Dr. Leo M. van den Berg
tel: 0317 - 474435

How can urban green space in Europe be improved through design, planning and management? The European Commission is trying to answer this question in as many ways as possible and has started five international and interdisciplinary research projects. These projects differ greatly in terms of disciplines involved and research methods used, so it remains unclear whether the findings can be combined to yield the required insights.

‘Greencluster’ is a so-called accompanying measure to the EU’s research programme on ‘The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage’. This measure aims to guide the programme’s five projects on green space in and around towns and cities towards a joint presentation of their findings. the five projects each have their own methods, acronyms and websites. They should all be completed by the middle of 2004. The projects are:
BUGS (Benefits of Urban Green Spaces) : www.vito.be/bugs/
GREENSCOM (Communicating Urban Growth and Green) : www.greenscom.com
GREENSPACE (on the valuation of urban green spaces) : www.ucd.ie/greensp/
RUROS (Rediscovering the Urban Realm and Open Spaces) : http://alpha.cres.gr/ruros/
URGE (Developing Urban Green Spaces for Quality of Life) : www.urge-project.org/
The projects involve about 30 research teams from all over Europe, and use research findings from almost 40 towns and cities. It is expected that a joint presentation of the results will greatly improve their accessibility and user value for both European and local policymaking.

As a first step towards combining the findings of these very different projects, two conferences were organised in 2003, allowing the participants to familiarise themselves with each other’s approach, findings and practical instruments. Both conferences also included practitioners. We are currently working on a common framework for the projects, which would clarify the relations between their practical and theoretical results, including the various contexts of such results.

The Greencluster Website www.greencluster.org offers an opportunity to continue the debates that were started during the conferences, and functions as a webforum to discuss and develop the draft framework.

The project continues until the end of 2004, and work in its second year will include preparing a travelling exhibition and an educational video on the five projects and their interrelationships. In November, an international conference will be organised in the Netherlands, which should allow many third parties to become familiar with the most important aspects of the Greencluster projects and where the themes and questions identified in the projects will be discussed.

All five projects have produced interesting reports for the purpose of the two 2003 conferences. These reports are available on our website. A ‘First Review Report’ on the first of the two conferences has been published, and a similar report on the second conference is expected to be published in March 2004.

The presentations at the conferences highlighted a number of interesting topics.
- While minor improvements to urban air quality require large areas of green space, trees do not necessarily improve the air quality in ‘traffic canyons’.
- We now have a better idea what types of vegetation can best be used as buffers against traffic noise.
- There are large differences between calculated and perceived nuisance levels for temperature, humidity, wind force, noise, etc.
- It is especially the multifunctional quality which determines the value of green space in and around towns and cities.
- Robust green structures and commitment by local residents provide the best opportunities to resist initiatives to build on green space.

Another result of the Greencluster programme is that it has rendered those working in the five projects aware of what they need to do to present their findings clearly to third parties. Many fascinating schemes, GIS applications, simulations and measuring instruments have been shown, but most of them were not fully ready for presentation.

Each of the five projects involves multiple disciplines, which means that much time has had to be spent to allow participants from various disciplines and countries to communicate with each other and build upon each other’s results. This has led to the development of new concepts or new applications of existing concepts, which does not always make communication with those outside a project easier. For instance, planning processes have to take into account not only ‘actors’ but also ‘actants’ (see Greenscom) and the URGE project makes use of an ICC (‘interdisciplinary catalogue of criteria’) to assess whether green spaces are functioning as intended.

The joint presentation of research findings is not only being critically evaluated by local policymakers and parks departments, but is also influencing European policies on sustainable urban development and the drafting of new research programmes on this subject.
The Greencluster project is funded almost fully by the European Commission, from the Fifth Framework Programme.