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  • Untapping the Potential of Science-Government Partnerships to Benefit Urban Nature 

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    August 31, 2014

    Chris Ives

    Promoting urban nature is a significant challenge for local governments. As demonstrated by so many posts on this blog, it is evident that it consists of much more than simply protecting areas of high biodiversity from human activity; it is about enhancing and even creating novel forms of ‘nature’ to promote the environmental and social sustainability of cities for decades to come. Such a task is unparalleled in its complexity and requires new knowledge to be achieved. This challenge calls for a close and effective interaction between science and governance. However, all too often, the potential for collaboration between local government and academic researchers to co-produce knowledge and develop policy and programs that benefit urban nature remains unexplored. In this post, we outline some of the lessons learnt from our individual experiences working in research and government in Melbourne and provide a series of tips to help others harness the potential of local government-science partnerships.

    The need for science to be applied through practice is not a new concept in the academic literature on biodiversity and conservation. Much has been written on the science-policy interface and the need for ‘actionable science’ (see McNie, 2007; Palmer, 2012). Indeed, without good research, practice can be ineffective, inappropriate and unjustified; without an understanding of practice, research can be irrelevant. However, despite the obvious benefits of interaction, the potential of collaboration between local government and academic researchers remains unexplored for many reasons. Working in an urban setting throws up many challenges to collaboration such as the requirement to interact with multiple stakeholders and communities with differing values and needs and gathering data within a variety of land tenures. However, the potential benefits of collaboration are significant.

    Three models for conducting research

    Broadly, there are three common ways that research … Continue Reading

  • The New Is Well Forgotten Old: Scandinavian Vernacular Experience on Biodiverse Green Roofs

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    August 28, 2014

    Maria E Ignatieva

    Green roofs are becoming more popular around the globe and are considered to be a very progressive landscape design devise in urban areas. The green roof has started to become fashionable—it is even considered as one of the “compulsory” sustainable buildings features and an important part of urban green infrastructure. For example in Germany and Sheffield building companies are requested to establish green roofs on new buildings.

    In the last two decades, the technology of creating green roofs has become standardized.  The most popular today are extensive green roofs with a thin substrate layer and several succulent drought tolerant species such as Sedum and Sempervivum. These plants have become among the most popular because of their low cost, simple installation and basic maintenance. The Sedum green roof industry is quite established in the US, Canada, Germany, UK and Scandinavian countries. In Germany it is estimated that 25% of rooftops are covered with green roofs.

    However, the commercialization of green roof technologies and mass production is leading to homogenization of green roofs—they all look the same, with a limited number of Sedum species—and a decrease in their ecosystem service potential. The Sedum green roof’s main function is runoff regulation and is not particularly effective in serving as biodiverse biotopes due to the homogeneity of plant material.

    The most recent trend in ecological design is creating biodiverse green roofs that can be seen as a valuable urban biotope and substitute of the lost terrestrial habitat during building construction process. In this sense the Scandinavian vernacular experience of green roofs can be a very valuable foundation for modern researchers and designers.

    Scandinavian turf roofs of the 20th and 21st centuries can be assumed as the historical analogue of modern extensive green roofs. Turf roof or “torvtak” (in Swedish and Norwegian) is a traditional roof type of Scandinavia. … Continue Reading

  • The ‘Equal Streets’ Movement in Mumbai

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    August 26, 2014

    PK Das

    Roads are a significant aspect of a city’s environment, both in terms of the area they occupy as well as their socio-environmental condition. In Mumbai for example, nearly 2000 km of roads occupy approximately 40 km2 of land. This is nearly 20% of the developable land area of 240 km2 and much more than the open spaces reservation of 24 km2. Even then there is continuous effort to expand them further. The ratio of streets area may not be much different in most cities across the world.

    For various reasons, most city people spend considerable time on roads everyday. Congestion, noise and air pollution, accidents, forever increasing number of cars, shrinking space for walking and cycling, high stress levels and the loss of tree cover, are some of the common road experiences in most cities.

    How do we deal with this complex web of conflicts and contradictions for the achievement of more humane and environmentally sustainable streets, and in place of highly unequal roads in favour of cars? How do we make cities and their streetscapes more livable? Reclaiming some of the street space for pedestrians and trees is part of the answer. These spaces need to be planned to be more amenable for people and nature; that is, more livable.

    A significant movement presently under way in Mumbai called “Equal Streets”. I am an active member and, for the achievement of the objectives above, Equal Street is noteworthy. Excerpts from its vision statement summarize the ideas and objectives of this movement:

    “Every day, people in Mumbai are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, which are getting bigger than ever Apart from the omnipresent danger posed by motorized transport on the roads, which are actually public spaces, there is the rising … Continue Reading

  • Lessons from Megijima: What Can the Loss of Culture Teach Us About Urban Nature?

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    August 20, 2014

    Patrick Lydon

    In terms of physical implementation, we have an endless stream of good knowledge, theory, and practice for building sustainable, nature-inclusive cities; a collection reaching back for well over a century.

    What’s missing, I would argue, are not methods and knowledge, but a consciousness of our relationship to the environment, one which supports a consistently growing integration of nature into our urban agenda.

    With this consciousness would come the ultimately necessary understanding of how culture and nature fit together to form the basis of an ecologically connected society. This is not an understanding ecologists alone should hold; it is one which on some level or another, all citizens need to carry with themselves in order for any serious attempt at inserting ‘nature’ into a city can truly be considered successful. This consciousness would essentially flip our common mantra of “how does nature fit into the city” into a “how does city fit into and with nature” way of thinking.

    I am not an urban planner, academic, or landscape architect; but rather an artist who likes to work with these types of folks. My work straddles rural and urban in attempts to find ways of temporarily unplugging people from their world of economic and political logic, and expanding their consciousness of the reality of the local, regional, and global natural systems which support them.

    With this in mind, I would like to use a recent experience of leading a social / ecological art project on Megijima, a small Japanese island with just 130 inhabitants, to ask: what can we learn about urban nature from the loss of traditional culture?

    The following writing includes a rather informal dissemination of the ecological and social transformations on this small island, and related suggestions as to how the understanding of such transformations could help us look differently at how nature might … Continue Reading

  • The Story of Jerusalem’s Railway Park: Getting the City Back on Track, Economically, Environmentally and Socially

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    August 18, 2014

    Naomi Tsur

    Sharing local experience is always important. However in the case of the Jerusalem Railway Park, both the process and the outcome have the level of universal relevance that make so many of the themes presented in “The Nature of Cities” essential urban reading.

    I refer to themes of the kind that not only have immense impact on a specific local environment, but also fit into the wider context of sustainable urban planning. Indeed, the real challenge of sustainable urban development does not lie in the planning and building of new green neighborhoods, where everything is tidy and organized from square one, but in regenerating abandoned infrastructure in built neighborhoods, taking into account the needs of housing clusters that will be ever denser. Furthermore, the very same new green neighborhoods that claim to be exemplary models of sustainability tend to create new suburbs, requiring additional energy, water, sewage and transport infrastructure. Only too often new suburbs generate a sense of alienation from the pulse of urban life, while playing a role in polluting the city’s inner neighborhoods with the stream of traffic they pour into the city center.

    One of the major challenges for modern cities is the need to adapt old infrastructure to modern needs. This is true of many different kinds of infrastructure, such as abandoned quarries, or industrial areas no longer relevant to the city, both of which are examples of the kind of urban challenge created by infrastructure that is no longer needed. Abandoned railway tracks rank high in this category, but in the last decade or so urban planners have risen to the challenge and turned many such abandoned lines into green corridor parks, which enhance, rather than impede urban improvement.

    The case of Jerusalem’s Railway Park is particularly interesting, because of the measurable evidence we have of the … Continue Reading

  • Swift Action Needed

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    August 12, 2014

    David Goode

    The swifts have gone. They left about a week ago and the sky is silent over British towns and cities. By now they will be well on their way south, quartering marshes in the south of France and Spain, making for Gibraltar where they cross to Africa; airborne now until they return next May.

    They are not with us for long, but for many people the screaming flocks around the rooftops are the very essence of summer. They are as much a part of urban life as we are, for these birds are totally dependent on buildings for their nest sites. Some colonies in older towns and cities depend on individual buildings, or old walls, which have been occupied for many years. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is thought to be the oldest known site of a colony. Ancient city walls of Siena in Italy have supported colonies of swifts for several hundred years. This is typical of many European towns dating from the medieval period with old buildings and town walls still supporting substantial colonies within the urban fabric. Roof spaces of imposing 19th Century buildings such as museums and City Halls, along with housing of the same period, are also favoured nesting locations.

    The colony of swifts that occupies the roof of the University Museum of Science in Oxford provided the basis for one of the most extraordinary ornithological studies, described by David Lack in his book Swifts in a Tower in 1956. He and his wife Elizabeth produced a detailed account of the life history and ecology of swifts that is a model in the literature of urban ecology.

    Although we know a great deal about the intricacies of their lifestyle it has been difficult to make accurate estimates of their population both nationally and locally. During the … Continue Reading