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Unveiling the potential of small vacant lots to become efficient Nature-based Solutions for citizens’ wellbeing and nature conservation



The project aims at providing the knowledge basis for integrating Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in marginal public space in the city of Trento, Italy. Trento is an alpine city of 120,000 inhabitants in north-eastern Italy. In recent years, the administration increased the amount of public green areas within the city, particularly in deprived neighbourhoods, so as to improve equity in distribution and access. These efforts were directed mostly on relatively large green areas in the peri-urban space. This project focuses on “marginal spaces” within the urban fabric, defined as fragments of fallow/abandoned land and small plots in a state of disuse.  Particularly, it aims at demonstrating the potential contribution of these spaces to citizens’ wellbeing and nature conservation.

Building on recent efforts jointly undertaken by the local Administration and the University to map and assess urban ecosystem services, the project will analyze marginal spaces and assess their suitability to be converted into different types of NbS that are relevant for the city: community gardens, “Kyoto forests”, habitat patches and pocket parks. Through stakeholder engagement activities, ecosystem services assessment and existing inventory of marginal spaces, a prioritization exercise will be conducted to identify, for each NbS types, the most suitable fragments of marginal space. Suitability will be assessed by considering the potential to deliver ecosystem services and benefits, in the light of the fragments’ biophysical characteristics (morphology, land cover, soil, etc), as well as the socio-economic context (e.g., accessibility, density of potential beneficiaries, vulnerability of beneficiaries, socio-economic parameters, etc). Stakeholders will be engaged via online forum and questionnaires, which will be used as input to the prioritization (e.g., to determine the range of desired characteristics that the different NbS should have, for example in terms of size, design, location, etc.).

The outcome of the project will be a GIS-based database showing marginal spaces most suitable to be converted into different NbS, with an estimation of the potential effects on a range of ecosystem services (including food production, air purification, water regulation, microclimate regulation, noise mitigation, and habitat for focal animal species), as well as of the expected beneficiaries. The results will showcase the potential of marginal space to provide tangible contribution to citizens’ wellbeing and biodiversity. They can also be used as the cornerstones for the development of a city-scale “Urban Greening Plan”, consistently with the recommendations of the recent European Union Biodiversity Strategy 2030.


Who will take these actions?

The project will be carried out with the contribution of university students, and the joint supervision of academic staff at the University of Trento and officers of relevant departments of the Municipality of Trento. Citizens and stakeholders (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency, Regional Health Agency, Science Museum, Forest department, local NGO) will be engaged during the prioritisation exercise.

What are the projected costs?

3  part-time student fellowships for 3 months each (total estimate: 4,500 USD)


The project can be completed in six months, through the following milestones:

  • Collating existing data and recruiting students (Month 1)
  • Designing analytical and stakeholders engagement activities (Month 2)
  • Performing analysis and stakeholder engagement (Month 5)
  • Putting it all together and presenting results (Month 6)

About the author(s)

I’m an associate professor of Spatial Planning at the University of Trento, Italy. I'm a sustainability scientist, specialized in urban and spatial planning, impact assessment, and ecosystem services. Formerly research fellow at Harvard University’s Sustainability Science Program, and visiting scholar at Stanford University. I consulted for public bodies internationally, including UNEP, UN-HABITAT, and the European Commission. Founding member of the start-up company Skopia, specialized in anticipation services for environmental, social and economic planning.

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