Nature is finding its way back into the city life through the rise in the development of urban nature. A growing number of cities have started incorporating nature into its outdoor life, creating a green space for everyone.
In 2016, IVN-Maastricht, the Maastricht-LAB and research institute ICIS/UM initiated Stadsnatuur Maastricht, a citizen initiative to create a vision on urban nature, in order to stimulate the development of green space in the city of Maastricht. Radar Limburg spoke to Rob Jansen, the project leader of the organization.
According to Jansen, Stadsnatuur has an interesting way to define urban nature; they look at it through the lens of an ecosystem that operates in an urban environment. They envision that nature itself and how it is experienced by the people enters both entities into a ‘coalition’ called urban nature. With that idea, it becomes apparent that we as humans need nature as much as it needs us.
The group is increasingly concerned with the situation of urban nature in Maastricht. With little or no awareness, it is hardly been prioritized in terms of policy making. To sum it up, the health of the residents of Maastricht is currently below average in comparison to the rest of the Netherlands. And to add to that, climate change is creating deadly consequences. The city of Maastricht is located in the warmest part of the Netherlands, and the city center is already facing rise in temperatures which consequently may even lead to lower attraction for visitors, workers, and residents. Moreover, world biodiversity is declining rapidly because of industrialization and high environmental pollution. Fortunately, cities like Maastricht offer unprecedented opportunities for the flora and fauna. While urban nature can play a distinctive role in bringing positive change to all of the mentioned circumstances, it can also help the economy vividly. Stadsnatuur Maastricht with their vision can contribute to a sustainable business and residential climate.
Luckily, the municipality is taking big steps in implementing the vision. While Stadsnatuur Maastricht envisions a concrete scenario for as far as the year 2100, their more realistic goals have been set in stone for 2040. Maastricht will welcome a refreshed face with more air to breathe, happier citizens, a booming economy and most importantly, a well-functioning ecosystem.
We asked Jansen to share his personal vision of Maastricht for 2040, a mid-range scenario that his organization has been aiming for. He hopes that Maastricht by then will have been transformed into a “natural city”. Each resident will have a park not more than 500 meters from where they live, and a pocket park at only 100 meters. As a result, more trees will be visible so that everyone can absorb the fresh green space around them. Walking down the street will feel like walking through a beautiful garden surrounded by berms transformed into flower beds. The landscape will be in harmony with its natural contours and the water table and with the quality of the soil. The ecological value will have been improved, which also means that the existing species will be healthy, and their variety will have expanded.
Education and participation of the citizens will be a key factor in this initiative. Residents will not only participate in discussion about urban nature but play an important role in decision making and cooperate with the municipality. They will be encouraged to bring in their expertise and ideas to fulfill the role of city nature in Maastricht as a citizen-based initiative. Maastricht will see a rise in professionals and volunteers’ part of the initiative present to conduct surveys and take measurements as a result of which guidance will be provided for better management and restoration.
A major influence will be the advent of autonomous cars, which will lead to “car transportation as a service” and virtually no private cars in the city. This will free up most of the space in Maastricht that now is taken up by vehicles – as road by particularly by parking – and a significant part of that the space should be allocated to (green) public space.
Maastricht will continue to attract knowledge-based businesses and inhabitants because of the higher living conditions and economic development. Jansen is convinced that the population density in the city center – currently quite low compared to similar cities – will increase, mostly through smaller houses as people tend to spend more time outside of their homes. Part of the value the additional houses create should go via the municipality to creating more public greenspaces. A private garden which currently belongs to a cloister behind the Vrijthof will be made public and a city park will be created on the Beyart site. Of course, many buildings will also have green rooftops and ‘vertical gardens.’
Jansen in his scenario pays special attention to the city center because its unique, high quality is one of two strongest trumps the city has (the other the landscape around the city). And strong knowledge based and quality tourism businesses create a wide variety of service jobs for all education levels.
Socially, it is even more important to improve conditions in the less privileged neighborhoods of the city. Jansen is convinced that urban nature can work as a catalyst to improve health and wellbeing. Key is to create a process in which the inhabitants work and learn together and decide for themselves. A good example of this approach is the city of Tilburg. Citizens have taken the lead in the creation and realization of the Spoorzone Park in the very heart of the city.
Dreaming further: an eco-zone will be created around Maastrichrt through biological farming, communal vegetable gardens, water retention, and restoration of the traditional landscape with hedges, orchards and water pools. The focus will be on the diversity of the flora and fauna. The area between Maastricht and the village of Bemelen could serve as a reference for this ambition.
Many citizens do not realize the variety of nature already within the city. As a spin-off of the Urban Nature Vision project, NatuurGluren (NatureNosing) “makes unseen nature visible” on the premises of the former military barracks in Tapijn in Maastricht. Through an app, visitors can have a peek inside the habitats of animals such as birds in their bird houses, and watch camera trap movies of the beavers and foxes on Tapijn. Such nature experiences, research has shown, change people’s attitudes and behavior towards nature, the planet and sustainability.
One may wonder what personal good may the 2040 vision bring to the residents of Maastricht. A key part of the answer lies in improved mental and physical health. Whole nature in cities does benefit the eco-system and save our planet in the long run. It also delivers immediate effects for personal well-being. Studies have shown that nature cleans the air of pollutants and toxins which increased indoor thermal comfort and improves sleep quality, while reduces physiological stress simultaneously.
Recent examples of a biophilic design include the The High Line, a public park built on a historic rail line in New York City to Seoullo 7017, a botanical garden built on top of a former highway overpass in Seoul, South Korea. But Maastricht is not far behind with its Green Carpet, A2 Maastricht Project which will see a long tree-lined trip above the tunnels, with more than one thousand trees winding through the city from the north to the south. With its 2040 urban nature plan coming to life, Maastricht might even be the telling example for the rest of the world to follow.
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