MUST: Enabling multispecies transition in urban planning

Published 06 March 2024


Demos Helsinki has joined eight research organisations in driving a multispecies transition in nature-based solutions (NBS). In a world grappling with pressing environmental challenges, the MUST research project emerges to bring hope through building some pathways for stronger societal relationships with the natural world.

The problem with Nature-Based Services (NBS)

The ongoing biodiversity crisis demonstrates that we need better ways to live with nature in cities. In the urban context, nature-based solutions (NBS) is an umbrella term encompassing a diverse range of nature interventions, often and increasingly described as promising approaches to tackle social and environmental challenges, producing fair and equitable societal benefits. NBS offer tangible solutions to a spectrum of site-specific issues at the landscape scale, e.g., climate change mitigation, flood prevention, air and water pollution treatments, degraded land restoration and improving deteriorated human health.

Nevertheless, the definitions, governance, and justice dimensions of NBS remain subjects of debate. Narrow applications only consider outcomes in benefits for humans, overlooking or detrimentally impacting the quality of life and habitats for non-human species. At the same time, the uneven implementation of NBS gives rise to concerns about the unjust distribution of proximity, access, and segregation among less privileged human communities. For example, wealthier neighbourhoods tend to feature richer green spaces and biodiversity, and the gentrification of living spaces exacerbates social segregation. Furthermore, NBS seldom play significant roles in shaping urban policies or planning, with inadequate consideration of the fair distribution of costs and benefits in urban governance. The need for a more inclusive and holistic approach becomes evident, urging a reconsideration of NBS strategies to ensure fair and equitable outcomes for all stakeholders involved, including non-human entities.

The urgency of a multispecies transition

The ultimate goal is to recognise and uphold the rights of nature in decision-making processes. MUST seeks to energise a public discourse advocating a paradigm shift in how we perceive and interact with other species sharing the environments we live in. The project is driven by a mission to reform structures in NBS planning and governance through exploring new theories, methods, and practical tools that challenge conventional mindsets.

The window for averting irreversible impacts of biodiversity loss on humanity and the natural world is rapidly closing. Society finds itself at a critical juncture where it must bridge the divide between ‘us’ humans and ‘other species.’ This divide has historically fueled resource extraction and biodiversity loss. The time has come for a relational view recognising our interconnectedness with and dependence on other species – plants, animals, and mushrooms.

Unfortunately, for most of the global population, our understanding of biodiversity remains abstract and disconnected from lived experiences. To address this disconnect and inspire futures that sustain life in just ways, we must re-evaluate the designs and implementation of NBS, particularly in urban and regional contexts.

MUST’s multispecies transition lens

MUST employs a multispecies transition lens, weaving together notions of multispecies justice and socio-ecological resilience into various spheres of society. This approach is designed to bring about cultural and policy changes in urban and regional planning. The project aims to enhance the understanding and visibility of multispecies needs by introducing the concept of multispecies transition. This, in turn, will foster improved deliberation and action among stakeholders.

Demos Helsinki’s role in the project

At Demos Helsinki, we are leading the project’s interaction work. Our responsibilities encompass managing dissemination efforts and overseeing the MUST Forums, which include expert seminars and co-creation sessions. The MUST Festival, designed to engage citizens and civil society, falls under our purview. Additionally, we coordinate the showcase of the MUST Platform–a unique, mobile audio-visual space that integrates research and stakeholder interactions to synthesise knowledge.

Our involvement also extends to developing cross-sectoral, nature-inclusive governance models, which are critical to the project’s objectives.

Project methodologies and phases

MUST employs a diverse range of methodologies to fulfil its objectives:

  • Focus groups
  • Co-creation of a landscape-soundscape database and the MUST Platform
  • Workshops
  • Literature review
  • Rewilding project
  • Semi-structured interviews
  • Online surveys
  • Nature walks and discussions
  • Spatial connectivity analysis and modelling
  • Group ecological and human profiles
  • Validation of modelling
  • NBS interventions
  • Biodiversity Plan co-design

The project is divided into two phases: Phase 1, focused on exploration, experimentation, and outcome tracking, will conclude in 2026. Phase 2, dedicated to up-scaling and continued tracking, will be completed in 2029.

Our partners

MUST is a collaborative effort between the University of Helsinki, SYKE Finnish Environment Institute, University of Turku, University of Oulu, University of Tampere, Aberystwyth University, Monash University Indonesia, and Demos Helsinki.

In conclusion, the MUST research project is not just an academic endeavour; it’s a commitment to reimagining our relationship with nature. By advocating for multispecies justice and fostering resilience, we aim to pave the way for a more harmonious coexistence between humans and all other species on Earth. Together, we can build a future where our actions align with the wellbeing of the entire planet.

You can learn more about the project on its official website, or you can contact Demos Helsinki’s project lead:

Kari Jalonen
Leading Researcher