In Norway, the city of Stavanger is on a mission to improve its citizens’ health and quality of life with new green spaces. The most ambitious plan revolves around a new park on the Stavanger seafront but the workplan also includes the redesign of a public park and schoolyard.
The city’s inspiration has come foremost from Alnarp rehabilitation garden, a unique Swedish garden dating back to the 1980s. It was established by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences to improve mental and physical health through holistic design. The city is working with the NORDGREEN project to understand how the methods and frameworks used in Alnarp garden serve the health and well-being of its users, and how this knowledge can be transferred to the projects in Stavanger.
“We chose three development projects which let us scale up the ideas from the rehabilitation garden, specifically create comfortable and well-designed environments that use the existing qualities as a starting point and attract investments,” says landscape architect Martina Andersson from the city of Stavanger.
Stavanger is also working together with researchers in the NORDGREEN project to stress test and compare an evidence-based framework tool with its design methods. The evidence-based design will help the city to create spaces that serve the needs of both people and nature.
“We will further develop the design tool to help cities in their green space planning, based on different frameworks of green space and health analysis. We will also develop a handbook for practitioners on health and green space planning in Nordic cities”, says researcher Anna Bengtsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and part of the NORDGREEN project.
Three green space projects with many demands
Creating green spaces is surprisingly complex. As Andersson summarises, “Thorough research is important because we need good arguments to acquire green areas that are large enough. For example, the space currently reserved for schoolyards may be much smaller than what is generally recommended for a healthy school environment, which is, for example, the case in our project at St. Svithun High School.”
The second project Stavanger is piloting is the rehabilitation of the central park called Byparken. “The density and complexity of the green area surrounding a lake require a lot of careful planning,” explains Andersson. “The project also needs to consider its historical environment, multiple functionalities, and the care of old trees and wildlife”, she continues.
The third project is in an early planning phase, but the aim is to build a completely new park on the Stavanger seafront, in the Hillevåg area. In the past, Hillevåg’s seafront served an industrial purpose, specifically as a port for the oil and fishing industries. A large part of the area has been inaccessible for decades, but it was recently cleaned and opened for use. The area holds potential but the citizen surveys and studies indicate the need for improved liveability standards. Surveys also show that young residents in the area may not even be aware of the seafront presence. Meanwhile, the industrial and ruff characteristics are something that they value and wish to preserve. Nonetheless, there is an essential need to ‘green the grey’ with new parks and meeting places.
“This area could be turned into a popular, inclusive and recreative spot that serves a large group of citizens by developing both existing environmental and social qualities and challenges, as well as capturing the industrial and maritime identity,” Andersson believes.
But before work can begin, large investments are required from the municipality. Swimming and water-related activities have been requested from both the citizens and politicians; however, the implementation will not be easy. A large amount of pollution in the maritime area-both on land and the seabed-and a heavily charged water pipe system, causing leakages into the fjord, create a true challenge for future recreational usage.
The municipality needs a complete picture of the status quo and potential of the seafront in order to get the investments required to acquire the property. “This is one of the reasons why we measure and estimate the positive effects the park may have on liveability and health of the citizens already in the early stages,” Andersson explains.
The NORDGREEN project creates tools that support the case cities Stavanger (Norway), Espoo and Ii (Finland), Täby and Vilhelmina (Sweden), and Aarhus (Denmark) in including access to green areas in their city planning processes.
“We have good results from working with Espoo and Vilhelmina where citizen participation gave valuable insights to city planners”, Bengtsson states and continues: “What we see now in our research going forward is that the design tool needs to be flexible since each development project is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ type of solution.”
The NORDGREEN project is led by Nordregio and funded by NordForsk programme Sustainable Urban Development and Smart Cities. The project will run from January 2020 until December 2023.