A €10.5m ‘Go Green Routes project’ that aims to transform both environmental and human health is to be led by the University of Limerick.
The four-year project, which applies visionary and integrated solutions to improve health in cities, will commence in September, coordinated by the Health Research Institute at UL. The overall objective is to position European cities as world ambassadors of urban sustainability.
“Evidence is emerging that people flocked to green spaces during lockdown for mental health, physical activity and connectivity with their communities,” said Dr Tadhg MacIntyre, a lecturer in psychology at UL and coordinator of the Go Green Routes project, which is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme.
“The impact on social cohesion, connection to nature and their perceptions of their cities may be long lasting. One solution to reduced transmission of the disease and the negative psychological consequences of confinement is spending more time outdoors in greenspace, which will be addressed by the project.
“We need to optimise how nature is integrated into urban spaces and used and create a rapid means of knowledge creation and knowledge transfer to enable upscaling and future proliferation of nature-based interventions. We aim to create a unique knowledge ecosystem to transform citizens, planners, researchers and entrepreneurs into innovators, leaders and visionaries in nature based solutions. Nature is our future,” Dr MacIntyre added.
UL will receive €1.6m to fund a team of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and a project manager. Other Irish partners will benefit to the tune of €3.68m across SMEs – Nutritics, ICEP, Connect the Dots, and Horizon Nua – and Irish universities TCD and TU Dublin, while Limerick City and County Council is to receive €530,000.
The consortium will cultivate technological and nature-based solutions for health across six cities – Burgas, Bulgaria; Lahti, Finland; Umea, Sweden; Versailles, France and Limerick – and lay a foundation for future implementation in Munich, Germany, the Murcia region of Spain and in the Gzira municipality of Malta.
The project also has partners in China, Mexico and Georgia, enabling a global knowledge exchange and a focus on mental health and well-being.
Speaking at the launch of the project this Monday, UL Chancellor Mary Harney, said: “As a former Minister for Health, I am acutely aware of the links between human and environmental health. Indeed, I know first-hand that the banning of smoky coal in Dublin in 1990 had a huge impact on air pollution and a positive impact on health. Today we need to be ambitious in how we promote health in cities, through active travel, renaturing streets and ensuring nature and people are at the nexus of urban life.
“Limerick City, I am glad to say, has been advancing its capacities through research and innovation. Recently, it was awarded the European Green Leaf Award for innovation in greenspace. The collaboration with UL has led to the +CityxChange, which is a smart city project paying dividends in sustainability.
“The University has firm plans to increase its footprint in the city. The future of our institution and the city are very much linked. We are both future focused and have ambitious growth targets and together we will ensure the city and the region become of strategic importance in research, learning and innovation. Limerick 2030, our own strategic plan and research like the Go Green Routes project will help to ensure that this vision becomes a reality,” she added.
The project has three themes – Building Back Better; Re-naturing Cities for Health; and Future-proofing for Digital Natives. An interdisciplinary team at UL is involved including Dr Stephen Kinsella, economics; Dr Norma Bargary, statistical modelling; Professor Alan Donnelly, physical activity; Dr Tadhg MacIntyre, mental health; Dr Giles Warrington, sport and exercise; Dr Conor Little, governance; Dr Elaine Gallagher, citizen science and Dr Eibhlís O’Connor, nutrition and sustainability.
Dr Una May, Director of Participation and Ethics at Sport Ireland, said: “We have learnt from the Covid-19 lockdown how much people cherish their connection to nature and the role of active recreation in greenspace has never been so apparent. Limerick City, with the support of our planned supports including the Active Cities programme and the Go Green Routes innovations, will be able to clearly demonstrate how urban nature can promote healthy lives and act as a flagship for other cities to follow.”
Martin Rogan, CEO Mental Health Ireland, said: “We are well aware of the benefits of nature for mental health but the challenge has been how to best translate knowledge into impact. Uniquely, Go Green Routes will co-create a mental health scorecard for cities which will highlight their contribution to prevention, commitment to rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities and empowerment of users of services-this combination of organic and structured supports will make a long-lasting contribution to the well-being of Irish citizens.”