Among the aims of the VARCITIES project is to theorize the concept of the VS by breaking it down into the different solutions that compose it: Nature Based Solution (NBS), Digital Solutions, and Socio-Cultural solutions, to better explain the combined use of natural elements, technological solutions and socio-cultural actions to promote health and well-being in urban areas. The project recognizes the complexity and challenges of future cities and seeks to promote innovation at different urban scales by making full use of nature-based solutions. Each component is represented by several key challenges with the aim to create synergies between different clusters.
Numerous definitions have been used to define the concept of Nature-based Solutions during years. Since its first applications, this approach has always wanted to be seen as a way of supporting human life and activities over time, addressing different societal challenges in terms of ecosystem services provided: Climate Resilience; Water Management; Natural and Climate Hazards; Green Space Management; Biodiversity Enhancement; Air Quality; Place Regeneration.
Given the complexity of urban contexts, the need for a healthier environment is increasingly recognised as well as the importance of connecting urban with natural areas, particularly stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent sanitary crisis has offered an opportunity to re-think the relationship between man and nature and the possibility of channelling the urban technological transition to counteract climate change, support biodiversity, reduce pollution and improve the well-being of inhabitants. VARCITIES acknowledges the complexity and the challenges of future cities and tries to advance innovation across different urban scales by fully exploiting nature-based solutions.
Alongside the concept of Nature-based Solutions, another paradigm has become increasingly important to address environmental challenges, placing technological innovation at the core of urban policies: the Smart City concept. In an increasingly urbanized world, cities face several threats and struggle to propose credible urban futures. Inevitably, these actions require a multiscale approach that allows them to manage their development, support economic competitiveness, strengthen social and environmental cohesion and guarantee a higher quality of life for their citizens. Since its formulation, the notion of Smart City has grown in value, while several contradictory meanings are also attached to this word. Today, a Smart City is still often defined as “a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital solutions for the benefits of its inhabitants and business”. However, a smart city goes beyond the use of digital technologies for better resource use and fewer emissions. It aims to create synergies among different clusters and address some key challenges: Sustainable Urban Mobility; Sustainable Built Environment; Integrated Infrastructures and Processes. But this requires the capability of exploiting big data and real-time information. One of the objectives of VARCITIES is to create an ecosystem of fully connected intelligent sensors and devices to help the pilot cities during the implementation and the evaluation phases.
Cities play a crucial role as engines of the economy, as places of connectivity, creativity, innovation, and as centres of services for their surrounding areas. However, cities are also places where problems such as unemployment, segregation and poverty are concentrated. The innovative hybridization between nature-based and technological solutions advanced by the VARCITIES project highlights the importance of the socio-cultural dimension in addressing a bottom-up approach aimed at improving the health & well-being of all citizens. The proposed Visionary Solutions are focusing on public spaces, because of their pivotal role in successful urban design, envisioned as people-centered areas that support creativity, inclusivity, health, and happiness for the citizens addressing different societal challenges to deliver multiple benefits. The different key challenges are Knowledge and Social Capacity Building; Participatory Planning and Governance; Social Justice and Social Cohesion; Health and Wellbeing; New Economic Opportunities and Green Jobs; Integrated Planning, Policies and Regulations; Business Models and Finance; Citizen Focus. Visionary Solutions tightly integrate social and cultural dimensions to improve the health and well-being of citizens. The stakeholder engagement and co-creation process are critical elements in developing the project and in ensuring its uptake in cities/communities.
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