Urban Nature Explorer Scenario Planning Tool Applied For Nature-Based Solutions in Pilot Area of Otto Wagner Site

The EU H2020 programme-funded NATURVATION (NATure based URban innoVATION) project has yielded the Urban Nature Atlas – a database of urban nature solutions across 100 European cities and more recently, the Urban Nature Explorer, an online nature-based solutions (NBS) scenario-building tool.

As a web-based simulation tool, the Urban Nature Explorer aims to support the development and the visualization of alternative NBS scenarios and assess their potential impacts on selected urban sustainability challenges. The tool can be used in the early visioning stage of participatory planning processes.

NBS are seen to hold significant promise in enabling the urban transition to sustainability and meeting sustainable development goals. They have potential to provide multiple benefits across a range of sustainability challenges facing cities – such as managing flooding, supporting improved health outcomes or increasing resilience in the face of a changing climate, among others. 

During a webinar with stakeholders in May, the Urban Nature Explorer was deployed to examine a pilot area of CEU’s future campus site at the Otto-Wagner-Area, which mapped four relevant urban sustainability challenges that can be addressed with NBS: green space accessibility, water management, climate change and enhancement of biodiversity. Participants were invited to select one of these challenges and propose interventions that were then scored by the tool based on their impacts on the selected challenge, on stakeholder satisfaction and their contribution to the total economic value of the area.

For example, when addressing green space accessibility, participants considered how the Otto Wagner Areal is located on the threshold between nature and low-density housing and how the area is used by locals and tourists for recreational purposes. With future redevelopment and the conversion of part of the hospital grounds into a university campus, the availability and continued access to urban green space is a significant aspect of planning. The Urban Nature Explorer indicates possibilities for how this urban green space can support the campus community in the future while continuing to provide locals and visitors with recreational and transit opportunities.

Regarding water management, the simulation allows users to study the area with consideration of the geological set-up of Flysch - a combination of marl, slate and sandstone. This bedrock at the site features dynamically shifting groundwater levels, little water storing capacity and fast water runoff throughout its sloping surroundings.

Responses to climate change and biodiversity protection on the site can also be examined through the tool. Being part of Vienna’s “green belt”, the north of the future campus provides microclimatic cooling, however the existing buildings are generally oriented towards the south and absorb considerable sunlight. With the future campus in mind and the forecasted increase in heatwaves, it is necessary to mitigate future increases in local temperature, for example through natural shading. Additionally, through a purposefully designed natural landscape, it will be possible to improve habitat quality and increase biodiversity in line with heritage considerations.

Reflecting upon the recent simulation, CEU Professor László Pintér and researcher Dóra Almássy noted that the Otto Wagner pilot showed the need for and value of stakeholder engagement in the early stages of landscape planning. The Urban Nature Explorer was found to be a user-friendly, intuitive and interactive platform that allowed participants to consider the challenges and nature-based opportunities and potential of the area as a whole. Deepening and linking the findings in the Otto Wagner pilot to the technical master planning process, testing the Explorer in other geographic and project contexts, and further developing its analytic capabilities are being considered, as well as creating an organization that can continue the work now beyond the end of the NATURVATION project.

NATURVATION was conducted by CEU's Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy Professor László Pintér with researchers Dóra Almássy, Sara Maia Rocha, Attila Katona and Judit Boros. CEU, as a member of the partnership consortium, was responsible for a range of tasks, including the coordination of the development of the Urban Nature Atlas, contribution to the development of an NBS Assessment Framework and the development of the Urban Nature Explorer.