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Urban InVEST Is a Free, Open-Source Software That Can Help Design Sustainable Cities

Technology Today

Urban InVEST, a new software developed by Stanford University's Natural Capital Project, could help city planners and developers visualise the areas where investment in nature — including parks and marshlands — is needed. Urban InVEST aids in designing cities, helping nature and the people by protecting them from calamities such as floods and improving their overall health. This first-of-its-kind software combines environmental data such as temperature patterns with social demographics and economic data like income levels. The Natural Capital Project tested Urban InVEST in multiple cities across the world — Guangzhou, Lausanne, Minneapolis, Paris, San Francisco, and Shenzhen.

The team also worked with local partners to understand what the citizens expected. For example, in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery.

The company's press release quoted Anne Guerry, chief strategy officer and lead scientist at Natural Capital Project, as saying that the “software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature.” According to Guerry, urban nature offers multiple benefits — the trees can lower temperatures so that the apartments are cooler in summers while also soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change. This creates a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be, said Guerry.

According to a report about the software published in Urban Sustainability, information about how natural infrastructure generates benefits for urban dwellers can be summarised in three categories — how much of the benefits does natural infrastructure provide, where does natural infrastructure provide those benefits, and who is receiving those benefits.

The software also helps target inequities. Data found that lower-income and marginalised groups were less likely to have access to nature in cities. This reduces the benefits they could get from nature.

In Paris, for example, researchers evaluated localities without access to nature followed by the analysis of income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. Urban InVEST helped determine the areas where investment in the environment would boost health and well-being more equitably.

“With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature's benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature," said Guerry, who is also an author of the paper.

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