Nature-Based Solutions Design for Justice

by Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP

Nature-based solutions are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystems benefits. / image: Chingwen Cheng

Nature-based solutions (NBS) is a concept developed to promote nature as a means for providing solutions for societal challenges. The concept has been widely adopted for environmental science and policies addressing issues such as water security, food security, disaster risk management, human health, economic and social development, and climate change (IUCN, 2016). NBS are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystem benefits. Examples include green infrastructure, landscape planning and design, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems restoration, and environmental design to address climate change adaptation, urban resilience, and sustainable development. The field of landscape architecture has been the champion for and major contributor to planning, designing, and implementing NBS at various scales and applications in serving diverse societal needs both in the public and private sectors.

While NBS operate under ecological principles, the social systems that NBS are being operated within and the potential negative impacts that NBS perpetuate in communities (e.g., green gentrification) have brought justice concerns. NBS including green infrastructures have been integrated into spatial climate justice planning through identifying social-ecological-technological systems vulnerability to climate change (Cheng, 2016; 2019). As policies and resources are becoming available in support of implementing NBS in communities for addressing climate change challenges (e.g., the EU’s European Green Deal, the US’s Green New Deal), we must proceed with caution and be willing to investigate project impacts to ensure equity is addressed while systemic injustice are rectified in the politics of planning (Goh, 2020).

Just NBS include opportunities to transform systemic injustice associated with race and class, a meaningful participatory process for transformative co-production, and using value articulation to prioritize resources, measure successes, and create culture shifts to address issues of environmental justice (Cousins, 2021).

Nature-based Solutions for Urban Resilience in the Anthropocene (NATURA) is a network of scholars and practitioners in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and Latin America that aim to understand the interconnected feedback between social, ecological, and technological systems on NBS outcomes. The NATURA Design for Justice Survey is a project undertaken by the NATURA Design for Justice Thematic Working Group to investigate and bridge the gap between theory and practices in design justice through research, design, implementation, and management of NBS projects. This particular survey is designed for ASLA members and design practitioners associated with NBS. The findings will be used to understand the state of practice of incorporating environmental justice in the profession in support of ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network’s mission.

The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. Your participation is greatly appreciated.

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image: Chingwen Cheng

Other opportunities and resources from ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN):


Cheng, C. (2016). Spatial Climate Justice and Green Infrastructure Assessment: A case study for the Huron River watershed, Michigan, USA. GI_Forum, Vol 1, 179-190.

Cheng, C. (2019). Climate justicescape and implications for urban resilience in American cities. In: Burayidi, M., Twigg, J., Allen, A., & Wamlester, C. (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Urban Resilience (pp. 83-96). New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Books

Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C. and Maginnis, S. (eds.) (2016). Nature-based solutions to address global societal challenges. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. xiii + 97pp.

Cousins, J. (2021). Justice in nature-based solutions: Research and pathways. Ecological Economics, 180.

Goh, K. (2020). Planning the Green New Deal: Climate Justice and the Politics of Sites and Scales. Journal of the American Planning Association, 86(2), 188–195.

Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Arizona State University. She is also an officer and past co-chair of ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN).

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