SLU news

The green city is the golden thread for our newest professor

Published: 29 November 2021
Photo of Marcus Hedblom in a forest, holding binoculars.

In September, Marcus Hedblom took on the new position as professor of landscape architecture with a focus on landscape management, at the Department of Urban and Rural Develpoment. A common thread through much of his previous research has been the green city.

The Professorship of Landscape Architecture with a focus on Landscape Management is completely new at SLU Uppsala. The subject area deals with the making of better living conditions for both people and nature, in harmony.

- If we are to manage the transition to a sustainable society and achieve the set climate goals, we need to protect and govern what we have, says Lars Johansson, Head of  Department of Urban and Rural Development. With the new subject area, established by the LTV Faculty, the department also wants to implement a stronger element of landscape management into the education of landscape architects and landscape engineers.

- I am very happy that Marcus has joined us as the new professor, Lars Johansson continues. Marcus has a broad background in sustainable landscape management with a focus on urban and peri-urban green spaces, and he has a large network of contacts, both in Sweden and globally.

We asked Marcus Hedblom some quick questions. How does he view his role and the development of the subject?

- In terms of research, there are a number of approaches to the subject that are interdisciplinary in nature. At present, there is not much ongoing research in the area, so an important part will be to search for funding and collaborations to create a group with doctoral students and postdocs. Ella Uppala is, however, a new doctoral student in the subject area with a dissertation that deals with "Designed plant communities in the nature based city". An overarching issue that connects to the subject is how we can manage forests, parks, lawns, trees, perennials, villa gardens, nature reserves, etc. in a way that is as beneficial to humans as possible, and at the same time supports fauna and flora. This includes specializations in nature-based solutions and ecosystem services with a focus on management.

The professorship in the subject area is completely new and that allows a certain degree of freedom in determining the direction for the future.

- I want to develop and expand the subject in terms of research, and integrate it further into teaching and also strengthen the relation to collaboration. The subject area is today relatively well represented in the teaching for landscape engineers and partly for landscape architects, but landscape management is a broad subject and I see great opportunities to advance the teaching in already existing courses and at the same time expand and broaden teaching to other departments and subjects.

Marcus gives a couple of examples: nature conservation biologists who work with nature conservation in cities could benefit from design knowledge linked to management, while landscape engineers and landscape architects could benefit from more about nature conservation. Marcus also calls for a clearer connection between research and teaching in the existing programmes.

Planning, shaping and managing environments that benefit both people and biodiversity

Marcus Hedblom has a background in ecology and nature conservation but has worked interdisciplinary over the past decade. A common theme has been to bridge planning, shaping and managing environments, so that they benefit both people and biodiversity.

Marcus received his doctorate in 2007 from SLU in landscape ecology - how birds are affected by quantity and qualities in forests. This was followed by a period at the National Inventory of Landscapes in Sweden (NILS) where he, among other things, investigated the possibilities for environmental monitoring of qualitative urban greenery. After a short break from the academy, working with nature conservation and outdoor life strategiy at Uppsala Municipality, he returned to the academia for a postdoc at the University of Gothenburg, where he studied birdsong affects on human well-being.

- There, the perspective switched from fauna and flora to an anthropocentric one. I went from looking at how animals and plants are affected by us humans to how we humans are affected by our surroundings, sounds and smells but also how biodiversity affects our well-being and attitudes to nature.

After the postdoc position at the University of Gothenburg, Marcus worked on a number of different projects, such as "Valuation of ecosystem services of urban greenery"; "The lawn as an ecological and cultural phenomenon"; "National monitoring for assessment and evaluation of ecosystem services in Fennoscandia's alpine and boreal landscapes"; EU project "Baltic landscape" on sustainable forest landscapes; "SEEC- Systematize ecological knowledge to optimize ecological compensation" and "Natural noise and stress reduction in cities ”.

He has also promoted interdisciplinary work between research and practice as Hub Coordinator at Ultuna for the platform SLU Urban Futures. He is a member of the Scientific Council for C/O Cities and the advisory committee for URBIO which is an international network for urban biodiversity and design.

What are you up to in the next year in your research?

- I am leading a project together with Helsingborg municipality and SLU's Multisensory outdoor laboratory, where we have created an indoor "forest break". We have built a room inside the city administration office with videos of a forest, sounds of birds and the smell of wood. Then we measure and evaluate the room's stress reduction potential for employees. Right now we are entering a phase where we will try to create a similar place outdoors - that could reduce stress, be reminiscent of a forest and be ready for the H22 fair in Helsingborg next year.

- I am also involved in a major H2020 EU project called REGREEN where I, together with colleagues in Alnarp, study how one, together with children can manage outdoor environments that promote play and biodiversity. In parallel with this, the start-up of a major interdisciplinary NordForsk project is underway, which studies how we can optimize lighting for humans as well as animals; "Unconventional methods to inform sustainable design: Mediating the needs of people and nature in Nordic after-dark environments". It is great that we have managed locate part of the project to the south of Uppsala and that we are collaborating with Uppsala Municipality.