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Identifying Societal Preferences for River Restoration in a Densely Populated Urban Environment: Evidence from a Discrete Choice Experiment in Central Brussels

Chen, Wendy Y., Liekens, Inge, Broekx, Steven
Environmental management 2017 v.60 no.2 pp. 263-279
case studies, ecological restoration, econometrics, freshwater ecosystems, logit analysis, males, rivers, species diversity, urban areas, water quality, watersheds, Belgium
One of the major challenges facing river restoration in densely populated urban areas has been the disparity between the expectations of policy-makers and societal preferences. This study aimed to elicit public preferences and elucidate underlying sources of preference heterogeneity, using the Zenne River in central Brussels, Belgium, as a case study. A discrete choice experiment was administered to a representative sample of the Brussels population. Five attributes were specified, including water quality, ecological status, hydromorphological features of channels, recreational opportunities, and monetary cost. Our econometric analysis based on mixed logit models revealed that overall public would like to have a more natural river (open and naturalized channel, good water quality, and with rich species diversity), while achieving good water quality was the most preferred attribute. Respondents categorized as male, non-Belgian citizen, or not being a member of an environmental organization constituted an inclination to prefer the status quo. Belgian citizens showed a pronounced preference for good biodiversity, and being a member of an environmental organization could moderate the strong preference for good water quality. This study provided insights into the relative attractiveness of key attributes pertaining to river restoration, in general, and served as a useful input to the ongoing discussion concerning the future plan for the Zenne River in Brussels, specifically. Possible implications also exist for other urban river restorations in the rest of Europe, where the Water Framework Directive has become a major impetus for the expansion of freshwater ecosystem restoration from rural and peri-urban areas to densely populated urban areas. Particularly, the cultural heterogeneity of societal preferences should be tested and accounted for to compare the welfare impacts of river restoration and to facilitate benefit transfer, within and between river basins, in the Water Framework Directive implementation.