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Conclusions and lessons

In this section we enlighten which factors and mechanisms proved important for a successful application of Building with Nature in practice.

Natural resources play an important role in the potential for socio-economic development of a society. In practice these socio-economic assets are safeguarded by issuing strict regulations with regard to ecological quality. Therefore there is the necessity to mitigate impacts of human ambitions on ecology in an effective and efficient manner. Supra national and national regulation make acting toward the ecosystem (‘green’) therefore unavoidable in order to reach out for human ambitions (often referred to as ‘red’). In the context of the European Union the applicable Natura 2000 regulation represents strict and complex multi-level regulation. These regulations prioritize integrated solutions and are thus an essential driver for BwN. In the case studies Almere IJland and TMIJ (TBES), like in the case study Bypass Kampen that was assessed in the previous phase of Mij 1.3.

  • The lesson is that coherent and robust multi-level regulations creates the pressure and the incentive to co-development of socio-economic and nature assets, a crucial stepping stone towards sustainability.

The case TMIJ (TBES) can be considered as a show case of redevelopment of an ecosystem in order to develop and design interventions to improve the ecological quality. At ecosystem level analysis was done, system knowledge was gained and creative learning and development took place at ecosystem level as well as with regard to the design of individual projects, with a special emphasis on the interaction between both. Roughly speaking this was done according the BwN principles, although participants at that time referred to is as nature inclusive development and design.

  • The lesson is that BwN applied on ecosystem level and sub-levels is feasible. While it is no textbook approach, it has serious potential when be applied cross scale and cross sector.

TMIJ (TBES) and the embedded Almere IJland (together with the other infrastructure and socio-economic driven projects) also present a showcase with regard to the level of complexity of such multi scale multi sector approach routes. Interdependencies with regard to the feasibility of individual projects (red and green) across scale and sector are the result of this complexity.

  • BwN related complexity comes with interdependency and thus vulnerability and risks. In order to prevent a melt-down during the long preparation and planning process, substantial attention should be paid with regard financial arrangements, political arrangements, including safeguarding political champions (high ranking officials that promote BwN and lead the process and the public opinion). Risks call for adequate monitoring and handling of events, threats and dynamics. As opponents seek for windows of opportunity, also the proponents should do so. Unexpected events with regard to regulations and procedures, finances and financial responsibilities, system knowledge and support do occur. These are often considered and monitored as some of the core hindrances for BwN, better also emphasize the opportunities. 

In the initial phase the challenge is to connect, learn and shape solutions. Later in the process the issue occurs who has to pay for what and how individual plans and projects should be shaped exactly. Shortly after the challenge is to safeguard that at local and regional level the projects are conducted in a manner that respects the interrelatedness, it is often tempting for local governments to decide in the end for the cheapest, more conventional solution that does not contribute to the master plan. Due to the dependency over sectors and scales, this is a real concern that has to be taken care of. With regard to the benefits, an intriguing patterns emerged in the multi-level perspective. NIMBY effects can easily change obvious proponents into opponents. Sacrificing local interests for the sake of supra local interest is not popular. This implies that often local politicians and supra local politicians from a political party can offer quite different perspectives. Normal system gains at ecosystem level are more easily acknowledged at ecosystem level compared to local level, as the latter is tangible.

  • Be aware that governance patterns change over stages of the development process (initiation, development, design, contract, construct and maintenance).
  • What is of importance is the observation that the process starts by ambitions in ‘red’ and actors often still think in terms of compensating impacts at the start and tend to underestimate the challenge for some time. Only gradually the quest for integral solutions occur when hindrances enter the agenda. There is space for a more pro-active linkage to these arena’s.
  • The lesson is to be aware of the described dynamics in multi scale perspective. This calls as much for arrangements that make it harder for local governors to step down from their contribution to the integral multi scale approach as it calls for early involvement and serious taking into account their position at an early stage.

Connecting green to blue in general is not applauded by the politicians, even by the most nature minded. Development of nature needs always be connected to other human ambitions, such as flood safety, housing or infrastructure. Only when the perception rises that these ambitions will be blocked momentum occurs for a more integral focus. In all case studies the pattern is then to push more integral solutions, and only afterwards the issue rises how the investments in green/blue should be financed.

  • The lesson is that only in the rarest of occasions investments in nature are covered by nature funds. More often, like in the cases studied, the relationship between green and red can be depicts that green enables the legal feasibility of red while red finances green.

The described multi-level multi actor patterns establish ambiguous relationships with nature organizations: Nature organizations are not opposed to BwN however they often are opposed to the red developments this facilitates. Often, strategies are used to obstruct red developments in the project, and little energy is spend in active cooperation on pushing the green component. Often opponents accuse advocates from combinations of red and green of ‘greenwashing’ the project. For instance the municipality of Almere in this case was accused of greenwashing by nature organization. Which at small scale might be the case however at larger scale certainly not need to be the case. Still the perceptions can be counterproductive with regard to support of the whole plan and individual elements. There were in the TMIJ (TBES) nature organizations that were willing to take a more developmental perspective and cooperate with governments. The reason for this was that they thought that they could do more for nature and ecology operating from the inside than by opposing from the outside.

  • The lesson is that this situation can be framed at forehand by making a clear case that the integral approach applied will offer integrity with regard to applicable regulations and it thus will pay off to cooperate inside instead of opposing from the outside.

Allocation of costs is as important as finding cheap or cheaper options  Synergy between red and green can offer this although this comes with its own difficulties as referred to above. Especially the allocation of costs over involved levels and actors causes difficulties. In multi actor multi-level systems the exact financial responsibilities are often not clearly defined and thus object of strategic games. What typically happens is that benefits are denied and efforts are done to pass bills to other levels or others actors. If the potential to reduce total investment is too small, a shift towards traditional compensation per project can be expected.

  • The lesson is to invest in shaping clear financial responsibilities and arrangements at an early stage in the process. Of course this will also lead to issues later on, still one does not have to start from scratch then. 

Although some participants were really focused upon enhancing the ecological quality, most were focused upon other ambitions as described above. Reconsidering the boundaries of the ecosystem was hardly an issue. The perceived boundaries of ecosystem as it is are strongly determined by the heritage of previous decisions and ambitions, such as the decision to build the Houtribdijk. With regard to this artificial boundary, although the issue has been discussed, its complete or partial removal is not considered to be a serious option.

  • The lesson here is that BwN also requires a ‘count your blessings’ attitude, advocating for unrealistic interventions is not (always) wise.