NL-5 :: Smart and healthy cities

The number of people in cities increases worldwide. In 2020, it is expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. This increase, together with the effects of climate change, poses great pressure on the liveability of cities. The pressure on and changes in urban areas ask for a vision on smart and healthy cities, to ensure liveability in the future and avoid damage and unnecessary costs.
Smart and sustainable urban planning is the key to economic and ecological vital and attractive cities. Urban areas can be characterised as complex systems because they have to house different functions like living, working and recreation that are connected by a good infra and mobility system. These functional systems also need to be considered in the existing social and cultural assets and potentials on the one hand and the contemporary pressures on these systems coming from densification and climate change.
To reach the ambition of a city that performs smart, is health and attractive, sustainable use of the soil-sediment-water system is needed. The pressure of densification and climate change needs special care for the available space for green, water and recreation that competes with space for “hard” uses such as offices, housing and (subsurface) infrastructure. Soil sealing is seen as a serious threat for the soil quality and use of ecosystem functions, such as water storage capacity, cooling of the city, biodiversity, productivity for green. A central question is how sustainable use of the soil-sediment-water system can become a self-evident aspect of urban planning and design. The possibilities of soil-sediment-water system for different urban challenges need to be seen and used. Following the natural geomorphology for spatial planning, is a start: prevent building in spaces that are easily flooded or on the beginning of slopes to allow cool air to flow into the city at night.
The quality of urban soils, nature and green are essential within a healthy and smart city. Building with nature and the implementation of ecological concepts contribute to a liveable city. Therefore it is of importance to know how the soil-sediment-water system functions in and under the urban system, which processes are there, how they interfere, and how ecosystem services can be used in a sustainable and optimal way. This is as mentioned before a very complex system that should be approached as such. We need, while gaining understanding in this complex system, to leave room for now still unknown solutions, strategies and collaborations.
Smart urban planning pays attention to the metabolism of a city, circularity and the interaction between the urban system and the natural soil-water system. The need for a stronger link between soil-sediment-water system and urban planning is described in the following narrative.

Narrative: start with soil-water-green in urban areas
We need to start with soil-water-green in urban planning. The natural and urban systems have a very strong relation and they need to be matched in a better way to make resilient, climate and future proof cities.
When making bad decisions in spatial planning this has in many cases a direct reverse effect: reverse environmental effects, objectives (climate) are not met, direct nuisance or damage, social effects. The effects together can cause a downward spiral, ending up in non-functioning, unattractive, underused urban areas. Even temporary green is better than no land use function at all. It gives value: “Have you ever seen a tree with graffiti?”
To give the soil-sediment-water system a “self-evident” place within urban planning some aspects need to be addressed:
Understanding: considering soil, water and green in urban areas is needed. They are an integral part of cities. Water and green are more than just a place for recreation. They also deliver other services. Show the possibilities of these services.
Valuation of the soil-sediment-water system: the value of the soil-sediment-water system should be made explicit. A lot of money is now spent on fighting symptoms of bad planning or technical solutions. Implementing water and green are not a debit in urban maintenance, but a valuable asset. Next to direct value, also the value of use, perception and future value should be assessed. Benefits also directly contribute to citizens in terms of avoided damage, wellbeing, health, etc
And perspectives for action: how can you use the soil-sediment-water system for more than “just” recreation. Think here in terms of functional green and water. Use the full potential of the services the natural system offers. (Eco-)engineering support redeveloping the city in a better way.
Knowledge of the soil-sediment-water system is needed to be able to use ecosystem services: what do we have and how can we use it.
Also recognition that the soil-sediment-water system is a system. Trees and groundwater flows depend on it.
The soil-sediment-water system is important on different scales. Next to local “solutions”, green and blue structures in a city are improving the cities climate and have a connecting function for flora and fauna. An urban area can be a harbour for biodiversity. Where rural areas have less species, the urban area gives a variety of habitats and contribute to important ecosystem services such as pollination and repression of pests and diseases. A well-functioning soil-sediment-water system adds long-term value to urban areas!
Stakeholders are citizens, authorities including politicians, water authorities, economical and urban development departments of municipality / province (in relation to ground ownership, land as a resource, land recycling, circular economy, SMEs and businesses, research and educational institutes.


Specific research questions:
Demand
• How do stakeholders become aware of the competition between the services of the soil-sediment-water system and the uses of subsurface space and the importance of involving both in decision making?
• How can we use scenario studies to anticipate future developments in urban areas?
• Which functions can be combined (in space / time) or reinforce each other in urban areas and which are competitive or make other functions impossible?
• How do we respond positively in terms of knowledge and innovation in the constantly new challenges that the urban soil-sediment-water system poses?
Natural capital
• What can the soil-sediment-water system contribute to circular cities (design and close cycles)?
• What is the value (monetizing / benefits for society) of the urban soil-sediment-water system and its services?
• Which soil processes are important for the delivery of services by the urban soil-water-sediment system (natural attenuation contaminations, water purification, climate buffering, prevention of heat stress, lower fine particulates in the air) and (how) can the functioning of the urban soil-water-sediment system be improved?
Land management
• What perspectives are there to involve the soil-water-sediment system in finding solutions to the challenges in urban areas?
• What impact have demographic and economic trends (decline and growth, land ownership) on the use and management of the soil-water-sediment system?
• How can soil and subsurface be balanced against other (environmental) topics (such as: water, safety, air, noise, ecology, economy, finance, spatial quality and societal challenges) in the development and management of u rban areas and how do soil and subsurface contribute to those other interests?
• How can the soil- sediment-water system be used when tackling challenges in urban areas? For example by:
o Contribution of soil and subsurface to the transition of the urban water system
o Contribution to climate-proof cities
o Contribution to the energy supply of the city
o (Ecological) concepts for sustainable land use planning, cycles
o Better alignment of spatial planning of surface and subsurface

• What are opportunities for geo- and eco-engineering in urban areas?
• How can 4D planning (x, y, z, and t) be achieved with a balance between use of the soil-sediment-water system and the subsurface space in urban areas?
Net impacts
• Which (new) threats to the quality of the urban soil-sediment-water system can be expected in the coming decades and what costs do they involve?
• How does the soil-sediment-water system interact with the (intended) land use?
• What is the impact on health and environment quality of the (non) use of the urban soil-sediment-water system and its quality?
• What are the (measurable) effects of ecological and building-with-nature concepts, spatial planning based on green-blue structures and the use of ecosystem services to the societal challenges in urban areas?
• What are the benefits (to society) of using the urban soil-sediment-water system, how can costs benefits be distributed and is it possible to control costs in time and per stakeholder (mutual gain approach)?
• In what way can trade-offs be made between the soil-sediment-water system and the artificial urban system?