Pushing unresolved environmental problems such as super storms, floods, droughts and heat waves has become a critical challenge in many Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Guangzhou.
The serious climate-related risks lead to economic losses and threaten the security of citizens, and reduce urban resilience, sustainability and liveability. Nature-based solutions have received extensive attention to address increasing socio-environmental challenges. For his Ph.D. Li Dai’s research explored the implementation of nature-based solutions and the role of citizens in these solutions.
Recurrent urban disasters have led to great concern and reflections on current urban development strategies, and a low-impact development strategy is strongly supported by experts and researchers. Against this background, nature-based solutions, an essential part of the low-impact urban development methodology, have received extensive attention to address increasing socio-environmental challenges.
However, attempts to adopt, implement and disseminate nature-based solutions may face several barriers and fail to deliver the expected results. One of the dominant barriers is a lack of public awareness and engagement. Scaling up nature-based solution projects requires integrated, coordinated and multifaceted strategies involving a wide range of citizens to co-design and co-create at the neighborhood level.
The externalities caused by these projects, such as visual landscape degradation, land acquisition and inconvenience, often provoke public opposition and protest, endangering the success of the projects and social stability. While making citizens’ voices heard has become legally indispensable in China, citizen participation in the decision-making process of nature-based solutions is still ‘in its infancy’.
For his Ph.D. research explored Li Dai citizen participation in nature-based solutions. He notes that the lack of citizen participation can only be attributed to the predominant or even exclusive role of local government in the decision-making process.
To enable citizen participation, the response of citizens is largely overlooked. Therefore, Dai’s research aims to deepen the understanding of citizen participation in the decision-making process of nature-based solutions within the Chinese context and to contribute to future participatory design and planning suggestions.
The overall conclusion of Dai’s research is that citizens should be deeply involved in nature-based solutions to achieve community adoption and project sustainability rather than saying yes or no in the feasibility study.
The research also points out the following. First, there is an urgent need to underline the equal representation of the silent majority. Second, the local government should be responsible for initiating and guiding non-stakeholders to participate in nature-oriented solutions because of their dominant position. Third, the local government should improve the efficiency of the information dissemination and consultation service to prevent citizens from being dependent on the informal network.
In particular, Chinese citizen participation in nature-based solutions remains focused on informing citizens and lacks a stance for deeper levels of participation. The complicated social, political, cultural and environmental situation in China requires a contextual and inclusive methodology to balance the informal and formal networks and better facilitate participation in nature-based solutions.
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