Szeged’s urban development concept and integrated urban development strategy aim to improve the quality of green areas and to restore natural habitats and ecological corridors for social and recreational purposes and to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Due to the required structure for integrated urban development strategies and related financing mechanisms, there are separate objectives and plans for most urban districts (Liget, Mórapark, Makkosháza, Odessza, Roosevelt square, Tápé, Tarján, Stefánia, Vértó). They are called action areas and are developed in relation to the general objectives of increasing the number of green areas and their renewal. By 2020, these green interventions under the action areas will be connected, creating a complex green area network in the city. Objectives under the complex development of action areas include, for instance, the rehabilitation of green areas, review and expansion of urban mobility (upgrading the cycle path system, extending public transport with green investment) and a decrease in concrete surface area.
These challenges are addressed by various nature-based solutions, such as urban renewal with green areas, including the selection of climate-adapted vegetation, water- and air-permeable cover usage, and the creation of urban garden allotments. These nature–based solutions form part of a strategy for improving resident mobility, the multi-functionality of public spaces, and local economic development.
Green area rehabilitation and restoration projects have been completed in the Liget action area and in various parts of the city (e.g. Széchenyi square). Similar actions are planned in the remaining eight action areas by 2020. There is a special focus on creating connectivity between the action areas, therefore enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services and on developing social spaces for all age groups (playgrounds, benches for resting and sitting, dog-walking areas, sport areas, cycle paths). The city also addresses adaptation to climate change and increasing climate resilience for instance by using adaptive, multi-level vegetation. Decreasing car use and encouraging sustainable urban mobility is another crucial objective for Szeged, with special attention paid to the extension of cycle paths, which often goes hand-in-hand with extending and conserving green areas. When expanding the public transport system, green investment is considered, as was the case in the 2006-2015 upgrade of tram lines, where grass was planted between the tram tracks. Furthermore, the city centre is restricted for pedestrian use only and recently, to address growing pressure to increase green areas, a new city ordinance declared that new properties built do not need to include a parking lot. The city also uses water and air-permeable coverage whenever possible and removes concrete covers that are out of use. There is also focus on the renewal of housing estates using nature-based solutions to support social changes by making the areas more attractive for younger generations as well (e.g. urban gardening, parks, outdoor leisure activities).
The city authority focuses on nature and sustainability. However, as local authorities have limited own budgets, EU and national financial sources are very important. Most investment in nature-based solutions came from an EU funding source, mostly operational programmes (only one action area, Tápé, has been rehabilitated entirely from the city administration budget). Therefore, information about EU funding mechanisms and operational programmes for green infrastructure, nature-based solutions and green areas is crucial for any such developments in the future. Another key lesson was learned during the 2006-2015 expansion of community transport in Szeged, when there were many discussions on how to finance the expected high costs of maintaining the grass between the tram tracks as maintenance is usually not supported by EU funds. In fact, the costs have not exceeded the planned budget and can be managed by the city, which shows that more knowledge and experience are needed to make more exact calculations and better project planning possible. One of the key remaining challenges is liaising with all stakeholders and addressing their various needs, which requires extensive discussions.
Most activities are financed from EU financing mechanisms, including PHARE 2000-2003, and operational programmes (2004-2006, 2007-2013, 2014-2020 and the currently planned territorial operational programme that contains priority axes for green infrastructure development). There are plans in Szeged for a joint Hungary-Serbia application from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) for improving water management and rainwater use for local gardening. All activities include at least 5-10 % co-financing from the city; there is one project in Tápé that is financed solely from the city’s budget. The city administration has a department that runs 60-70 parallel projects and there is a goal to increase its capacity.
Heat island effect (where the annual mean temperature is more than 1 °C higher in the inner parts of the city compared to suburban parts), severe run-offs, floods, minor pollution mostly due to traffic, along with the changing climate all pose a threat to Szeged. Located on the Tisza river in southern Hungary, Szeged has around 160.000 residents and is the country’s third biggest city. According to city officials, the biggest challenges in terms of Nature-based Solutions (NBS) in the city are 1) the complexity of public spaces, 2) meeting differing needs of residents, and 3) funding application opportunities and financial sources for complex urban renewal.
The assessment of direct impacts is based on the personal observations of city administration employees as official monitoring is limited. Based on their findings, it seems that various age groups spend much more time (together) in the green areas than before. Also, it was concluded that the investments (and extensive public talks and stakeholder engagement) have benefited residents in other ways too – they started to think in terms of sustainability when it came to reconstruction work, even on their own homes. Additional impacts are assumed as nature-based solutions lead to: richer biodiversity and more stable ecosystems and their services because of increased and rehabilitated green areas; better air quality because of reduced traffic, more cycle paths and more green infrastructure; and reduced run-offs and improved soil quality because of decreased sealed areas, water permeable coverage and vegetated areas.
NBS Project 1: Green area rehabilitation and increase in green infrastructure
Building and rehabilitating green infrastructure can lead to more connectivity, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and improved air quality with higher CO2 absorption. The extended vegetation-enhanced water retention can improve evapotranspiration and mitigation of floods and extreme precipitation. More developed green infrastructure with cycling and walking opportunities can also lead to reduced public and personal vehicle use and thus decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This in turn can improve mental and physical health and reduce the health impacts and costs of the heat island effect. More green areas facilitate joint usage of public spaces by various age and social groups, improving social interactions and decreasing social tension.
Vegetated public transport routes (grass planted between tram tracks) and extended cycle and walking paths increase urban greenery, improve urban quality of life, increase opportunities for enhancing habitats and biodiversity, reduce the use of energy, including by cars, which leads to better air quality and reduces greenhouse gases. More recreational opportunities provided by the cycling and walking paths support a more active lifestyle and increase joint use of public spaces and social interaction between various social and age groups, which may improve citizen health and social inclusion.
Using adaptive multilevel vegetation makes urban areas greener, improves urban quality of life and living conditions and increases biodiversity and ecosystem services. It also provides shade and mitigates urban heat island effect and enhances evapotranspiration, as well as contributing to the mitigation of extreme weather events (floods, heavy rainfall).
NBS project 2: Urban gardening
Urban gardening can create community awareness and support interaction between various social and age groups, as gardens are often jointly managed by residents. It helps people improve their physical and mental health by giving them an opportunity to spend time outside and grow their own food. Urban gardening can also increase urban biodiversity.
The city administration incorporates nature-based solutions in many of its new development projects. In addition, the FP7 GreenSurge project has contributed to the city’s actions in this area by raising awareness of nature-based solutions and research opportunities among staff members.
There is an emphasis on stakeholder participation and on incorporating differing opinions in solutions that are acceptable to everyone involved. During planning procedures, there is much interest from housing estates to participate in debates (there is less interest to take part in such forums in the city centre). Frequent forums are held at the planning and implementation stages, giving local residents the opportunity to express their opinions. There is also close cooperation with civil organisations. According to city officials, one of the key difficulties is addressing all the various wishes, as often even similar organisations and groups have different opinions (e.g. different civil organisations wanting different coverage of running paths; cyclists preferring concrete cycle paths instead of natural vegetation opposing environmental NGOs; conflicts between residents who want urban allotments to be built on public facilities and resistance from neighbours affected by the shade; young people preferring sports facilities and older generations flowers and greenery).
The city authority drives the rejuvenation of various housing estate areas, with mostly elderly residents. It ensures that facilities for children (e.g. playgrounds) and young people (e.g. sports tracks) are planned and developed to make the areas more attractive for younger generations and to boost related development and investment. Certain developments (e.g. terrace creation for restaurants and pubs, terraces and windows overlooking green areas) can result in even short-term economic boosts, by attracting more guests and gradually ensuring a higher-quality experience.
Key success factors include the dedication of city leaders and specific financial sources. These are complemented by tailored trainings for city officials on green area development from the perspective of climate change, organised by Szeged University and a national NGO that deals with energy and climate change issues.
The key limiting factor is the challenge of dealing with the complexity of public spaces with a myriad of views to take into account. Financing sources are key determinants and it is important to note that the concept and details of green area development are not sufficiently outlined in funding documents. Also, in spite of the fact that the current operational programmes have well-articulated principles and objectives, in practice the application process for funding sources is very difficult, more time-consuming and bureaucratic than under the previous programme. Management and maintenance are not financed through EU projects, only the creation of new areas is, therefore these costs have to be integrated in the limited city budget.
The main driver of these changes was to create a more pleasant city, as envisioned and supported by the city’s leadership. Sustainability also remains an important factor, especially in terms of design and maintenance of green areas (e.g. when selecting vegetation, mostly tree species, it is important that the fruit and flowers are easy to remove and that the species are adaptive to climatic changes and local conditions). One of the key drivers was financing sources and the fact that green investments are included in operational programme calls. The residents also expressed their need to have more green areas. Specific requests vary according to age (e.g. older people prefer more flowery vegetation and green areas, whereas younger generations request more recreational areas such as sports fields, playgrounds and dog training places).
There is no monitoring in place, mostly due to lack of financing and lack of sufficient capacity. Studies carried out by Szeged University on vegetation and local climate are used for decision making at local level.
Participation in the FP7 project Green Surge helped to increase awareness, as well as to exchange experiences with other EU countries. Partly due to Green Surge, Szeged currently participates in a Horizon 2020 project, Nature4Cities, and would like to participate in similar opportunities in the future. Within Nature4Cities, Szeged participates in developing a common methodology for nature-based solutions, which is helping it understand how to include more such solutions in future projects and developments.
Éva Sz. Fehér (chief architect), Ágnes Dénes (green space rapporteur), Péter Pásztor (head of tendering unit), City Hall of Szeged
Central Statistical Office. Annual reports of Hungarian Settlements. 2016.
Gál, T., Skarbit N. and Unger, J. 2016. Urban heat island patterns and their dynamics based on an urban climate measurement network. Hungarian Geographical Bulletin 56 2016 (2).
Száraz, L. and Gerohazi, É. 2015. GreenSurge case study city portrait Szeged. Available at http://greensurge.eu/products/case-studies/Case_Study_Portrait_Szeged.pdf
Personal interviews with Éva Sz. Fehér, Ágnes Dénes, City Hall of Szeged. 20 February 2017 in Szeged.
Telephone interview with Péter Pásztor, City Hall of Szeged. 3rd Marc, 2017.
Acknowledgments: Éva Gerőházi and Stephan Pauleit, for their valuable comments.