Budapest is the capital of Hungary and has 1.7 million inhabitants. It faces several social and environmental challenges. The city’s average temperature has risen by 1.5 °C since the 1970’s, and temperature models project a further rise of 4-6°C by 2100. This temperature increase, along with recently worsening air pollution and the heat island effect of urban areas, have already had serious impacts on the population. Floods and extreme weather are also taking a toll. The level of soil sealing in the capital is high (52% of its territory is built-up), although there is plenty of vacant urban space that could be turned into green areas. High-density districts (10% of the city’s territory is home to 28% of the city’s population), and neighbourhoods with social tensions and segregation, would benefit from green-area development. At present, the city only has 5m² of green area per capita, significantly less than the EU’s average. To make matters worse, the green areas that Budapest does have are often isolated and patchy, while city parks with old tree populations suffer from under-investment.
To address these challenges, Budapest has drafted several strategic documents, in which NBS are promoted as a way to improve the environment, sustainability, and quality of life. These documents include:
- The Budapest 2030 Long-Term Urban Development Concept. This strategic document aims to protect and increase green areas, so as to ensure ecological connectivity and develop walking and cycling corridors. It also promotes greater investment in brownfield sites, the prevention of urban sprawl, and 'smart' city development.
- The Integrated Urban Development Strategy 2020. This strategy prioritises making Budapest a liveable and environmentally-conscious city.
- The Budapest Green Infrastructure Strategy (under development). The Green Infrastructure Strategy aims to compile an inventory of green infrastructure, draw conclusions on previous investments, and identify development objectives and areas for action. The strategy will seek to promote biodiversity and connectivity; adapt to climate change; increase the quality of social and health conditions; and improve the economic and tourism potential of the city.
- The Budapest Environmental Program 2017-2021 (under development).
- The Spatial Management Plan of Budapest.
Budapest is implementing several projects to tackle the challenges mentioned above. One of the projects is the creation of so-called 'pocket parks', which have been established in the first district of the city. Apartment buildings in the centre of Budapest typically have internal common gardens, which are often covered with concrete. Removing the concrete covering to establish small 'pocket parks' can improve water retention and the area's micro-climate. In addition, it can provide opportunities for gardening, or even for small-scale food production. Pocket-parks are critical in increasing the amount of green areas in neighbourhoods that have limited space for such development.
Community gardens have a similar effect in increasing green space in the city. Community gardens such as Grundkert, Kerhtatár, and Lecsó have prompted the development of new gardens across Budapest. The number of community gardens has now grown from 3 to 17 in the past five years.
Budapest also invests in transitional and riverside zones in order to rejuvenate city parks. It has done this in the Nehru park in the IX district, and by establishing outdoor leisure areas in the XX district. Finally, there has been a strong focus on preserving the suburban zone, forests on the city's outskirts, and existing green areas. This can be seen in the revitalisation of Szilas creek in the XVI district, the revitalisation of Rákos creek, and the continuous management of the forested areas by the Duna-Ipoly National Park and other forestry bodies.
Pocket parks and urban gardening contribute to richer urban biodiversity, better air quality. They also improve the climate, water, and soil cycles. These gardens and small parks have clear social impacts by bringing together communities, enhancing public awareness of nature, and providing health and recreational benefits. They also facilitate cooperation between residents, municipalities and NGOs. In terms of environmental benefits, renewing city parks can improve urban biodiversity; enhance water retention measures; improve climate conditions and air quality; and mitigate extreme events such as floods or heavy precipitation. Preserving and managing forests on the city's outskirts has an important effect on climate conditions by reducing temperatures in the urban heat-island, maintaining biodiversity, and improving air quality. It also provides social benefits in the improved quality of recreation areas.
Pocket Parks and urban gardens
Pocket parks and urban gardens increase urban biodiversity, and promote awareness of food production and nature. They also provide space for communities and social interaction, and improve public health. In Budapest, they are particularly important in urban regeneration areas and densely populated areas. In such areas they help to reduce social tensions and provide opportunities for recreational activities, in addition to improving local environmental conditions.
Renewing city parks
Renewing city parks can contribute to improved quality of life thanks to a reduction in the heat island effect, increased biodiversity, greater habitat connectivity, improved risk management, and better air quality. More accessible green spaces and leisure activities may also enable citizens to have a more active lifestyle and engage in more outdoor activities. This can reduce potential risks to physical and mental health. More time spent outside can result in improved social interactions between different social and age groups.
Preserving outskirts forests and wedged green areas
Preserving forests on the city's outskirts and the city's existing green areas can improve climate conditions, mitigate extreme events such as heavy rainfall, improve air quality, and promote biodiversity and habitat connectivity. The availability of green spaces and the leisure activities they encourage may also help citizens to lead a more active lifestyle, reducing risks to physical and mental health.
NBS play a crucial role in key policy documents such as the Budapest 2030 Long Term Urban Development Concept, the Integrated Urban Development Strategy 2020, the Budapest Green Infrastructure Strategy, and the Budapest Environmental Program 2017-2021.
The FP7 project FASUDIR helped to integrate the 'smart city' concept into Budapest's urban development strategies (Budapest 2030 Long Term Urban Development Concept, and the Integrated Urban Development Strategy 2020). It is hoped that FASUDIR can also contribute to the development of a large-scale modelling system for NBS. FASUDIR has also informed the city's Sustainable Energy Action Plan.
Another FP7 project, ARTS, contacted decision-makers at district level in Budapest, and introduced them to the concepts behind sustainable transitions in city planning. It also introduced participatory approaches and community planning mechanisms, which can be used during decision-making and the preparation of urban development strategies. Both the FASUDIR and ARTS projects promoted systematic innovation using policy tools and communication materials that can be used in similar projects in the future.
The FP7 projects FASUDIR and ARTS have provided valuable lessons on how to involve city authorities in urban sustainability processes. In the FASUDIR project, city authorities were involved in developing a new software tool for city-level modelling. The ARTS project showed the importance of building alliances through coupling mechanisms that involved different stakeholders. This connected municipal authorities and civil society organisations. The project also brought to light the need for transparency in planning, decision-making, and programme implementation. Overall, ARTS stressed the importance of building trust and capacity, and the integration of local knowledge into decision-making.
At the city level, citizens and municipalities communicate through consultations. Frequent fora are held in the planning and implementation stages of projects, where local residents and affected stakeholders can express their opinions. There is also close cooperation with different civil and expert organisations regarding city-level projects.
FP7 projects have been helpful in exploring different participative approaches for city planning. In the FASUDIR project, a public-private partnership of 11 different partners from science and SMEs, developed a common strategic document in conjunction with city authorities. The partnership discussed concepts such as the 'smart city' and energy management at district or city level. In the ARTS project, a diverse group of stakeholders, including NGOs, entrepreneurs, researchers, and local authorities identified opportunities for co-decision and coupling mechanisms. It is hoped that this will help to strengthen alliance-building and cooperation in the development of future projects.
In Budapest, job creation has been one of the goals when developing NBS. This has especially been the case when creating green areas. Because prices are higher for properties adjacent to the water or to green areas, developers aim to include these features in their projects.
FP7 projects have promoted new economic opportunities in the city. For instance, FASUDIR developed a software tool that assists investment decisions regarding energy and insulation in the home. Using the tool can enable smart and targeted insulation investments where they are most needed. If the methodology behind the tool is developed further, it will be able to assist in decisions regarding green roofs and facades. ARTS helped various stakeholders to develop new alliances and future projects together. This can both create new economic opportunities and address underlying sustainability problems.
In Budapest, the key success factor in developing NBS has been effective cooperation among the different municipalities and stakeholders. The ability of municipalities to cooperate and secure funding has also been critical. As Hungary depends a lot on EU funds, it is important that NBS be explicitly mentioned in relevant calls for tender to enable further development of NBS projects.
The FP7 project FASUDIR identified both success factors and limiting factors. The success factor was the will of different stakeholders to work and think together. This knowledge transfer through EU research projects is vital for areas that do not normally cooperate, but which see cooperation and joint thinking as an essential tool for development. Limiting factors included difficulties in working with city authorities due to a lack of capacity and knowledge (e.g. language, time pressure, structure of the authorities, and a lack of data). They also included a lack of funding mechanisms (for instance, funding mechanisms are not specified for different regions, and no source exists for thorough baseline analysis). Another major difficulty identified by the project was that although a software tool was successfully created (see above), there was no proper follow-up in refining the tool. There were additional issues with copyright and owners’ rights (the rights to the software tool were owned by the consortium, and therefore any further development has to be done with their consent and further legal negotiations). This makes further development of the tool rather problematic.
For the FP7 project ARTS, the main success factor was people's commitment to work on transitions toward sustainable cities. The main limiting factor for the ARTS project was a lack of communication and transparent rules of engagement between municipal authorities and civil society organisations. Compared with other cities involved in the project, the Budapest case study of ARTS also had significant time constraints, as the Central European University only joined the consortium in the last year of the project and had to work with a fraction of the resources available to other partners.
An additional challenge to the general adoption of NBS in the city was Budapest's inter-communal structure, which is made up of a single Budapest municipality, 23 district governments, and 20 other surrounding local governments. Other obstacles to the development of NBS include a lack of capacity in the city administration, and the narrow focus of funding mechanisms. These funding mechanisms do not allow for interconnected and holistic approaches. For instance, there is a need to address the social needs of less advantaged neighbourhoods together with measures on climate, energy, noise and green areas. However, funding mechanisms usually focus on only one policy sector.
NBS are typically funded from municipal budgets, national sources and EU funding mechanisms.
Budapest wishes to strengthen its position as a 'green' city that places importance on biodiversity, connectivity, health, and societal well-being. It is also aware that NBS have important economic impacts, as the city will attract more tourists if it has more green areas. To achieve these goals, the city is formulating the city's Green Infrastructure Strategy. This strategy also feeds into the 2030 Urban Development Plan, where sustainability, environment and improved quality of life are among the main priorities.
Budapest takes part in a number of EU projects such as CEPPI. CEPPI promotes sustainable energy solutions through a public procurement of innovation approach (PPI), whereby public authorities act as a launch customer for innovative goods or services. Due to the large structure of Budapest's administration, city districts apply separately for EU funds relating to NBS. For example, the Hegyvidék district applied for the Interreg project European Cooperation for urban green spaces, while the Zugló district applied for ERDF funding for innovative urban strategies and action plans. In 2014, over 95% of all public investments in Hungary were co-financed by the EU, so adequate financing mechanisms that specifically mention NBS are one of the main drivers (alongside domestic political will) for project development.
Two other initiatives are currently under way that will likely be relevant drivers of NBS adoption in the future: Hungary's contribution to the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES), and a national Green Infrastructure exercise, which will be finalised by 2020 (supported by the Environmental Operational Programme).
There is no overall monitoring on how the city is delivering on its strategic objectives.
In addition to benefitting from CEPPI, the FP7 project FASUDIR helped to transfer knowledge in Budapest on the 'smart city' concept and the systematic approach at district and city level. These insights can also be used when planning and implementing NBS. Furthermore, the European Environment Agency research that was used for the Budapest Environmental Assessment served as a base for the Budapest Environmental Program.
Buzási, A. 2014. Will Budapest be a climate-resilient city? - Adaptation and mitigation challenges and opportunities in development plans in Budapest. European Journal of Sustainable Development, 3, 4, 277-288. Doi:10.14207/ejsd.2014.v3n4p277
European Commission. Financial Programming and Budget. 2014. Hungary.
Gál, Cs. 2015. Urban greening and cool surfaces: the effectiveness of climate change adaptation strategies within the context of Budapest. ICUC9 - 9th International Conference on Urban Climate.
Faragó, T., Láng, I. and Csete, L. 2010. Climate change and Hungary: Mitigating the hazard and preparing for the impact (VAHAVA report).
ICLEI. 2016. Sustainable and innovative energy solutions for cities on the new CEPPI project website. Available at http://www.iclei-europe.org/fileadmin/templates/iclei-europe/Press_relea...
Kereszters-Sipos, A. and Koller-Posztos, A. 2016. Green Infrastructure of Budapest. Presentation at Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure in Integrated Environmental Management in CE Metropolises. Interreg conference, 07.03.2016, Budapest.
Personal interview with László Pintér and Logan Strenchock, Central European University.
Personal interview with András Reith, ABUD.
Probald, F. The urban climate of Budapest: past, present and future. Hungarian Geographical Bulletin 63 (1) (2014) 69-79. Available at:
Written communication with Péter Hámori, City of Budapest.
András Reith, ABUD and László Pintér and Logan Strenchock, Central European University