Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience - Fellows Given Green Light for Ideas

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Jul 18, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience - Fellows Given Green Light for Ideas

Fellows present recommendations after five-day program exploring the impact of parks and protected areas and making the most of these green spaces Photo: Salzburg Global Seminar/Katrin Kerschbaumer

Thought leaders, innovators, and policy-makers from different regions and sectors left Salzburg with a renewed purpose following the end of the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience: Harnessing Nature and Protected Areas for the Sustainable Development Goals.

During the five-day program, participants discussed the impact of parks and protected areas in cities and what can be done to make the most of these green and blue spaces. The program took place at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria, between May 30 to June 4. The program took place as part of the Parks for the Planet Forum, a 10-year collaboration to reconnect people and nature in an urbanized world.

On the final day of the program, participants presented proposals formulated in working groups. These groups focused on several areas, including rapid urbanization, disruptive technology, return on investment, urban nature metrics, creating a blueprint for a sustainable city, nature and culture, and developing a universal charter for National Park Cities.

On nature and culture, participants developed a grounding statement: cities are living, breathing multi-layered systems that have and continue to be co-created by generations of humans and natural forces. As a group, participants set out to ask how they could optimize the beneficial interactions among nature, humans, and systems in urban settings toward a balanced existence. They came up with two disruptive words: celebration and localization.

Celebration is a cultural act about nature, and it is human nature to be cultural, participants said. Localization, meanwhile, is a concept rooted in context, culture, and biodiversity and generates larger ordered systems from independent actions. Participants identified three domains of change: behavior, systems, and societal.

On rapid urbanization, participants suggested 70 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2050. Words we tend to use include revitalization, regeneration, and redevelopment. It assumes there was some vitality to begin with.

Participants suggested more thinking was required on what interventions are required in areas where there is no development or vitality to begin with. Rapid urbanization can bring persistent inequality in space, income, and access to opportunities.

Catalytic principles which should inform thinking include embracing informality, equity, inclusively, accountable leadership, and recognizing the sustainability practices of informal settlers. A systemic approach is needed. Participants recommended promoting circular economies, supporting bottom-up initiatives, empowering local voices, and mapping eco-system innovation in cities.

On disruptive technology, participants considered, among other questions, how technology could be used to leverage data to show how important nature is to well-being. Emerging principles quickly developed within this working group. Parks are for all people, all the time, for a variety of uses. A park that is used and busy with people is safer.

Participants in this working group recommended investing in in-park feedback sensors to have real and customizable data. They also suggested relaxing regulations around the use of parks to encourage a broader usage and to create spaces which businesses could utilize. “Disruptive innovation” can improve the environment, law enforcement, and public health, participants heard.

On unlocking investment finance for nature, participants considered how to engage the private sector in a discussion on nature. Participants indicated there is a clear cost and risk if companies do not invest in the environment. In their discussions, they recognized that investment in nature at a local scale should be directed toward global impact based on the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Participants said they recognized the benefits of green-blue infrastructure and nature-based solutions in cities and city-regions. Investing in nature through creating and maintaining green spaces can also have benefits for other sectors and improve quality of life and well-being.

On urban nature metrics, participants assessed different existing indexes, including the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, and the Siemens’ Green City Index. Participants called for urban nature metrics which could be used as a transformative tool to drive change. Urban nature metrics need to measure the state of nature (assets) before measuring human benefits (services), participants heard. These metrics also need to measure the impact of cities within and beyond the boundaries. Metrics should be engaging, empower people, and designed to hold decision-makers accountable. Participants recommended developing a simple, standardized index and designing metrics in alignment with urban challenges.

On developing a blueprint for a sustainable city, participants said the sustainable city they wanted would be planned mindfully, balanced with nature, accessible, and enabling. Participants in this working group developed a process: analyze, act, and accelerate. The first phase involves asking for a commitment from stakeholders. The second phase involves implementing the plan. The third phase involves putting the spotlight on these cities where positive initiatives are taking place. People would also be encouraged to share their experiences on social media and how cities could #ParkBetter. This group recognized the strength of communities and the role they can play as protagonists.

The final group to present focused their work on developing a universal charter for National Park Cities. Charters are about brokering power, participants heard. There is a sense of authority and a call to action attached. A universal charter for a National Park City could work alongside local city charters and reaffirm the notion people are working for better lives, health and well-being, habitats, wildlife, and  much more.

A National Park City is a place, vision, and a city-wide community that is acting together to make life better for people, wildlife, and nature. Participants heard that on July 22, London would be launched as a National Park City, and there was a hope by 2025 to have 24 others.

In his closing remarks, Jonny Hughes, chair of the program and chair of IUCN Urban Alliance, said there was a need to harness new tools to tell a compelling and hope-filled story about how the emergence of green cities will transform lives.


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience: Harnessing Nature and Protected Areas for the Sustainable Development Goals, is part of the Parks for the Planet Forum. This program is supported by Future Cities Forum, ICLEI CBC, IUCN Urban Alliance, Learning Economy, National Park City Foundation, The Centre for Conscious Design, World Urban Parks, and 21st Century Trust.