Bringing nature into the city, for the city's sake


Greener urban areas can lower temperatures during heatwaves, absorb rainwater and reduce the risk of flooding during extreme rainfall. Hence, many more cities should follow in the footsteps of these progressive municipalities," wrote Carsten Fjorback and Susanne Grunkin.

You can still come across people who find it convenient that there are rarely any insects on their car windshields. The fact that the stork has become a rare animal does not affect us in our daily lives.

However, more and more people are starting to think ahead - what do we do when the blossoming fruit orchards stop growing fruits, or when pollinators stop visiting our fields and kitchen gardens?

According to new green calculation models such as Denmark's green GDP, our annual consumption, damage and pollution of Danish nature and climate amount to DKK 250 billion.

The largest single amount within the green GDP is the threat to biodiversity and the loss of plant- and animal species, estimated to cost a staggering DKK 107 billion annually. This is a cost that nobody pays or takes responsibility for today.

Urban areas play a role

The cities, and thereby their residents, have a scope for action. According to the UN World Urbanization Prospects' 2018 report, approximately 55 per cent of the world's population lives in urban areas, compared to 30 per cent in 1950. The proportion is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050.

Therefore, urban areas occupy an increasingly significant portion of the Earth's surface and have a real opportunity to function as habitats for various plant species, insects, birds and other animals if we develop our urban communities correctly.

Urban nature and ecosystem services benefit both individuals and society, which is why it should be integrated into our urban planning as an equal player alongside housing, infrastructure and business facilities.

The purpose of ecosystem services is to incorporate nature in the planning in a way that provides important services to citizens. This includes, for example, air purification, water regulation, pollination and recreational opportunities.

Green areas with diverse plant- and animal life help reduce temperatures during heatwaves, absorb rainwater and reduce the risk of flooding in the event of extreme rainfall.

Nature in cities can also contribute to absorbing polluting particles in the air and reduce energy consumption by providing shade.

Green areas and biodiverse environments are also places for recreation, relaxation and discovery, which can reduce stress, improve well-being and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Biodiversity in urban planning

It is therefore a pleasure to see that forward-thinking decision-makers and city planners acknowledge the value of nature and have begun to take steps to reduce the loss of biodiversity.

For example, progressive municipalities, such as the Danish municipalities Aalborg and Aarhus, have developed biodiversity strategies with the aim of contributing to halting biodiversity loss and creating richer nature for the citizens in the municipalities. It is something we need more of.

Bringing nature into cities isn't enough to save the planet's loss of biodiversity, but it does increase opportunities to understand the significance of nature and to restore the balance between human activity and the natural world.

The biodiversity crisis is resolved outside cities, where large areas need to be returned to nature and protected, but it unfolds within cities.

By Susanne Renée Grunkin (Arkitema) and Carsten Fjorback (COWI)
Brought as op-ed in Danish media Altinget

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