Sustainable built environment and governance through actor-led processes

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The moderator of this session is: Dr Chrysoula Papacharalampou (The Executive Director of the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM))

This session will include the speakers: Nanco Dolman (Royal Haskoning DHV), James P. Cooper (PE, ENV SP, CWO Arcadis) and Maj-Britt Quitzau (University of Aalborg)

Take a look at the abstracts below:

Developing new Blue-Green futures: multifunctional infrastructure to address water challenges

Presenting author: Nanco Dolman

There is a recognised need for a fundamental change in how cities tackle urban water challenges and develop visions for ‘Blue-Green’ urban futures; where multifunctional Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI) creates environmental and societal co-benefits and is delivered by cross-organisational collaborations. The aim of this interdisciplinary research project is to explore how Blue-Green futures may be developed as new forms of environmentally sustainable urban governance.

Futures that embrace Blue-Green principles are characterised by resilient and sustainable flood and water management approaches. These principles (e.g. green roofs, swales, rain gardens, ponds and urban wetlands) enrich society through the provision of multiple co-benefits. These include access to public green spaces, recreational opportunities, aesthetic enhancements, and improved management of environmental processes such as flooding, drought, urban heat, water quality and air pollution.

Four case cities

Cross-country learning on international best practices has been used to inform new Blue-Green futures and establish international benchmarks. We have focused on four cities that are known for their BGI advances yet have different governance approaches, challenges, perceptions and urban water narratives:

  1. Newcastle (UK): Newcastle Declaration on Blue and Green infrastructure;
  2. Rotterdam (the Netherlands): Rotterdam’s Urban Water Plans;
  3. Ningbo (China): Chinese Sponge City programme;
  4. Portland, Oregon (USA): citywide green infrastructure for stormwater management.


We have explored how Blue-Green visions were developed in these cities, what the drivers for these were, and how learning could be applied in other cities. Through an analysis of explicit and implicit preferences and examination of how social learning may build capacity, we investigated how new forms of environmentally sustainable urban governance can be developed to address current water management challenges. For this we conducted a questionnaire (20 participants per case city, an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to investigate Blue-Green or Grey infrastructure preference and semi- structured interviews (12 participants per case city). We disseminated our findings through webinars, blogs, publications (O’Donnell et al., 2021) and a targeted policy paper aimed primarily at local Government.

Key trends

Portland and Rotterdam certainly stand out as cities acknowledged by many of our questionnaire respondents as BGI leaders. Portland; due to its extensive use of green infrastructure to manage stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows (e.g. the ‘Grey to Green’ initiative), and Rotterdam; through its extensive research and investment into climate change adaptation and pioneering blue, green and grey infrastructure to manage risk and deliver benefits to society. The questionnaire responses suggest a lot of local support for Blue-Green infrastructure in Newcastle and the Chinese Sponge Cities.

Using the Implicit Association Test

Through the development of a novel application of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), this study investigated the perceptions of BGI held by professional stakeholders in four cities with leading BGI programmes and aspirations. Blue-green and grey infrastructure are perceived positively by the sample population suggesting that they are valued components of landscapes, albeit for different reasons. Overall, respondents implicitly and explicitly prefer BGI, and regard it as safer, tidier, more attractive, useful, valuable and necessary. This suggests a widespread acknowledgement of the functionality (or multifunctionality) of BGI and benefits beyond aesthetic value. As an example, BGI may be regarded as of greater necessity when compared with grey infrastructure due to its ability to reduce vulnerability to other climate change risks beyond flooding such as heat stress and water shortages. Exploring implicit perceptions of integrated systems of blue-green-grey infrastructure designed to address climate change adaptation objectives is an important direction for future research.

Applying a proven framework to promote sustainability in natural and built water assets

Presenting author: James P. Cooper

Our communities survive based on a strong foundation of civil infrastructure which shape our environment and provides for protection of public health and safety – both long term management of our natural resources and resilience from acute natural events and disasters. Today’s demands on that infrastructure are greater than ever before with increasing growth of urban areas and increasing frequency of natural disasters. In 2012, a collaboration between the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, American Public Works Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, and American Council of Engineering Companies launched the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) to tackle these challenges of civil infrastructure. Many blue green and gray water infrastructure projects have benefited from ISI’s Envision Rating framework to guide decision making through project planning, design and implementation, including project verification and Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) credentialing.

The Envision Rating framework presents a robust process to guide natural and built infrastructure including potable water distribution, water reuse, stormwater management, and flood control. The rating system consists of 60 criteria in 5 categories: Quality of Life (wellbeing, mobility, and community), Leadership (collaboration, planning, economy), Resource Allocation (materials, energy, water), Natural World (siting, conservation, ecology), and Climate & Resilience (emissions, risk). The framework has been used on hundreds of projects and tens of billions of euros in infrastructure across the globe.

While the framework is designed to evaluate specific project sustainability, water companies and waterboards have used the framework to shift organizational approaches and techniques for a structured approach toward ecosystem restoration.

Visual actor maps: widening the technical horizon towards added values

Presenting author: Maj-Britt Quitzau

In the years to come, low laying regions will experience more challenges in relation to climate change. Therefore, it is essential that these regions adapt to the changing climate. As these adaptions are massive infrastructure projects, which will impact thousands, there is a drive to create Nature Based Solutions that enhance the values of local populations. This represents a planning challenge, where municipal planners anchored in technical utilities or administrations are faced with the challenge of representing and engaging local values to develop more holistic solutions.   

The aim of this paper is to address how visual facilitation tools can overcome the prevailing planning challenge by widening the horizon of municipal planners regarding local specificities and stakes. This perspective is based on a recent research trend within actor network theory to address relational mapping to understand and address complex controversies prevailing in e.g., urban planning. With regards to Nature-based solutions, this provides a deeper understanding of how social and recreative factors can better become mobilized in otherwise technical landscape projects.  

The paper will present results from an action-research project, anchored in the EU Life Coast 2 Coast Climate Challenge, where the Danish municipalities of North Djurs, South Djurs and Hedensted are developing Nature-based Solutions in low laying regions. Different prototypes of visual actor mapping tools are tested in ongoing development processes to invite new forms of stakeholders and their perspectives into the conceptualization of solutions. The visual maps have proven valuable for the collaborative process since the traditional technical conceptualizations are widened through representation of more social and recreational perspectives, reflecting local values and strategies. Through the iterative prototyping of the developed actor maps, the paper also addresses the challenge of how to develop planning tools that are operative for the planners as part of their professional practice.  

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