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Challenges to implementing the urban ecosystem service concept in green infrastructure planning: a view from practitioners in Swedish municipalities

Published: 19 October 2020
Silhouette of Malmö City.

From a recent interview study involving six municipalities in Skåne, four overall discourses challenging the implementation of Ecosystem Services in municipal practice, have been identified.

These discourses include (i) a need to prioritise Ecosystem Services in municipal planning in order to address contemporary challenges such as urbanisation and biodiversity loss. This, in turn, creates (ii) a need for more holistic thinking within the municipal organisation, based on (iii) further documentation and standards, which should help (iv) initiate organisational transition and cross-sectoral approaches.

A need for new insights and approaches

The study confirmed that there is a need for new insights and approaches regarding the design and implementation of Ecosystem Services in urban planning practise. We would argue that for knowledge to be integrated among planners and managers, there is a need for actual data on the benefits of Ecosystem Services, which would enable comparisons with other priorities at other municipal departments. The interviews also revealed among respondents a positive view of the Ecosystem Service approach in municipal practise, despite severe governance-related challenges.

We concluded that a more effective implementation of Ecosystem Services in urban green space planning and management will require more integrated urban planning and management, breakdown of silos, and integration of different departments. This is something that is difficult to achieve with contemporary governance arrangements on the municipal level, highlighting the need for new cross-sectoral administrative and organisational approaches, as well as new integrative planning approaches. The results indicate a need for further research into the organisational and governance aspects of Ecosystem Services implementation, with emphasis on (i) further documentation of the benefits of Ecosystem Services and standards for implementation, and (ii) collaboration on the development and testing of new organisational structures, with emphasis on holistic and long-term approaches to planning and management of Ecosystem Services. The four main discourses and their related challenges outlined here can help scientists and practitioners identify bottlenecks in advancing Urban Ecosystem Services into planning and management, create changes in governance, and thereby increase the socio-ecological sustainability of urban environments. The research was carried out as part of the expert panel on Urban Ecosystem Services of the Skåne Local Interaction Platform (SKLIP) in southern Sweden, which was funded by Mistra Urban Futures.

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