In order to face the loss of ecological value and natural capital which was considered to occur as effect of the Expo Milano 2015 site building, Expo 2015 is implementing a Programme of Ecological and Balanced Reconstruction (PEBR) in the surrounding areas of the exposition site. The experience provides some new contribution related to: the measurement of the estimated loss of ecological value, the new approach adopted, the method tested in order to define the rebuilding plan of the lost ecological value and the planned legacy.
One of the environmental issue that Expo 2015 had to face is related to the loss of ecological value and natural capital which was considered to occur as effect of the Expo Milano 2015 Site building in the west territory of Milan.
Notably, the Expo 2015 experience started with a course of measurement and evaluation (SEA and EIA procedures) of the environmental impacts involved in creating the exhibition site, with an estimated loss of ecological value of about 160 “equivalent hectares”. The value was measured by applying and updating the STRAIN method, recognized by law by the Lombardy Region, which detects and evaluates the ecological value of the units affected by the territorial transformation before and after the urban project implementation, taking into account the naturalistic value and the factors of botanical, wildlife, ecosystem and relational entirety.
From this point, a test of an innovative approach started in order to plan the rebuilding of lost ecological value in the surrounding area of Expo Milano 2015 site.
At first some preliminary aspects were defined:
- of technical nature, as the ecological value measuring method, the territorial ambit considered, the conditions suitable for development and consolidation of new ecosystems;
- of the governance, paying specific attention to the procedures for identifying and implementing actions and their legacy, taking into account the local issues, directing interventions effectively towards the goals of ecological reconstruction and limiting the risk of dispersion of resources.
The following step was the definition of a Program of Ecological and Balanced Reconstruction (PEBR). The first phase of the Programme, that was approved by the Regional Environmental Observatory in September 2013, defines a set of intervention sites, general objectives and implementation criteria and a project schedule for each site of intervention (area, local bodies involved, ecological target and intervention typologies, estimated costs, etc.).
This first phase of the Programme involves the setting up of 19 sites for a total area of intervention of about 90 hectares, an estimated increase of the ecological value of about 126 “equivalent hectares” (approximately 80% of the total target) and a financial commitment of about 5.8 million Euros.
In accordance with the regional provisions and planning, interventions have been identified in response to predefined eco-territorial requirements, including a high ecological quality and a long lifetime of intervention in order to guarantee high ecosystem performances. The focus was the ecological improvement and the rural consolidation of the environmental system in the western countryside of Milan.
The Regional Environmental Observatory identified the interventions with the support of Expo 2015:
- identifying the territorial ambit of reference and its knowledge framework;
- sub-dividing the area into sub-sections with their own specific requalification objectives;
- collecting project proposals locally (from local authorities and stakeholders);
- assessing project proposals taking into account the content of ecological value, feasibility and conditions consistent with regional and sub-section objectives;
- selecting the most pertinent proposals and then - in agreement with the proposers-identifying the interventions having actual ecological value, in coherence with a balanced reconstruction (functional mix of ecosystem typologies).
In order to ensure an implementation of the several interventions consistent with the criteria approved and constantly monitored, it was decided to have an unitary direction for programme implementation through a clear leadership. The Environmental Observatory has accepted Expo’s proposal to implement interventions directly through ERSAF4, which will design, manufacture and maintain new ecosystems during the first 5 years (ecosystems functional starting phase). The STRAIN method has also constituted the operational reference for the setting up and monitoring of the program (to compare ecological value recovered from the preliminary estimate, detailed projects verified and interventions consequently carried out. For example, the definition of exact intervention area limits and works modalities in the detailed design can partially change the preliminary estimate of the recovered ecological value).
With a view to raising local awareness and safeguard the interventions legacy, the maintenance for the next 10 to 25 years (depending on the type of intervention) will instead be provided by proponents and/or by the owners/managers (public and private) from the area, via a convention for that specific purpose, signed with ERSAF, before beginning the works. When the implementation and maintenance of the new ecosystems regards a rural context, generally the local agricultural companies and districts are also involved.
On the other hand with the intention of sharing and consolidating new ecosystems in the territory, the main instruments used were the selection of projects coming from design proposals already in place, the involvement of local stakeholders in the planning phase and the commitment required for the maintenance of interventions over time (many public and private bodies have been involved, from local bodies to irrigation and river consortia, rural districts, associations, private individuals,etc.).
From the current perspective, once the feasibility and design phase are completed and with the ongoing construction and commissioning of the first functional ecosystems, an initial assessment of the results can be made which appears to be very positive at first sight. The partnership with the Environmental Observatory has proved, both at a technical and institutional level, to be very useful and effective, during both its upstream programme definition and its downstream monitoring.
The ecological reconstruction target and a comprehensive programme of ecological reconstruction were defined. The interventions were successfully planned on the basis of the contributions from 19 different local projects.The first works started before the opening of Expo 2015 and other ones will start by autumn 2015.
The management of the programme provides also a gradual development of technical and economic criteria and indicators which could also be used with a view to PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services).
For the purposes of Expo 2015’s legacy, subject to the guarantees of the maintenance of a 15-30 year timeframe, the success of the programme will then be determined also by the ability to create knowledge, awareness and involvement in the local population about the meanings and expectations of the works. From this point of view, some further actions are going to be defined.
In conclusion, the PEBR itself sets up as an exportable example of an integrated tool (technical-economic aspects and of governance) for a contextual rebuilding of natural capital, biodiversity and ecosystem services which were lost during the complex transformation of the territory. The BES (biodiversity ecosystem services)perspective has proved to be particularly useful in overcoming the administrative and regulatory fragmentation and the chosen approach to be very effective in local social contexts.
An interesting complementary aspect of the experience is its consistency with: the European objective for the 2020 Strategy for Biodiversity to preserve and improve the ecosystems and their services by means of the green infrastructure and restoring at least 15% of deteriorated ecosystems; the use of an approach referable to the PES in heavily populated metropolitan areas; the recent Charter of Milan, which highlights that farming is vital not only for food production but also for its contribution to redesigning the landscape, protecting the environment and the territory and conserving biodiversity.
The future challenge is the integration of the cultural value in the analysis/assessment system.