The built world revolves around people, but the growing question is — what if it didn’t?
What if urban areas found a balance between what people need and what nature requires? Plants and animals create biodiversity, a key aspect of the environment that needs protection during the current climate crisis.
With the right techniques and approaches, cities can integrate with nature in safe and healthy ways. As the COVID-19 pandemic exposes the need for action against the climate crisis, it also reveals major public health concerns. Better practices for protecting biodiversity will improve both these areas.
Urban spaces are growing in population, too. Right now, over half of the world’s population lives in cities. This number is going to increase to 68% by 2050 due to population growth and from people moving to cities more and more. As urban populations grow, so will emissions and deforestation.
To provide a more liveable, healthier solution for plants, animals and humans, the path forward must include a focus on new biodiversity practices.
Better Built Connections
Whether it’s new or old buildings, urban areas must put an emphasis on biodiversity. Alongside plans for energy demand and renewable energy, biodiversity is a natural way to help public health. Some initiatives are already amping up to take action in this decade. For instance, the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative seeks to help cities integrate nature in more sustainable ways.
One key method is focusing on incorporating green right from the start of a new building. Green walls, green roofs and gardens are important factors to include. However, the types of plant species matter. The plants and trees that new construction works with must be habitable for animals, like birds. Oak trees, for instance, work well for housing all kinds of animals.
It’s not enough to include some green elements — the real work requires research and planning.
With pre-existing buildings and constructs, one of the most important steps for preserving biodiversity is creating corridors for wildlife. These bridges connect green, biodiverse spaces. They offer paths for animals to cross roads or other busy areas to avoid harm to them or people. This kind of protection helps increase nature in the built world.
Careful urban design means not only accounting for the wildlife but factoring in how to best create an environment where it can thrive.
Changing the Concept of Green Spaces
Green spaces are often what experts of all backgrounds point to as the best way to incorporate biodiversity into urban environments. However, it’s time to reexamine exactly what a green space is.
These areas cannot simply be a plot of lawn without consideration for plants and animals. Lawns will take up space and end up requiring consistent maintenance. Instead, green spaces should include plots of shrubs, plants and trees. These three will each draw in different kinds of animals — many of which will help the environment flourish, like pollinating birds or insects. Additionally, harmful fertilizers cannot be part of a green space as organic solutions are safer for biodiversity.
When selecting plants and trees, native species will be ideal. Animals know these kinds of habitats, which makes them safer environments in urban areas. Beyond planting trees, though, the urban space can factor in the surrounding nature. With wooded areas, wetlands or ponds, people can integrate with nature instead of vice versa.
This kind of integration wouldn’t need much development, either. It would only require some paths, benches and lighting to make it safe. Central Park in New York City is one example of how an urban area can completely and strategically build biodiversity into its dynamic.
Once the world expands the idea of a green space, then urban areas can work for the people and for biodiversity.
New Methods and Goals
While biodiversity may not have always been part of the conversation around sustainability, it is now. Since urban areas hold most of the world’s population and typically have less green than rural areas, it’s time to focus on new ways to achieve a harmonious balance between nature and people.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers green technology, sustainable building and environmental news