More Working Ecology In My Neighbourhood Please

Christina Borcke argues that landscape should inform urban development as opposed to being subjected to rigid patterns of repeated urban patterns the world over (Borcke 2013).   What if new developments we designed to assist natural ecosystem services that are present at that sight? If every suburb was an individual reflection of the biome in which it is situates. What a wonderful and diverse country we would live in. Walking through any suburb would be a joy as you learn about that areas natural watershed, flora and fauna, interrelated systems of micro-organisms etc. the list could go on, down to microscopic bacteria, fungi, and many other phenomena that we simply do not and cannot perceive with the naked eye.

We often fall into the trap of dichotomous thinking – urban land V’s natural green space. Borcke puts forward the progressive argument that the city and nature can achieve a balanced co-existence with natural systems not only providing aesthetic value but the countless ecosystem services so unappreciated by human civilisation. Costanza (1997) valued these ecosystem services conservatively at $33 Trillion/yr in 1995 US$. In 2011 DeGroot et al. (2012) updated this research estimating a value of $125 Trillion/yr in 2007 $US. That’s a lot of unappreciated work. And considering these services are what we as humans depend on for survival (as well as on which we make our fortunes through exploiting these services) we really need to show our appreciation, maybe even show some deference, heck!, we should be worshiping this ‘synergistic self regulating system’ appropriately named Gaia by Lovelock & Margulis (1974) in the 1970’s.

Our urban environments cold be attractive and desirable places to live and recreate in. Rather than having to hop into the car and drive out of the city to get to nature, we could explore and learn about our own biomes and the infinite complexity or relationships among, animals, insects, organic and inorganic matter.  Among the upsides to this fanciful ideal (though we do need ideals to aspire towards) are a string of benefits far too long to list in this post. But chief among them are improved hydrology, reductions in the urban heat island effect, carbon sequestration, air and water cleansing, increases habitat for native species, health improvements (both physical and psychological), social engagement, and aesthetics.

In recent years, inroads have been made into spreading the message of urban greening through community gardens, green infrastructure, biophilia, road diets, calls for more pedestrianized and cycle friendly cities, and very recently – as climate change is increasingly upon us – city planners and policy makers are starting to listen.

As empirical evidence of dollar savings becomes more convincing to hard nosed treasury departments, budgets are becoming available for sustainable initiatives in progressive cities over the world.  With the mounting evidence of health and wellbeing benefits of increased urban greenery it makes sense (and saves a lot of dollars) to mix nature with cities. Singapore is a shining example and is classified as a biophilic city. Berlin has an impressive urban forest in it’s center, and images of Fredrik Lee Olmsteads New York Central Park is familiar to most.
So think about this a bit, and maybe write to your local councilor suggesting that you need some more ecology in your street. An important thing to keep in mind is that trees alone are not nature. Working ecology is infinitely complex, and we can improve on our city and urban parks by mixing as many native species as possible.

Borcke, C, Von 2013, ‘Landscape And Nature In The City’, in A Ritchie & R Thomas (eds), Sustainable Urban Design : An Environmental Approach, 2 edn, Taylor and Francis, London, pp. 30-41, viewed 11 April 2016, <>.

Costanza, R, D’Arge, R, De Groot, R, Farber, S, Grasso, M, Hannon, B, Limburg, K, Naeem, S, O’Neill, RV, Paruelo, J, Raskin, RG, Sutton, P & Van Den Belt, M 1997, ‘The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital’, Nature, vol. 387, no. 6630, pp. 253-60, viewed 1 April 2016, DOI, via ProQuest Central; ProQuest SciTech Collection.

de Groot, R, Brander, L, van der Ploeg, S, Costanza, R, Bernard, F, Braat, L, Christie, M, Crossman, N, Ghermandi, A, Hein, L, Hussain, S, Kumar, P, McVittie, A, Portela, R, Rodriguez, LC, ten Brink, P & van Beukering, P 2012, ‘Global estimates of the value of ecosystems and their services in monetary units’, Ecosystem Services, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 50-61, viewed 11 April 2016, DOI

Lovelock, JE & Margulis, L 1974, ‘Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis’, Tellus, vol. 26, no. 1-2, pp. 2-10.


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