In Europe, approximately 75% of the population lives in urban areas and this is expected to increase to around 80% by 2020. Every day, open space continues to be converted into housing, commercial and industrial buildings, and infrastructure such as roads, railways and airports. In Flanders, open space loss amounts to seven hectares/day, one of the highest rates in the European Union. These grey infrastructure elements have made Flanders the most fragmented and second most sealed EU region (after Malta). Long-term projections for Flanders (up to 2030) indicate that urban sprawl and grey infrastructure expansion is likely to increase by 17%. The impacts of urban sprawl on peri-urban landscapes include: a) loss of natural habitats for species; b) lack of natural water retention areas; c) negative impacts on water quality; d) negative impacts on human health and mental/physical well-being, recreation, and social interaction; and e) impacts in terms of climate adaptation.
The main objective of the LIFE-GREEN4GREY project was to demonstrate the innovative development and design of multifunctional green and blue infrastructure (GBI) elements in peri-urban areas. These elements will deliver multiple ecosystem services and functions. The seven densely-populated pilot areas covered by the project were part of the peri-urban areas of Brussels and Hasselt-Genk. The aim was to enable investment in GBI in these areas to stimulate an integrated and multifunctional approach to solving the environmental and health problems linked to unsustainable urban sprawl and the greying of artificial peri-urban landscapes. Specific objectives included upgrading green infrastructure and transforming grey infrastructure (e.g. mining or intensive agricultural areas) into multifunctional green/biodiversity-friendly landscapes in the densely-populated pilot peri-urban areas; developing innovative approaches to ecosystem-based multifunctional land use at all seven sites; and involving the private sector in participative approaches to the design of green and blue infrastructure.
LIFE-GREEN4GREY created valuable new Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) elements that provided multiple benefits for the environment and achieved very tangible results for local communities in six pilot urban and peri-urban areas of Flanders, Belgium. The participatory process with local inhabitants, companies and experts continuously increased the support for the project, while international, national and local networking, communication and advocacy, had by project end already caused a multiplier effect. This convinced local and regional authorities in Belgium and other EU Member States to invest more in creating GBI for the benefit of both people and biodiversity.
The projects success was achieved by working in an integrated way, considering multiple ecosystem services and multi-functional nature-based solutions. New green and blue infrastructure projects and plans were implemented in urban and peri-urban setting by working in a participative way with stakeholders from the very start. The project team engaged and worked together with both the private and public sector to create more GBI areas.
The project succeeded in realising two major environmental benefits: enhancing biodiversity and climate change adaptation (flood prevention). The GBI will also connect fragmented nature areas. Actions in the different pilot areas included transforming an artificial channel back into a naturalised watercourse, restoring ponds and creating new water storage areas that also enhance biodiversity, improving conditions for European tree frog (Hyla arborea) near a housing district, developing a green business district, and creating a community recreation area. The project representsa model example of how to implement the EU Green Infrastructure Strategy in urban and peri-urban areas. Several project sites were located near Natura 2000 sites, which benefit from improved water quality, new habitats, and better connectivity.
The project has a high demonstration value because it implements pilot projects to develop multifunctional GBI in fragmented and underdeveloped peri-urban areas. The participative process with local inhabitants and business community is innovative and contributes to public support and sustainability of the project actions.
The project focused on improving a range of ecosystem services and site functions: nature and biodiversity, water retention, water quality, green environments for outdoor activities and as meeting places, health and well-being, green business sites, green living environments, sustainable food production, climate adaptation and environmental education. A key aim, for instance, was climate change adaptation by enhancing ecosystem services such as water retention and the creation of infiltration areas. A socio-economic survey will be conducted after all the measures are implemented, and the results compared to the projects baseline surveys. Expected socio-economic benefits include business environment benefits, improved health and well-being, increased recreational and social benefits, as well as visual landscape and educational benefits. Through the participatory process, the project boosts social cohesion by bringing people together where measures are being implemented.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).