New free MOOC: Urban Nature, Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovations

Barcelona passeig San Joan green corridor
Barcelona, Passeig de Sant Joan, green corridor.

How can nature help us design and build our cities? A new MOOC (massive open online course) on this topic is now available on Coursera. From Utrecht University, professor Harriet Bulkeley and dr. Helen Toxopeus are involved and are instructors in the course.

This course explores nature-based solutions in cities in Europe and around the world. Nature-based solutions have the potential to provide multiple benefits across a range of sustainability challenges facing cities. They can help to limit the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity and improve environmental quality while contributing to economic activities and social well-being. 

The MOOC is a cooperation between Lund University, Durham University and Utrecht University.

Professor Harriet Bulkeley, part time professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University and full professor at Durham University is one of the initiators and instructors.

It is clear that people benefit from nature, but can nature benefit as well?

“Nature based solutions come in all shapes and sizes, there is definitely no one size fits all! Some are much more targeted at key urban sustainability issues, like sustainable urban drainage systems, which are often highly engineered projects which mix grey and green infrastructure components together to protect cities from flooding.”

Professor Harriet Bulkeley, expert on sustainable cities.

“Others offer direct benefits for nature: wildflower planting in public parks or roadside verges for example, is offering a haven for insects, butterflies and bees, which are often experiencing serious decline. And nature benefits more broadly when we foster values that seek to protect nature both in our cities and beyond.”

“Nature-based solutions offer the possibility for urban residents – now the majority of the world’s population – to experience nature in their everyday lives, gaining both health and well-being benefits for themselves but also creating a connection with nature which is so important if we want to tackle global challenges together.”

Did you initiate this MOOC? How were you involved?

“The MOOC has been developed by the NATURVATION project, for which I am the coordinator. When we were developing the project proposal, my colleagues at Lund University, Sweden, led by Dr. Kes McCormick, suggested that we included a MOOC as a means of engaging diverse audiences with our work. 

Our connection with nature is so important if we want to tackle global challenges together.

Newcastle, one of the cities that is covered in this course.

Kes and I had previously worked together on a MOOC on urban sustainability which we’d found very successful and we found that it offered a really good way to share our ideas, findings and tools developed in the project with individuals and organisations around the world. We hope everyone enjoys it and takes away a little bit more knowledge about how we can thrive together with urban nature!” 

Dr. Helen Toxopeus, from Utrecht University School of Economics, is working with professor Bulkeley on the NATURVATION project. She teaches the course on business models in this MOOC. 

Why did you find it valuable as a scientist to participate in a MOOC?

"With a MOOC it is possible to reach potential students and practitioners worldwide with the knowledge that I develop, so to achieve more real-world impact with my research. That’s what attracted me to participate. Due to the lack of face-to-face communication, it is important to coordinate well with the students  and to communicate in very clear language."

With a MOOC, I'm able to reach more people so to achieve more real-world impact with my research.

"I learned to write accessible scripts for online lectures from a specialist at Lund University who coordinated the MOOC. I could then read that script with autocue, just like a news anchor on tv. Through the MOOC I have found that we have very professional facilities at Utrecht University for this. At first it was said that I would have to fly to Lund to record this, but I didn't want to fly, because of the CO2 emissions. After a short search I discovered a professional staff for this in Utrecht: in the Teaching and Learning Lab (TLL) I was filmed by a crew from Utrecht University.  They made sure that Lund received  good video material for editing. I was pleasantly surprised with the result!"

Nature Based Business Models

Helen Toxopeus, Utrecht University (video for NATURVATION).

"After the MOOC, I started to translate some of my other recent research output into video. (see A video of 5 minutes is much more accessible than a written report. It’s also a faster way of communicating than having to travel to conferences to to bring your work to the attention." 

Are people positively surprised that there is business to be made? 

"Nature is indeed often seen as a cost item rather than as part of a possible public-private business model. Yet this now seems to be changing rapidly - because nature can help maintain and enhance our quality of life, especially in times of climate change. More and more parties are understanding that greening brings so many benefits, which together ultimately exceed the costs for nature . You do have to bring several parties together to get the business case going, that is one of the challenges we are currently working on. I have developed a method for this - a business model puzzle - that is also online including video instruction. The city of Newcastle has recently applied this tool to identify new revenue streams for the maintenance of its (green) cemeteries. Cool right?"

Puzzle for Nature Based Business Models

Helen Toxopeus, Utrecht University (video for NATURVATION).