This year, we’ve all grown closer to our greenspaces – what would we have done without a couple of laps of the local park at lunchtime? But in January 2020 – the pre-Covid world – the IGNITION project wanted to understand the relationship that Greater Manchester residents had with greenspace and the nature-based solutions (NBS) close to home.
IGNITION project partners, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), City of Trees and Groundwork Greater Manchester, surveyed over 2,000 people across the Greater Manchester area, as well as engaging with nearly 750 people in environmental workshops from November 2019 to January 2020, to build a picture of how greenspaces are valued by the people that live here, and their aspirations for the city’s greenspace. This citizen consultation was undertaken as part of the IGNITION project – a three-year EU-funded project looking to discover innovative financing for NBS in Greater Manchester.
The survey and workshops gave the IGNITION project a baseline response of how people feel about NBS, their priorities for more NBS in our city region, and how environmental organisations can best include residents in the conversation on NBS for the climate emergency. Through a programme of workshops and citizen engagement activities delivered throughout 2021, the IGNITION project aims to springboard off from this baseline survey to enhance peoples’ perception and knowledge of NBS and champion the hidden benefits these innovations give back to us.
What we found
One of the main objectives of the IGNITION project is “to generate a significant uplift in functional green and blue spaces across the city, in line with the ambitions in Greater Manchester’s Five-Year Environment Plan.” We found an overwhelming demand from citizens for more greenspace across Greater Manchester, which provides evidence for investing in more greenspaces:
- 98% would like to see more greenspaces in Manchester City Centre
- 78% thought that Manchester City Centre is not at all green, with less than 1% believing Manchester City Centre to be extremely green
- 85% thought that Greater Manchester is only moderately green
Over 90% of people considered either “a place to relax”, “somewhere free to go”, “a place to connect to nature”, or “a place for outdoor recreation” to be the most important opportunities provided by greenspaces.
Knowledge of NBS
The majority of citizens were confident of the positive effects of NBS on health, wellbeing, biodiversity, and air quality:
- 89% thought that greenspaces had a positive effect on human wellbeing and 88% reported a large positive effect on themselves
- 77% thought that greenspaces had a positive effect on human health
- 75% thought that greenspaces had a positive effect on wildlife
- 73% thought that greenspaces had a positive effect on improving air quality
- Benefits such as increased property value around green spots were viewed as the least important benefits of greenspace, with only 27% viewing this as important or very important
However, many citizens underestimated the link between NBS and climate resilience: just 39% reported that greenspaces had a large positive effect on reducing heat waves, and 61% reported a large positive effect on reducing urban flooding. That said, 97% said they thought climate change was a risk to GM and the people that live here.
There was also a disconnect between peoples’ perception of greenspace and features that are deemed nature-based solutions:
- 68% of survey respondents classified “living walls” as greenspaces
- 66% of survey respondents classified “living roofs” as greenspaces
- 68% of survey respondents classified “swales” as greenspaces
- 61% of survey respondents classified “street trees” as greenspaces
- However, 94% of survey respondents classified “urban parks” as greenspaces
What comes next?
The Greater Manchester Five-Year Environment Plan says that “[a]ll citizens will have access to green space in every community, more trees including in urban areas,” an area that IGNITION aims to address in the face of the climate emergency.
Climate resilience and the economic benefits of NBS are central to the objectives of the IGNITION project, and yet are underestimated and underrated by GM citizens. The IGNITION project must raise awareness of the connections between NBS and their role in helping people in cities adapt to the effects of climate change. NBS for the climate emergency will be embedded at the core of the 2021 citizen engagement programme.
We found that the language associated with NBS and climate resilient can create a barrier to citizen engagement, so there is an important need for environmental communicators to create clear and concise messaging around NBS to ensure that it is engaging and accessible. To do this, the IGNITION project will work with citizens to co-create meaningful and emotive messaging around NBS. The IGNITION project is now moving into the final year of the project, with further citizen engagement work planned to help build on this baseline results and empower citizens to make informed decisions about NBS in their local area. Over the next year, we will be facilitating workshops and tours at RHS Garden Bridgewater, University of Salford Living Lab, and GrowGreen to allow groups to access and experience difference NBS, demonstrate the science behind them, and showcase the role of plants for climate resilience. The GrowGreen project, or ‘the park that drinks water’, in West Gorton has been a fantastic example of how citizens can work with planners and organisations to create a space that has climate change solutions while also being a great community space.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the IGNITION project’s survey and workshops – we are working towards making Greater Manchester an even greener place for people to live, work and grow in.
If you’re a local authority, developer, NBS investor, environmental communicator or youth educator in Greater Manchester, we’d love to talk to you! To find out more about the IGNITION project you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter at @GMGreenCity.