If there could be such a thing as a silver lining to COVID 19, perhaps it is the growth in appreciation of nature in our cities. Yet, through long lockdowns some have had ready access to nature to ease anxiety and others have not. Access to nature in cities has become an issue of environmental justice and social equity with evident implications for the health and wellbeing of citizens.
Over this same time, the disproportionate importance of cities as locations to protect threatened species continues to be highlighted. Without explicit action to generate habitat in cities for these species, we are heading towards an accelerated wave of extinctions in and around our cities.
The potential for nature in cities to celebrate First Nations culture and generate inclusivity is another motivator for protecting and enhancing urban nature. Through foregrounding Traditional Owners’ custodianship and deep knowledge, and co-design and careful planning, we can create biodiverse urban greening in cities that supports reconciliation and provides opportunities for residents of diverse cultures, age groups and abilities to engage with nature.
Can we bring these motivations together in city planning and design? In our new article in npj Urban Sustainability, we explain how cities can address the extinction crisis and liveability challenges through the IPBES Nature Futures Framework which acknowledges multiple motivations for urban nature and its values and benefits: ‘Nature for Nature’, ‘Nature for Society’ and ‘Nature for Culture’. This article emerged during a workshop that followed a public forum at Melbourne Town Hall, Australia held in October 2019 to engage a broad audience of urban stakeholders in the global efforts underway to see cities recognised in the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
'Nature for nature' focuses on the intrinsic value of biodiversity. Transformational action is required to address the biodiversity extinction crisis and cities have an unprecedented opportunity to drive positive change. Explicit goals and management plans for biodiversity should be included at multiple scales in cities. We also need to embrace novel management approaches, develop a more comprehensive business case and focus on design to minimise human-wildlife conflict.
'Nature for society' refers to the goods and services that nature provides to people in cities, including critical health and well-being benefits and provisioning and regulating services such as cooling, air and water purification, and providing food, fibre and other resources. We describe approaches for planning to maximise these benefits, including using an ‘urban systems’ approach, designing for resilience and building experimentation into our management.
'Nature for culture' acknowledges the importance of people’s connections with nature, at individual, social and community levels. Cities should provide opportunities for people to reconnect with nature, through the provision of biodiverse urban green spaces, as well as new forms of engagement programs and city festivals.
As city practitioners and urban researchers with an interest in increased greening in cities, we argue that cities should be explicitly responding to the extinction crisis. We believe that cities over the world are responding through increased consideration and delivery of greening. What it is required is the strengthening of the effectiveness of governments (local to global) to take more coordinated and targeted action.
So what is next? At the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 2021, the UN’s Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature by 2050 (post – 2020 global biodiversity framework) is expected to be adopted by the 15th Conference of the Parties to the CBD. This vision can only be realised in this urban era if cities are recognised and resourced for the essential role they play in biodiversity protection – for nature, for society and for culture.
CoP15 can, and must, be a key moment for our planet; a chance to define a global ambition for biodiversity conservation and restoration that averts a looming catastrophe, and to highlight the critical role that cities and their ever-increasing populations will play.