Biodiversity in an urban environment, a contradiction or an agreement?

Yleine Aerts, Sustainability and Energy Analyst, Longevity Partners Germany

Seemingly, the idea of an urban environment, with concrete, metal frameworks, and busy infrastructure appears to oppose the natural environment and consequently, its biodiversity. However, the concept of connecting the urban environment with biodiversity, known as Urban Biodiversity, has proved to be increasingly important as city growth, globally, has doubled over the last century. But precisely how significant is it? And what role does biodiversity have in our cities? 

According to research by Dr. Donald Dearborn and Salit Kark, there are seven main motivations for conserving urban biodiversity. In a time of increasing urbanisation, they set out to understand how much focus should be attributed to conservation in urban versus non-urban landscapes? Indeed, he fundamental value of conserving urban biodiversity remains controversial.

The Seven Motivations for Conserving Urban Biodiversity

The first motivation is perhaps the most obvious one: to preserve local species and ecology.

Traditionally, cities have flourished in areas rich in natural resources, where the inhabitants took what was useful and left the rest behind. 

The second motivation is to create steppingstones for non-urban habitats.

Why is this important? In an ecosystem, connectivity is the key to healthy ecosystems and balance. Even if the area is not used by the macro-organisms, it is used to “travel through” by fauna. If such a “steppingstone” is taken away, it can negatively affect the fauna as well as drastically change ecosystems which are ultimately connected and self-balancing. The fauna population can become locally extinct or, due to a lack of genetic diversity, survive only for a few generations.

The third motivation is to understand and facilitate species’ responses to environmental change.

Studying and protecting native urban biodiversity will allow better protection in the future. Biodiversity needs protecting, as natural populations need to adapt to future urbanisation by evolutionary adaptation or by phenotypic plasticity. Protecting natural areas within the urban environment can help ease this transitional shift and provide a chance to learn more about the unknown responses of populations to an array of management regimes. 

The fourth motivation is to connect people with nature and provide environmental education.

The fourth motivation is for me as an environmental sociologist perhaps the most crucial. Urban areas provide an opportunity to develop environmental processes and educate many on the topic of conservation. These benefits can also extend to those who may lack the means or motivation to travel to non-urban areas, where wildlife conservation education is normally located. For example, big cities like Munich have communal gardens where people can work and/or study.

The fifth motivation is to provide ecosystem services.

Even in smaller cities, well-planned designs like so-called ‘pocket parks’ can improve the way of living. Greenery can ease the urban heat-island effect, lessen the effect of extreme weather (decreases risks of overflowing) suppress noises, improve urban hydrology, and more. 

 The sixth motivation is to fulfil ethical responsibilities.

The sixth motivation is perhaps the most intrinsic, it is simply the right thing to do. This motivation is more philosophical in nature, whereby the environmental crisis can be described as a moral crisis rather than an economical or a technical one. Furthermore, from an Ecocentric perspective (otherwise known as nature-centred, as opposed to human-centred, referred to asanthropocentric), flora & fauna, have just as much value as humans do.

With these motivations in mind, Dr. Donald Dearborn and Salit Kark argue that exposure to biodiversity, especially in an urban environment, and when aided by educational programmes, can increase the ethical value of nature in people.

 The seventh and final motivation is to improve human well-being.

A proximity to natural or green environments is known to have positive effects on physical and mental health. To illustrate this, research by PhD. Roger S. Ulrich from the Chalmers University of Technology demonstrated that something as relatively minimal as a patient looking out of a window onto green spaces may lead to a quicker recovery. Additionally, the reduction of air pollution can add significant value to the quality of life in cities.

 

The presence of green and biodiverse areas also prevents urban sprawl, the phenomenon wherein people leave urban environments to live in more natural environments, further from the city, therein destroying the ecosystems there. Ensuring that life in the city is entangled with nature, and therefore making cities more pleasant to live in, can prevent urban sprawl and consequently preserve space for natural areas outside the city.

Increasing biodiversity in infrastructure designs is a good way to achieve many environmental goals. Longevity Partners currently offers a “BiodiverCity” assessment, with the goal to effectively assess and motivate the combination of biodiversity in the building service management. Assets can be anywhere in Europe, but the assessment is completed in French. For more information about this service contact: Chloe Scheerlinck at: chloes@longevity.fr

Furthermore, the “BREEAM in USE certification” also takes Land use and Ecology into account for assessment. The BRE argues that it encourages a greater awareness of how the potential ecological value of an asset or site can be enhanced, and the impact that the operation of the asset can have on this ecological value. Get in touch with our team to find out more.

 

  • Motivations for Conserving Urban Biodiversity (April 2010), Conservation Biology 24(2):432 – 440 DOI:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01328.x
  • WWF (2023) Urban Sprawl: https://bit.ly/3jmWwdG
  • BRE (2020). BREEAM In- Use International, technical Manual Commercial: https://bit.ly/3HOnQen

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