Environment

New technology ‘Urban InVEST’ software to help in designing more resilient cities

Researchers have developed a new technology software ‘Urban InVEST’ to help in designing more resilient cities around the world. The new technology will help planners and developers address inequities and build more resilient cities to improve people’s lives. The global community is becoming more urban with populations moving to towns necessitating governments to plan for sustainable cities.

The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project. The software has been published in Urban Sustainability. The software can create maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize human benefits in improving health and protection from flooding.

Nature is often distributed unevenly in urban areas pitting the rich against the poor. Low-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities thereby without nature benefits; such as improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to rich populations.

The new technology is the first of its kind for designing sustainable cities. It allows for the combination of environmental data, with social demographics and economic data; income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. 

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor—the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

It is estimated that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. The shifting of the global population to urban areas is necessitating developers and planners to plan for green infrastructures, such as tree-lined paths and public parks, open spaces, and gardens. But planners can’t strategically invest in nature if they don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing, and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on the new tech software. 

The research team applied the software in multiple cities around the world to test it. It was applied in Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and U.S. cities notably; San Francisco and Minneapolis. The team worked with local partners to understand priority questions.

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used the software to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland, and forests would reduce damages in the event of a severe storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure like trees and parks was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 in benefits to the city in a day.

In the Minneapolis- Minnesota region, the golf revenue is declining. This has led to private golf courses sell off their land for development. However, should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST software showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators, and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. On the other hand, new residential development, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease biodiversity.

Investment in resilient cities, more green space such as parks and bike paths; could be most effective at equitably boosting health and wellbeing.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

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