Realising Transformative Change through the Evaluation of Urban Nature-Based Solutions: An Exploration of the Netherlands
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The dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss increase the vulnerability of cities, which are dealing with challenges of extreme weather events, degrading urban ecosystems and increasing temperatures. Nature-based solutions (NBS), which are actions that imitate and enhance natural processes in cities, can contribute to tackling these challenges whilst simultaneously improving the health and well-being of urban residents. However, trade-offs and issues of justice and equality limit the effectiveness of NBS to deliver their aspired multiple benefits to nature and all urban residents. It additionally hampers the mainstreaming of NBS in current urban infrastructure regimes, while their uptake is deemed crucial for the transformation of current regimes along more sustainable pathways. Currently, evidence remains scarce on the trade-offs and unintended consequences of NBS, which points towards the improvement of current evaluation processes to strengthen the evidence base of NBS. Enhanced evaluation processes can also foster the mainstreaming of NBS in practice by properly showcasing their potential. Therefore, this research aims to explore how evaluations of urban NBS currently capture the aspired multiple benefits of NBS, their possible trade-offs and issues of justice and inclusivity, and how this relates to the potential of NBS to contribute to transformative change. The research developed six evaluation principles, which are argued to capture the contribution of evaluations to the transformative potential of NBS. Furthermore, the research is based on an explorative but non-representative quantitative as well as qualitative case study analysis of 42 evaluation documents of Dutch urban NBS, supplemented by 10 interviews with practitioners in the field of researching and/or evaluating urban NBS. The research reveals that, overall, most of the evaluations adequately aligned with the six developed evaluation principles, meaning that these evaluations to some extent contribute to transformative change. However, the research also demonstrates that more than a third of the evaluation sample made no or only a limited contribution to transformative change, whilst especially the principles of justice and inclusivity are poorly addressed in the evaluations. Additionally, those evaluations being solely based on quantitative research methods are characterized by a lack of inclusivity and insufficiently address the principles of multiple benefits, trade-offs, and justice. These findings underpin the proposed improvements in the evaluation of urban NBS to enhance the transformative potential and uptake of NBS in practice. This supports the transformation of current urban infrastructure regimes to realize sustainable, just, and equal urban living environments for all residents.