Dialogue meeting: How to promote biodiversity and urban nature?

From the left: Lars Fjendbo Møller, Project Manager at DAC, Politician Rasmus Nordquist, Siv Raun Andersen (Kildedal A/S) and Carsten Rahbek, Professor at the University of Copenhagen. Credit: DAC

Denmark's biodiversity crisis demands ambitious solutions, warned Prof. Carsten Rahbek, cautioning against superficial green efforts. Perhaps the municipalities lack help to make significant green decisions, suggested Politician Rasmus Nordquist. However, the municipalities will be able to learn from green urban development projects, e.g. Kildedal. hoped city and sustainability manager Siv Raun Andersen. Mike Ameko Lippert, Strategy Director at SLA - an internationally renowned nature-based design studio in Copenhagen, talked about the importance of aesthetic nature sensitivity, while Professor at the University of Copenhagen Helle Tegner Anker discussed the law regarding nature and cities. The hall was full of listeners when Desire's partner DAC together with Desire recently invited to a dialogue meeting. Watch also the video (Danish).

The global biodiversity crisis is huge, and we have to do something to stop species extinction. But what does it take? In any case, you should not choose the easy solutions with a little green here and there on roadsides and flower beds in the pursuit of greater biodiversity, because that does not benefit biodiversity. Urban nature is not nature.

This was emphasized by Carsten Rahbek, who is a professor and centre manager at the University of Copenhagen and a member of The Danish Biodiversity Council, which advises the Danish government and the Danish parliament Folketinget, when Desirepartner DAC, together with Desire, recently invited a dialogue meeting for the professional industry broadly within architecture, design and construction to discuss the opportunities for action to strengthen biodiversity in cities.

According to figures from the EU's Environment Agency, Denmark is one of the EU countries with the least amount of nature. For many years, Carsten Rahbek has warned against the alarming global biodiversity crisis. In recent years other researchers also support his point of view, and parallel the EU has also stepped in with the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which states that 30% of all land must be set aside for nature. And the condition must be improved for the nature that is covered by the EU's nature directives.

At the dialogue meeting at DAC, the professor sat on a panel with the Politician Rasmus Nordquist, who is a former parliamentary politician for SF and a candidate for the European Parliament and a part of the board of the European Greens party, Siv Raun Andersen, who is a trained anthropologist, has worked in Frederiksberg Municipality and today sits as City and Sustainability Manager in the urban development project Kildedal P/S. 

Text continues below photo. Find the YouTube video from the dialogue meeting at the end of the article. 

Carsten Rahbek, Professor at the University of Copenhagen. Credit: DAC

When Denmark is no more ambitious with urban nature and biodiversity today, Rasmus Nordquist believes that in many ways it is connected with the Danes' idea of an extremely green Denmark.

At the same time, a country like Denmark probably finds it difficult to be very ambitious about nature, whether it is in the open country or urban nature. It is also about the fact that since the middle of the 19th century, Denmark's farmers and developers have been extremely skilled at exploiting and cultivating the land. Still, now you suddenly have to go in a different direction with other values, especially the view of nature. And then there will be a fight for space and people will have to surrender privileges to areas they have been used to having first right to, Rasmus Nordquist said:

"It's a lot of trouble, and that's why it would be so good if we could get some help with our poor self-understanding from, among other things, the EU's Nature Restoration Law."

When the EU's biodiversity strategy for 2030 says that 30% of all land is set aside for nature, then the European political system can help with regulation that promotes biodiversity, so that it is not only up to market forces and money to manage development, believes Rasmus Nordquist.

Regulation will help municipal politicians lift the responsibility in a difficult everyday life, where many different things must be prioritized. When Nordquist talks to local politicians, they say precisely that it is difficult to fight for the things that need to be done:

"Here Denmark needs the right regulation from the Folketinget and from the EU, because it is also often a little easier to set some frameworks and rules when you just look up and get a little higher level of view than when you are at home. So I don't think so much that it is the tools that are missing in the municipalities. You need better regulation to lean upwards."

Text continues below photo.

Helle Tegner Anker, Professor at the University of Copenhagen. Credit: DAC

Around Denmark, municipalities have embarked on urban development projects where urban nature and biodiversity play a major role. One of those places is Kildedal P/S in Ballerup Municipality. The ambition is for Kildedal to become a nice city to live in with a high quality of nature, with a rich flora and fauna, and where the inhabitants want to live, said Siv Raun Andersen, who is the city and sustainability manager for the Kildedal project.

In the DAC dialogue, she outlined the framework and talked about how to develop a city from scratch based on the most sustainable principles. As part of this, together with, among others, the NGOs the Danish Society for Nature Conservation (Danmarks Naturfredningsforening) and the Danish Outdoor Council (Friluftsrådet), as well as the municipality, they have drawn up a biodiversity strategy and a quality program to increase the quality of nature.

A large survey has been made to find out how Kildedal can contribute to increasing the quality of nature in the area and work to increase the area of protected areas over several years.

At the same time, the area is obliged to keep an eye on how nature is doing. A monitoring program has been created, which will be anchored in the urban association that remains when the urban development company is finished, and every three years the result must be published.

“We don't think we've found the holy grail here. I'm not saying that everyone has to do exactly what we are. We're going to make a lot of mistakes. You always do that, but we will do the best we can. I think the important thing here is to go out and revisit it and publish how it is going so that you can constantly keep an eye on how things are going with these measures. Whether it is something others should also do? Similarly, if it's something they absolutely shouldn't do? And then money has been set aside by the city association to make some efforts if it turns out that something, contrary to expectations, develops in a bad way," Siv Raun Andersen said and continued:

"We need to do something to move from this few percent (protected Danish nature according to the EU's calculation methods, ed.) up to 30 percent. It's going to be really, really hard. We cannot wait for legislation, we have to act now, and then we must try to share the experiences we get so that we can help each other crosswise with some initiatives to increase the quality of nature, otherwise, we will simply not move on fast enough with this.” 

Take care of nature outside

The municipalities and organizations need to get started, but it is important to distinguish between nature and urban nature and to remember that biodiversity requires real nature that is protected, said Professor Carsten Rahbek. He also teaches the architecture course, where one of the subjects is the need for contiguous areas, which he also mentioned at the dialogue event at DAC:

"The greenery we create in the city stands and falls with the fact that there is nature around the city, and therefore we have to think of contiguous. (…) It's really nice with all the local projects, but they won't work on their own if there aren't contiguous habitat units ."

What benefits biodiversity is real natural areas subject to protection in large, contiguous and self-managed areas.

Carsten Rahbek also said that he gets increasingly nervous when he experiences a kind of sufficiency in ambitions, where you are satisfied with something green that doesn't beat. Here he mentioned a newly built city space park at the Royal Opera House on Holmen in Copenhagen. The park is divided into six different garden landscapes, each targeting insects and birds throughout the year.

"So, it's fantastic that we've reached that point when we're talking about cities. When you make a park in concrete on concrete, and the press release then talks about the contribution to biodiversity, it is enormously positive. But if that is what we begin to perceive as the solution, then it will be negative," said Carsten Rahbek.

"For the cities and buildings, the pressure on biodiversity means a lot. It's not so much what we do inside the city. It's more what we do outside the city, so we have to have a connection between these things. We have also seen very ambitious things for the financial companies, who are very willing to do something on the building site, but have not yet come around and do something about it that matters. So if all this focuses on getting close to nature, loving and understanding it, because that is the prerequisite for us also supporting transformative changes, then it is fine if it leads to that. But if it leads to this (e.g. a city park, ed.) being fine, then it is negative," pointed out Carsten Rahbek.

In addition to participating in the panel, Carsten Rahbek also gave a presentation at the beginning of the DAC meeting. So did Professor at the University of Copenhagen Helle Tegner Anker and Mike Ameko Lippert, Strategy Director at SLA. Read more below the quote.

It’s a burning platform. It’s fine to allocate, say, 10 percent for nature to develop, but it’s not certain that people will come into sufficient contact with that nature to get the feeling of connectedness and understanding of the need for change, and that’s why nature is important in the city if you ask me.

Mike Ameko Lippert, Strategy Director at SLA - an internationally renowned nature-based design studio in Copenhagen

Legislation is ready – GO!

During the conversation, Professor at the University of Copenhagen Helle Tegner Anker discussed the law regarding nature and cities.

She began by taking a disclaimer about the word “nature”.

“I put nature in quotes because I think there are many different perceptions of what nature is, and there is of course a biodiversity perception that may not fully harmonize with what most people perceive as nature and appreciate as nature. And I don’t want to judge what is ‘real’ nature.”

According to Helle Tegner Anker, there is already legislation in place to protect existing and establish new nature. Instead, the politicians should

Existing nature is protected through nature conservation legislation both at the EU level and in a Danish context. Natura 2000 areas, Annex 4 species that breed, and paragraph 3 areas with various forest protection areas, the Lokalplanen (Danish for Local Planning Act) with requirements for a certain proportion of green areas in the municipality or locally, and so on.

However, it is also seen that nature conservation is lifted by politicians so that buildings can be built in the areas.

“On the other hand, there is not so much legislation on obligations in relation to new nature. There is a lot of politics in it, and here the upcoming EU biodiversity strategy with the 30 percent target can have an impact.”

For example, there are some recovery goals for certain types of nature, including urban nature, which states that there should be no net loss of green urban areas and tree canopy coverage. Today, the municipality can demand the establishment of green areas as a condition for the use of areas in the local plan.

“This is important because if it is not a condition for use, you are not sure that it will be established by the builders who build a property, even if it is in the local plan.”

“And then it’s quite important to know, that the legislation doesn’t make it alone. The legislation sets some frameworks, but if you want to be ambitious and prioritize, you need some politics and some resources.”

Helle Tegner Anker had clear advice for municipalities: take better care of the nature we already have. And politically consider whether it is necessary to build in green areas. Additionally, consider whether more should be done in terms of maintenance or active management of nature.

The importance of an aesthetic value

We have the opportunity to work with protection and conservation, but also many other things,” explained Mike Ameko Lippert, Strategy Director at SLA - an internationally renowned nature-based design studio in Copenhagen, as he took over:

“There is a social value to be gained with nature-based designs in cities, higher well-being, community, and inclusion, and there are plenty of studies around this. We can also talk about climate adaptation with microclimate regulation, but also counteracting climate change through CO2 uptake. People are also willing to pay more to live near nature. It increases productivity, and so on. So there are a number of derived societal benefits if we solve some of these issues. Not least well-being, so there is a lot to gain here.”

A keyword is an aesthetic value.

“When we are near nature in our daily lives, it creates an opportunity for us to feel connected and understand the bigger picture, and it makes it possible to initiate change. I call it human science, the study of cognition and change. It matters that you surround yourself with nature, and you understand nature,” Mike Ameko Lippert said.

Aesthetic nature sensitivity plays an enormously important role in the transformative changes that are important if we are to solve the environmental and biodiversity crises we face.

While biologists talk about biological realism, which requires space for nature outside the cities, Mike Ameko Lippert talks about aesthetic realism, which is about the recognition that is needed.

“The necessary change that needs to be made for us to turn this ship around. We don’t have 100 years for that, maybe we have 100 months; it’s not known. It’s a burning platform. It’s fine to allocate, say, 10 percent for nature to develop, but it’s not certain that people will come into sufficient contact with that nature to get the feeling of connectedness and understanding of the need for change, and that’s why nature is important in the city if you ask me,” he said.

We need to change our mindset and create an understanding of nature and biodiversity. And we need to talk about changes together, so it’s not just one biological discipline, but also a humanistic and societal discipline, he continued:

“We need to work towards a radical transformation of the way we design our cities, with nature playing a central role in this context. It shouldn’t just be flower beds, as that’s a bit of a cheeky way to reduce the issue. We should aim for the best aesthetic nature feeling. That’s what we should evoke, and we can design our way to it. There is a lot of human-based evidence that it means something to people,” Mike Ameko Lippert summed up. 

Watch the video (Danish) from the DAC Dialogue x Desire on YouTube below. Or click here