Friday, 28 June 2013

Is biodiversity truly part of sustainability planning?

A new tool to put sustainability firmly in the urban planning process seems to have omitted a crucial element of sustainability: biodiversity. Is this a result of us not fully understanding our impacts?

As part of the EU BRIDGE1 project the Decision Support System2 tool aims to help urban planners integrate sustainability into strategic urban planning. The system helps, by modelling the flow of energy and materials (e.g. water, energy and pollutants) to and from the urban and outside environments, providing planners with valuable insight into the potential impacts of planning options.

Tools which help put sustainability at the heart of urban planning are to be welcomed, what is not clear is whether this particular tool takes account of biodiversity per se. Although in introducing the tool, the team establish a clear link between a ‘city’ being comparable to a ‘natural ecosystem’, has the interaction of biodiversity been accounted? At one end, this might be movement and interaction of pets and at the other potential impacts to physical and genetic biodiversity movement.

Including biodiversity may not require any further significant investment, rather a coupling and clearly combined objectives. For example, greening the urban environment can have many benefits, such as urban cooling, pollution control and biodiversity infrastructure. Without biodiversity being part of this picture, we may be missing opportunities. 

Further, with technology and therefore data collection becoming ever cheaper and ‘citizen friendly’ and with the advent of the ‘internet of things’, our ability to monitor our impacts and those of planning decisions is becoming easier. A recent example of this is the BBC's documentary on Life of Cats3. This project used tiny cameras and tracking devices to watch and analyse how people’s pet cats interacted with the urban and outside environments. Such use of technology will surely help close the information gap, and perhaps facilitate biodiversity truly being a part of urban sustainability.

Do we truly understand our impacts on biodiversity as a result of the urban environment? If not, is this preventing modelling of our impacts on biodiversity? How can we use advancements in technology to help?


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