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21-23 MARCH 2017

Final OpenNESS Annual Meeting in Smolenice, Slovakia

Green space in Oslo worth billions!

Read more about the OpenNESS Norwegian case study 'Valuation of urban ecosystem services in Oslo' »

Many interesting things can be said about Oslo, the capital of Norway: It was founded one thousand years ago by Vikings, it is a relatively small and cosy city of about 650 000 inhabitants – but with the buzz of a bigger city due to its position as Norway’s biggest city and capital, it is allegedly the fastest growing metropolitan area in Europe these days, and it has green spaces within the city limits worth billions of Euros.

Possibly, you already knew most of this about Oslo. But you did not know the last point. Because we just found out! But where are these billions, and what is important about them?

When you stand at the top of Holmenkollen, Oslo’s famous ski jump (recently redesigned by a cool Belgian(!) architect), you get a good overview of Oslo’s green infrastructure. The city is crescent-shaped as it hugs the bottom of the Oslo fjord. The hills surrounding Oslo create a sort of gigantic amphitheatre, with downtown situated immediately in front of a stage consisting of the blank fjord dotted with islands of different sizes and shapes. The boreal and mostly conifer forests in the hills teem with biodiversity, elks and a few lynx and wolfs lurk around – as well as cross-country skiers (winter), hikers and cyclists (summer). Nine rivers descend into the city from the hills, cutting greenbelts through the concrete on their way to the fjord (that is, when they have not been put in pipes under ground). Parks of different sizes dot the city, as well as about one million urban trees. And the coastline and twenty-four fjord islands provide ample opportunities for recreation and also rare ecosystems due to the old volcanic geology.

Photo: View from Holmenkollen
© Wikimedia Commons

How beautiful this city looks, this mix of geological features several millennia old, the primordial, creeping and adaptive vitality of biology and ecosystems, and the ingenious human creativity shaping the land and crafting infrastructure over the centuries that reflect the hopes and dreams of thousands of human beings just like you and me! The wind tussles my beard. It comes from the forest, with a vague scent of conifer and a hint of exhaust from the parking lot below. I am getting carried away. What about the billions?

In our work in the OpenNESS project, one of our first tasks was to raise awareness about the importance of urban ecosystems. In order to do that, we applied different economic valuation methods in order to demonstrate the value of urban ecosystems and the services they provide. (Of-course, we have written intricate scientific reports about this which you may have a look at if you like details.) Let me share two main findings and a few thoughts about what this means.

First: In cities, nature provides basic regulatory services that are crucial for the city to be able to function. For instance, trees and other vegetation absorb pollution and create pleasant microclimates, and watercourses absorb stormwater. The value of such services is site-specific, but will often be in the range of billions of Euros – as indicated by the great costs in cities related to stormwater incidents. In Copenhagen, for instance, a cloudburst caused more than 90 000 insurance cases at a cost of almost 5 billion Danish kroner on 2 July, 2011. Green infrastructure helps prevent such damage.

Second: In cities, nature and green space is crucial for providing quality to city life. In our studies of Oslo, it is especially for the cultural ecosystem services (such as recreation, aesthetics, sense of place) that we see large values. Numerous studies show that people are willing to pay for access the green space in cities and that this is reflected, for instance, in property prices. Based on a statistical analysis of apartment sales in Oslo over the last decade, we estimated that the added property value of apartments in Oslo thanks to proximity to green space is at least 2 billion Euros in 2013.

Atop the Holmenkollen ski jump, I contemplate the panorama overview of the city embedded in natural surroundings. I believe a city and nature are not two different things. It is a symbiosis, where a sensitive and clever interaction between man, nature and the things we build is what enables a good and also effective city. It is a place for life and to live.

It is time to let nature back into the city and civilization, and that is what OpenNESS is about – if you ask me.

Rasmus Reinvang, Vista Analysis, Oslo.