The above principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this case study

Re-thinking the City of Birmingham from an Ecosystem Services Perspective

What is this case study about?

As part of the development of the City’s Local Development Framework it was identified early on that the city would need a Green Infrastructure Strategy. This opportunity was exploited to take advantage of the latest scientific methodology developed through the National Ecosystem Assessment (2011), supported within the Natural Environment White Paper; by applying that approach to the whole city’s network of green and blue infrastructure.

What is its contextual setting?

Cities are still being understood and managed on twentieth century evidence and practices, at best; in certain areas still influenced by nineteenth century thinking. There are three significant factors that are now available to cities in the twenty first century, they should consider closely before making their future plans; they are:

  • a new understanding of health and well-being and the role of stress;
  • the significance of global climate change upon every locality;
  • the fresh perspective brought by the science of ecosystem services.

How has the Ecosystem Approach been used?

One of the barriers to adopting an ecosystem services approach at a city scale has been the level of understanding required. Therefore a series of studies were undertaken, applying the ecosystem services methodology to six dominant urban issues and displaying these as GIS maps of the city. These six chosen topics were aesthetics and mobility, flood risk, local climate, education, recreation and biodiversity.

These were depicted as demand maps; so showing areas of high supply, low demand at one end of the scale; low supply, high demand at the other end of the scale (see map). These six maps were then super-imposed into a single multi-layered challenge map for Birmingham. These maps can then be overlaid onto the street plan and reduced to district or neighbourhood scale, for more local, less strategic interpretation. So the maps can simply be accepted as evidence maps, and used as such by non-specialists; including community groups and the third sector, and easily understood by local Members.

Birmingham has declared a fresh ambition to become a leading global green city. Against this backdrop it established a Green Commission, who collectively agreed a new green vision. It was therefore possible to influence this group and get them to agree that a green vision for Birmingham had to be underpinned by adopting an ecosystem services framework; and that one of the key instruments to drive this through would be the Planning Framework.

What has happened?

Birmingham has established a cross disciplinary working group, who have brought together each of their evidences, their policies and their delivery plans. Collectively they were able to agree seven key principles that were cross-cutting and could form the backbone of the green infrastructure policy. These seven principles have then been locked into the overall planning framework for the city through the Birmingham Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Plan Your Green and Healthy City. The nine disciplines are Climate Science (University); Water; Biodiversity; Green Infrastructure; Sustainable Transport/Mobility; Planning; Community & Resilience; Business and Public Health. Their seven chosen principles are:- 1 An Adapted City; 2 The City’s Blue Network; 3 A Healthy City; 4 The City’s Productive Landscapes; 5.The City’s Greenways; 6.The City’s Ecosystem and 7.The City’s Green Living Spaces.

What is the added value of using the Ecosystem Approach?

  • Green Commission endorsement of the Ecosystem Services Framework has brought huge added value to driving forward the city’s green vision.
  • Supply and demand maps offer a direct and tangible output as to what action is needed where and for what reason.
  • Linking strategic ambition with local delivery, with human well-being as the outcome measure.
  • Final multi-layered challenge map for Birmingham is composed of many layers, many issues, it is going to demand a multi-disciplinary solution.
  • This is effectively ‘the Trojan Horse’; to bring about change requires a joined-up approach.
  • Applying the Ecosystem Approach brings together a wider range of stakeholders and potential budget-holders/investors.
  • Local scale maps enable third sector and voluntary sector to make own funding bids.

What are the key barriers to progress/mainstreaming?

  • Most barriers overcome through linking initiative with the Green Commission and creating a cross departmental and cross stakeholder group; including Business and Community.
  • On-going institutional and individual inertia to change between professions and sectors.

What are the lessons learnt?

  • Strong and effective leadership to drive the change agenda through; keep going when initial obstacles are put in the way.
  • Plan for the long term in policy terms, with a minimum of 10 years.
  • Ensure all evidences are as accurate and as broad as possible.
  • Be as comprehensive and inclusive as you can to build mutuality.
  • Simplify complex science without diluting its impact.
  • Tie all the work to Government policy and international best practice examples.
  • Make the output of the project fit the required outcomes on-the-ground.
  • Demonstrate who benefits and why, and make this as democratic as possible.
  • Lock-in the proposed changes to existing and future city policy and spatial planning policy.
  • Try and develop champions, all operating at different levels and across different communities of interest.

What next?

  • Full Cabinet approval for the Green Living Spaces Plan, September 2013.
  • Approval for adopting the seven key principles across the Planning Framework 2013-14.

Case study author: Nick Grayson