An oasis for students : investigating the potential co-benefits of schoolyard redesign for climate adaptation
Abstract: Due to climate change and the urban heat island effect, urban areas face increasing heat stress, a change that has severe consequences on human health. While the need for climate adaptation is pressing, the impact of climate adaptation projects on other sectors also needs to be carefully examined. Much scholar work has focused on how to best align different sectoral goals; however, very little research has investigated the links between climate adaptation and the education sector. This thesis targets this knowledge gap by using the case of an on-going schoolyard transformation project in Geneva, Switzerland. Based on a co-benefit approach to climate policy, two dimensions are investigated: (1) the potential co-benefits that the project can cater to students attending the targeted school, and (2) the factors facilitating or hindering students' participation in the project. For the first question, I carried out a systematic literature review on the impact of heat-reducing features (green, blue and other measures) implemented in the school context. For the second question, I conducted interviews with project leaders and analysed them with regards to seven dimensions of youth participation: purpose, positioning, perspective, power relations, protection, place and process. The review uncovered six domains of potential co-benefits: attitudes towards the schoolyard, physical health, social health, psychological health, cognitive development and academic performance, and environmental orientation. Within these domains, co-benefits are manifold and potentially reinforcing. The literature review did not reveal any potential co-harms. Interview analysis showed that students’ involvement in the project was facilitated by the purpose and topic of the project, the position of students as users, the attitude of the school staff and the active engagement of participation experts. Meanwhile, challenges arose in relation to the experts’ position, the diversity of the student body and the constrains of the school setting. This thesis provides supporting arguments for future schoolyard transformation projects in order to address urban heat stress while providing a school environment supportive of students' wellbeing. Further research is needed to evaluate the extent to which these co-benefits arise upon completion of the project and the way students’ involvement affect these. This thesis also reflects on the limits of co-benefits approaches and the need for investigating the potential negative impacts and trade-offs embedded in climate adaptation projects.
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