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Accessing urban nature

Opportunities and challenges of territorialisation processes in relation to environmental justice and the promotion of multifunctional green commons.

Project name and number: Green Access (300016)
Participating universities/companies/organisations: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University
Project period: 2017–2024
Financing: Formas

More and more people are moving to cities which entails big challenges and puts high demands on sustainable solutions. The green structure of cities, like parks, protected areas and smaller green spaces, all contribute in different ways to sustainable ecological and social processes. As an effect of urbanization these green areas risk decreasing in numbers and size, wherefore planning, management and use of the remaining green spaces become even more important.

The green areas are green commons, which can and should be used by all who want to. Already we know that different groups in society do not utilize the possibilities offered by existing green commons, e.g. due to distance, accessibility and cultural factors. It is imperative that this socially uneven distribution decreases.

Environmental justice is a research field which studies how access to environmental qualities differs between marginalized and more powerful groups in society. An additional aspect raised in discussions about sustainable development is multifunctional landscapes, i.e. both ecological and socio-cultural diversity. A multifunctional landscape contains more values than a more monotonous one, e.g. higher biodiversity, more ecosystem services, and can cater for more land-use interests. Multifunctionality makes the landscape more flexible which is central for society’s capacity to adapt, especially in times of change and challenge. These landscapes contain a higher capacity to transform and thus adapt the use of an area depending on new needs.

The project will study how different forms of territorialisation processes affect access and use of urban green spaces, as well as how these processes affect the landscape’s social and ecological multifunctionality. Territorialisation processes occur when authorities, organisations, informal groups and individuals through varied strategies affect the use, and the users, of an area. This can happen e.g. through formal programming of a green space, like when a municipality establishes an out-door gym or a football pitch. Another form of territorialisation is semi-privatisation, where the private sphere is extended by appropriating previously common land, e.g. certain forms of urban gardening. These and similar processes already affect many green spaces, over a cumulatively large area, and thus many actual and potential users. Territorialisation can have both negative and positive impacts on a just access and use, as well as increase or decrease the degree of multifunctionality.

The project is interdisciplinary and includes both natural and social science. Planning and execution of the research will be done in close collaboration with other stakeholders, e.g. authorities, organizations, civic movements and individual users (and non-users) of green areas. In this way, societal relevance of the research and its results are guaranteed.

Järvafältet in Stockholm, one of the regions large green wedges, constitutes the geographical framing of the project. Here we will map how the area has changed over the last three decades, e.g. in terms of use, accessibility, ecological and social diversity, as well as explore which processes of territorialisation and which actors (where relevant) lie behind identified changes. Based on this knowledge we will select a number of case studies where we more in-depth will investigate the drivers behind different territorialisation processes and their consequences.

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