How To Design Cities Where People And Nature Can Both Flourish

How To Design Cities Where People And Nature Can Both Flourish
An impression of biodiversity sensitive urban design (BSUD) developed by the authors in collaboration with Mauro Baracco, Jonathan Ware and Catherine Horwill of RMIT’s School of Architecture and Design. Author provided

Urban nature has a critical role to play in the future liveability of cities. An emerging body of research reveals that bringing nature back into our cities can deliver a truly impressive array of benefits, ranging from health and well-being to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Aside from benefits for people, cities are often hotspots for threatened species and are justifiable locations for serious investment in nature conservation for its own sake.

Australian cities are home to, on average, three times as many threatened species per unit area as rural environments. Yet this also means urbanisation remains one of the most destructive processes for biodiversity.

Despite government commitments to green urban areas, vegetation cover in cities continues to decline. A recent report found that greening efforts of most of our metropolitan local governments are actually going backwards.

Current urban planning approaches typically consider biodiversity a constraint – a “problem” to be dealt with. At best, biodiversity in urban areas is “offset”, often far from the site of impact.

This is a poor solution because it fails to provide nature in the places where people can benefit most from interacting with it. It also delivers questionable ecological outcomes.

Building nature into the urban fabric

A new approach to urban design is needed. This would treat biodiversity as an opportunity and a valued resource to be preserved and maximised at all stages of planning and design.

In contrast to traditional approaches to conserving urban biodiversity, biodiversity-sensitive urban design (BSUD) aims to create urban environments that make a positive onsite contribution to biodiversity. This involves careful planning and innovative design and architecture. BSUD seeks to build nature into the urban fabric by linking urban planning and design to the basic needs and survival of native plants and animals.

steps in the biodiversity sensitive urban design approach 
Figure 1. Steps in the biodiversity sensitive urban design (BSUD) approach. Author provided

BSUD draws on ecological theory and understanding to apply five simple principles to urban design:

  1. protect and create habitat
  2. help species disperse
  3. minimise anthropogenic threats
  4. promote ecological processes
  5. encourage positive human-nature interactions.

These principles are designed to address the biggest impacts of urbanisation on biodiversity. They can be applied at any scale, from individual houses (see Figure 2) to precinct-scale developments.

How To Design Cities Where People And Nature Can Both Flourish
Figure 2. BUSD principles applied at the scale of an individual house. Author provided

BSUD progresses in a series of steps (see Figure 1), that urban planners and developers can use to achieve a net positive outcome for biodiversity from any development.

BSUD encourages biodiversity goals to be set early in the planning process, alongside social and economic targets, before stepping users through a transparent process for achieving those goals. By explicitly stating biodiversity goals (eg. enhancing the survival of species X) and how they will be measured (eg. probability of persistence), BSUD enables decision makers to make transparent decisions about alternative, testable urban designs, justified by sound science.

For example, in a hypothetical development example in western Melbourne, we were able to demonstrate that cat containment regulations were irreplaceable when designing an urban environment that would ensure the persistence of the nationally threatened striped legless lizard (Figure 3).

How To Design Cities Where People And Nature Can Both Flourish
Figure 3. Keeping cats indoors greatly enhances other measures to protect and increase populations of the striped legless lizard. Author provided

What does a BSUD city look, feel and sound like?

Biodiversity sensitive urban design represents a fundamentally different approach to conserving urban biodiversity. This is because it seeks to incorporate biodiversity into the built form, rather than restricting it to fragmented remnant habitats. In this way, it can deliver biodiversity benefits in environments not traditionally considered to be of ecological value.

It will also deliver significant co-benefits for cities and their residents. Two-thirds of Australians now live in our capital cities. BSUD can add value to the remarkable range of benefits urban greening provides and help to deliver greener, cleaner and cooler cities, in which residents live longer and are less stressed and more productive.

BSUD promotes human-nature interactions and nature stewardship among city residents. It does this through human-scale urban design such as mid-rise, courtyard-focused buildings and wide boulevard streetscapes. When compared to high-rise apartments or urban sprawl, this scale of development has been shown to deliver better liveability outcomes such as active, walkable streetscapes.

How To Design Cities Where People And Nature Can Both Flourish
Mid-rise, courtyard-focused buildings and wide boulevard streetscapes created through a biodiversity sensitive urban design approach. Graphical representation developed by authors in collaboration with M. Baracco, C. Horwill and J. Ware, RMIT School of Architecture and Design, Author provided

By recognising and enhancing Australia’s unique biodiversity and enriching residents’ experiences with nature, we think BSUD will be important for creating a sense of place and care for Australia’s cities. BSUD can also connect urban residents with Indigenous history and culture by engaging Indigenous Australians in the planning, design, implementation and governance of urban renaturing.

What needs to change to achieve this vision?

While the motivations for embracing this approach are compelling, the pathways to achieving this vision are not always straightforward.

Without careful protection of remaining natural assets, from remnant patches of vegetation to single trees, vegetation in cities can easily suffer “death by 1,000 cuts”. Planning reform is required to move away from offsetting and remove obstacles to innovation in onsite biodiversity protection and enhancement.

In addition, real or perceived conflicts between biodiversity and other socio-ecological concerns, such as bushfire and safety, must be carefully managed. Industry-based schemes such as the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star system could add incentive for developers through BSUD certification.

Importantly, while BSUD is generating much interest, working examples are urgently required to build an evidence base for the benefits of this new approach.The Conversation

About the Authors

Georgia Garrard, Senior Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, RMIT University; Nicholas Williams, Associate Professor in Urban Ecology and Urban Horticulture, University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

by Mark W. Moffett
0465055680If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you,, and at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.




What Is The Future Of Climate Change?
by Simon Donner
You would think with all the chatter going on about climate that we’d all have a good understanding on the elements of…
Why Marianne Williamson's Candidacy for President Is Important
Why Marianne Williamson's Candidacy for President Is Important
How do you know something exists if you never hear about it? How do you know about the truth, which is often "the other…
Would You Eat Meat Grown From Cells In A Laboratory? Here's How It Works
Would You Eat Meat Grown From Cells In A Laboratory? Here's How It Works
by Leigh Ackland
For many of us, eating a meal containing meat is a normal part of daily life. But if we dig deeper, some sobering…
Climate System “Getting Unhinged” as Massive Heat Wave Causes Record Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet
by Democracy Now!
The massive heat dome that shattered all-time temperature records across much of Europe last week has settled in over…
Why We're Heading For A Climate Catastrophe
by BBC Newsnight
Scientists say the world is completely off track.
A Climate Reckoning In The Heartland
by CBS News
"A historic flood in March 2019 left much of America's heartland under water. Partiularly hard-hit were Midwestern…
What Would Happen If Antarctica Melted?
by Put Put 1
"What Would Happen If Antarctica Melted?
Dr. Peter Wadhams: Arctic Research & the Methane Risk
Peter Wadhams is back on ScientistsWarning.TV with a comprehensive analysis of the reticent approach that part of the…


Global Temps Continue To Soar Upward As NOAA Confirms July 2019 Was Hottest Month Since Records Began In 1880
Global Temps Continue To Soar Upward As NOAA Confirms July 2019 Was Hottest Month Since Records Began In 1880
by Julia Conley
As climate scientists raise alarm over hotter and hotter global temperatures, a top U.S. weather agency reported on…
Small Nuclear War Could Bring On Global Cooling
Small Nuclear War Could Bring On Global Cooling
by Tim Radford
Smoke from Canadian forest fires was so vast it bore comparison with a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud – and the global…
Still Sneezing? Climate Change May Prolong Allergy Season
Still Sneezing? Climate Change May Prolong Allergy Season
by Cecilia Sierra-Heredia, et al
Every year, without fail, summer brings changes to our surroundings: more sunlight, heat, greenness and flowers, among…
Pacific Island Nations Will No Longer Stand For Australia's Inaction On Climate Change
Pacific Island Nations Will No Longer Stand For Australia's Inaction On Climate Change
by Michael O'Keefe
The Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu this week has ended in open division over climate change.
Ocean Warming Has Fisheries On The Move, Helping Some But Hurting More
Ocean Warming Has Fisheries On The Move, Helping Some But Hurting More
by InnerSelf Staff
Climate change has been steadily warming the ocean, which absorbs most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the…
Politics tops science under Trump
Politics Tops Science Under Trump
by Kieran Cooke
If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.
Fossil Fuel Drilling Could Be Contributing To Climate Change By Heating Earth From Within
Fossil Fuel Drilling Could Be Contributing To Climate Change By Heating Earth From Within
by Rizwan Nawaz and Adel Sharif
Almost all scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. But agreement is less clear…
A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades
A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades
by Elizabeth (Liz) Miller
Before cities there were swamps. Wetlands and swamps globally have been sacrificed to pave the way for housing,…