Long before COVID-19 highlighted the inequalities in urban green space access, the fear of delivering an urban environment that is detrimental to our health, communities or our wider ecosystems was a constant and very real challenge for all delivering urban placemaking. Now, during a pandemic, the entire nation has perhaps realised the importance of access and role greenspace plays in our towns and cities. And, indeed if we are to ‘Build Back Better’ and ‘Build Back Greener’ understanding and maximising the opportunity they present for urban dwellers, from every walk of life, is essential to the long term health and resilience of our cities.
The story so far…
In 2017, we set out, alongside Vivid Economics and the University of Exeter’s European Centre for the Environment and Human Health team, to better understand what makes the most successful urban greenspace. Can quality make up for lack of quantity? What is the health value of greenspace to a local community? Which types of greenspace offer the best return on investment? How can greenspace maximise value for local communities from every perspective? Greenkeeper was born.
Supported by Innovate UK funding, our project sought to recognise the need for greater evidence around the role greenspace plays from a social and economic perspective as well as the more often accredited environmental value it delivers. Greenkeeper is the result of two years of hard work, alongside our partners and pilot group including Old Oak Common Development Corporation, Peabody, Greater London Auhtority, the London Borough of Islington & Camden and Grosvenor.
Big data and research - the Greenkeeper tool
Measuring the quality of open space is always going to be a relatively subjective process but working with economists and scientists, for whom the interpretation of data is second nature, certainly opened our eyes to how we can secure more conclusive results and really help the industry test our solutions and deliver considered policy and provision. Especially given that the approach to open space in planning policy has not progressed - standards have emerged from historic thinking and never really been properly tested or justified. As such, the argument consistently returns to quantum instead of quality. A debate which has to move for all our towns and cities if we are going to achieve the equality and resilience trailed above.
Greenkeeper uses big data and research, to model the environmental, economic and social value of green infrastructure. It enables you to identify the complete value of a single green space or compare it with other similarly sized/local spaces. By collating these insights, it can also be used to build a whole portfolio or city-wide green infrastructure network value.
But here’s the even cleverer bit. The model that sits behind Greenkeeper can also be used to help you fully assess the impact an intervention may have on this value. What is the benefit of a modification or extension? What is the complete value of a new proposal? By interpreting the outputs of the model, we can help everyone make more informed investment and management decisions; ensuring urban green infrastructure can fully support and enhance urban life for everyone.
We therefore believe Greenkeeper will transform the formulaic, space standards-based approach we all so often see being implemented. It can assist Local Authorities, Developers and placemakers, in whatever angle they come at this from, in making better, informed decisions around the type, scale and location of open space and with delivering and sustaining portfolios of open space across urban areas.
For more information on the tool, frequently asked questions and case studies do visit the Greenkeeper website and/or contact the team below.
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