Natural infrastructure is not just green, it is also blue.

Green spaces and green infrastructure are important in today’s urban planning; however, the equally important blue spaces and blue infrastructure are often ignored or neglected. In the BlueHealth project, funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research programme, blue spaces are defined as outdoor water environments that are accessible to people. These blue spaces can be natural or manmade water features. Blue infrastructure though is often only thought of as the water supply to urban populations, or an urban drainage system, but it is much more than that. It is also the network of ponds, rivers, lakes and coasts that are intertwined with the green spaces of our local environments and provide many benefits to people and wildlife.

Blue infrastructure is just as important as green infrastructure. The major cities in Latvia all started life in or around rivers, lakes or the sea. These waterbodies though have been ignored, buried, canalised or industrialised. Until recently this was a common trend across the world, but now this trend is reversing. There are many great projects which include river restoration; creating vibrant urban spaces in former ports and docklands; or providing attractive, sustainable urban drainage systems integrated into our city streets.

Water is a fascination for many of us. We like to stroll along riverbanks, visit the beach, swim in the many lakes, go fishing in the rivers or meditate on life close to the whispering water. Sea bathing and spas were some of the earliest nature-based health therapies.  Of course, water is not without its risks – drowning is one of the main causes of death. Water can also cause flooding, become polluted, or be contaminated with algae and bacteria, so we also need to take care of it.

The BlueHealth project was the culmination of 5 years of research to build the evidence for the mental, physical and social health and well-being benefits of blue experiences – in other words the benefits of water in our landscape. A simple model, the BlueHealth Toolbox, was developed to show the pathways and the key role that urban blue spaces can have in planning. It was developed for urban planners and designers to use when working on new blue space projects. The intention was to show how the health and well-being benefits could be maximised and assess the potential risks. These tools have been validated, tested and are freely available for anyone to use. They are particularly useful for conducting before-and-after assessments of a blue space so that the success of a particular project can be evaluated.

A fully open access book has also been produced entitled “Urban Blue Spaces: Planning And Design For Water, Health And Well-Being”. Editors and contributors came from a number of countries and organisations, with the lead editing and much of the content being written and illustrated by researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences. This book tells a rich story, from presenting the theories and evidence through to the tools mentioned above and then to a series of reviews of inspiring blue space projects. It therefore enables planners and designers as well as local communities, to understand the benefits, to acquire evidence at a project site level and to plan and design better quality projects. These are supplemented by a website which will eventually contain over 180 projects – the BlueProfiles.

So, please check out, download and use these resources! Be inspired!

The BlueHealth Team

Chair of Landscape Architecture, Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Websites:

Multi-national BlueHealth Project:  https://bluehealth2020.eu/

BlueHealth Tools: https://bluehealth.tools/

BlueProfiles: https://bluehealth.tools/2020/09/13/blue-profile/

Online Open Access BlueHealth book, “Urban Blue Spaces: Planning And Design For Water, Health And Well-Being”: https://www.routledge.com/Urban-Blue-Spaces-Planning-and-Design-for-Water-Health-and-Well-Being/Bell-Fleming-Grellier-Kuhlmann-Nieuwenhuijsen-White/p/book/9780367173180

 

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