What are nature-full cities?

What are nature-full cities?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

What are nature-full cities?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

By Dr. Rob Newell, Associate Director, Food and Agriculture Institute, University of the Fraser Valley

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 1.5

CREATE ‘NATURE-FULL’ CITIES: Biodiversity strategies must be based on the Biophilic Cities movement of ‘nature-full’ cities and take on an urban focus that speaks to new Canadians, millennials and the growing number of urban dwellers.

What is a ‘nature-full’ city? Briefly stated, it is a city that integrates ecosystems into its design and function. This means more than simply ‘putting green stuff’ into an urban space, and it requires understanding the local nature, ecology, and wildlife in order to determine the best ways of fostering healthy human-environment systems. For example, parks are great for human recreation, but do the parks in your city or town contain native plants for local pollinators? Is your local park system designed in such a way that provides connectivity and corridors for wildlife to move through? These are the types of questions that are important to consider when thinking about what makes for effective urban-ecological integration and healthy nature-full communities.

Sunset over marsh with bulrushes
Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary in Arcata, California. Photo by CampPhoto from Getty Images Signature/Canva

Integrating ecosystems into urban space goes beyond simply ‘accommodating’ wildlife. Nature-full cities follow the lead of nature and learn from ecosystems. An example of this approach is the wastewater treatment system in the City of Arcata, California, which protects local wetland habitat (the Arcata Marsh) as a component of municipal waste treatment processes. A nature-full city is not just a green city that makes room for plants and animals; rather, it is one that fits within the local landscape, provides wildlife habitat, supports biodiversity, and fosters ecosystem services.

Developing and fostering nature-full cities can provide a better quality of life for those living within these cities. Healthy ecosystems lead to better water quality, food security, local temperature regulation, and many other benefits. Nature-full cities also provide great benefits beyond those relating to just physical needs, such as cultural and spiritual benefits. The Biophilic Cities Network captures such values in their vision statement, which highlights “the importance of daily contact with nature as an element of a meaningful urban life”. Urban green space and nature contribute to beauty, provide opportunities for exploration, and improve mental health, thusly enhancing the lives of those living within the local community. In contrast, a life without good access to local nature can lead to what Richard Louv describes as ‘nature-deficit disorder’, resulting in poorer mental and physical health. Ultimately, creating nature-full cities makes better homes for both humans and wildlife.

Vancouver cityscape with trees, people and high rise buildings
City of Vancouver. Photo by Doğukan Şahin on Unsplash

Nature-full cities and community planning

The benefits of integrating nature and urban spaces are plentiful, which begs the question: how do we create nature-full cities? The best approach to doing this is to plan and develop cities using nature-based solutions. This is a term that describes approaches to tackling a variety of human challenges (such as food production, flood management, waste and wastewater, temperature change, etc.), which focus on enhancing ecosystems to address these issues. For example, planting native vegetation along and above a riverbank stabilizes the soil and reduces sediment run-off into the water, which benefits local water quality and the migration of fish. In cities, nature-based solutions involve the use of green and blue infrastructure, meaning natural and built systems that incorporate ecological elements such as vegetation, soil, and (in the case of blue infrastructure) water courses/bodies. Green infrastructure is valuable for addressing a number of sustainability challenges; for example, green space and urban trees can reduce urban heating effects and thusly help with climate adaptation objectives.

Nature-based solutions always produce co-benefits. This means that these practices serve as solutions for particular local issues and challenges, while also resulting in other local, regional, and/or global benefits. For example, the protection of mangroves is valuable for reducing impacts to coastal communities from storm surges and flooding, while also providing valuable wildlife habitat and supporting local fishing and tourism industries. In essence, effective nature-based solutions involve tackling an issue in a manner that contributes to biodiversity and local ecosystems; therefore, they always produce added benefits in terms of ecosystem services and our social and economic systems that rely on these services.

An example of a nature-full city through green infrastructure on roof of Vancouver Convention Centre
Vancouver Convention Centre Green Roof. Maxvis via Getty Images/ Canva.

One could also argue that nature-based solutions do not just produce co-benefits, and rather, they address critical imperatives for a sustainable future. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns that the current rate of biodiversity loss will result in social, cultural, and economic impacts with significant effects on human well-being. From this perspective, the pursuit of nature-based solutions is not just a ‘good idea’; it is necessary for sustainable community development.

Nature-full cities and you

What can you do to help create and develop nature-full cities? If you own property, the first thing that you can do is research and understand the local ecosystem around your home and develop your property accordingly. Your research will help you determine what native vegetation you could plant in order to support the needs of local wildlife and plant-pollinator relationships. It is also worthwhile to understand your local landscape and environment. If you live near a stream or creek, it is important to maintain permeable surfaces (that is, surfaces that allow water to enter and percolate through soil) on your property to reduce run-off and pollutants entering the nearby stream/creek. You may also want to consider building a rain garden. The primary purpose of a rain garden is to capture stormwater, but they also carry other benefits, such as serving as a home for native plants and providing beautifying your yard and property.

Yellow goldenrod around chainlink fence in backyard
Goldenrod. Rena-Marie from Getty Images/Canva

Another thing you can do to help develop nature-full cities is to participate in community engagement sessions and advocate for nature-based solutions. When your local government provides opportunities for you to input on community plans, present to them the many benefits of engaging in nature-based solutions. As you probably have come to realize through this blog, it is easy to make a case for how taking a nature-based approach to community development will result in better quality of life and a more desirable city to live in and visit.

Another action you can take is to join the Biophilic Cities Network. You can join the network as an individual or as an organization, and you can reach out to your local government to request that they join as a partner city as well. Connecting with the network will give you access to resources and knowledge on how to promote the development of your home community as a nature-full city.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for bi-weekly posts exploring each action.