green areas was divided into smaller areas, including a separated lot for the maintenance of UG aimed at social integration enterprises.

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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

Leopoldring 3
79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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