Cities play a critical role in protecting biodiversity and educating the public about the importance of species and biodiversity in regard to community health and well-being. Cities are growing at a rapid pace; by 2050 two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Increasing urbanization without responsible stewardship is a threat to local flora and fauna. However, these challenges offer an opportunity to change our approach to urban living, to embrace the biodiversity that is an essential part of city living so that communities and species can thrive in unity. Cities around the world are leading the way and developing innovative plans to expand and protect urban ecosystems. Local governments have a wide array of options available to implement species and biodiversity protection plans. These include ordinances, citywide strategies, public outreach, and education campaigns.
Comprehensive citywide biodiversity and green infrastructure plans, making ecosystem health and growth a key aspect of all city planning, will be essential for protecting our species in the decades to come. For cities without comprehensive plans in place or in development, there are many components of these plans that can be implemented individually and have a major impact.
Communicating the importance of these plans to the public is also vital for their success. Plans aimed at protecting biodiversity and green space creation have positive effects on the entire community. Trees reduce air pollution and offset emissions, helping cities meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Trees also reduce the heat island effect. Community gardens and urban farms feed cities, while waterfront parks increase cities’ resiliency to flooding, rising sea levels, and the effects of climate change. Green spaces also greatly benefit community health by providing opportunities for outdoor activities and have a measurable positive impact on psychological well-being.
In 2019, Earth Day offers an opportunity and a platform for cities to amplify their actions and initiatives that focus on urban biodiversity and launch new ones depending on their legal capacity to do so. Check out our Earth Day 2019 Toolkit for Cities and Local Leaders for resources.
The initiatives can be divided into two categories – local government action and public engagement and education – and include:
Initiatives that your city can consider for Earth Day 2019:
- Citywide Biodiversity Plan
- Comprehensive biodiversity plans incorporate species protection, green space conservation and creation, green infrastructure development, water resource management and conservation, and other initiatives. A key component is the development of partnerships between the city, nonprofit, and business communities to jointly craft and implement these plans and education of the community.
- Examples include: Barcelona, Spain; London, UK; Melbourne, Australia; San Francisco, USA; and Santiago, Chile(in Spanish)
- Pollinator Protection Plan
- Pollinator protection plans prioritize native pollinator species, such as bees and butterflies, while also incorporating guidelines for urban beekeeping. Planting native plant species, creating habitat, and properly maintaining public lands allow pollinators to thrive. Guidelines and education campaigns can also teach the public how to grow pollinator-friendly gardens and maintain their property in non-harmful ways.
- Examples from: Toronto, Canada and Washington D.C., USA
- Green Infrastructure and Green Space Creation
- Green infrastructure and green spaces can include parks, trails, gardens, urban farms, waterfront revitalization, and green roofs. Planting native species should be a priority for all green space projects as they are best suited to host and feed native wildlife.
- Urban forest programs and vacant lot conversion projects are also initiatives that have key benefits for both ecosystem and community health.
- Green corridor plans enable the movement of species throughout the city and to surrounding areas by linking together green spaces. These links can be green roofs, tree, and plant lined streets, and new parks or gardens.
- Communities and the private sector can get engaged by partnering with the city on specific projects or by following city guidelines when developing or renovating privately owned land and buildings.
- Examples of green infrastructure and green space creation include: Berlin, Germany and Boston, MA, USA
- Water Resources Protection Strategies
- Water management and protection is a major factor in community health. Healthy, clean water resources lead to healthy ecosystems and people. Water resource protection is closely linked with green spaces and parks which can help mitigate the effects of runoff and erosion after rain.
- Water resource and conservation examples: Mexico City, Mexico (in Spanish); New York City, USA; and Quito, Ecuador
- Bird Conservation Strategies
- Birds are some of the most noticeable wildlife in cities, yet they face a number of threats and have seen their populations declining. Cities can take steps to protect bird populations by encouraging owners of domestic cats to keep them indoors, managing populations of feral cats, and most importantly, implementing guidelines or ordinances for windows to avoid collisions.
- Examples of successful bird conservation strategies and sample city ordinances: San Francisco, CA, USA and Biophilic Cities Codes
- Urban Wildlife Studies and/or Database of Local Species Abundance & Habitat Areas
- Developing a baseline of the health of local ecosystems is necessary for tracking species population health year over year and the success of city initiatives. These projects also offer many options for engaging the public, universities, and schools. Cities can support citizen science projects, such as ones focused on birds and special atlasing, as an effective way to gather data.
- Examples and resources: Singapore’s City Biodiversity Index manual and Venice, Italy
- Guidelines for Procurement of Goods & Services by the City – with regards to contracts granted by the city to maintain public areas
- While local governments may be limited in legislating against harmful practices and use of chemicals, standards and priorities with an aim to protect species and prioritize native plants can be set for all city contractors to follow.
- Guidelines can also be distributed and promoted to the public to educate them about best practices for their yards and gardens.
- Cities that have enacted guidelines for the procurement of goods and services include: Portland, OR, USA and Seattle, WA, USA
Ways in which your city can engage the public to Protect Our Species:
- Launch a public outreach and education campaign about the importance of conservation efforts for native species and biodiversity. Education materials should also include the dangers of invasive species and the costs the city incurs in managing them.
- Publish and promote guidelines for individuals on how to protect and help biodiversity thrive in their yards, around their buildings, and in their neighborhoods.
- The National Wildlife Federation has resources available and offers a Wildlife Habitat Certification.
- Partner with communities to convert vacant lots and buildings into green, productive spaces including community gardens, education or sustainability-minded community centers, and urban farms.
Share your efforts on social media and let us know what your city is doing. Use the hashtags #EarthDay2019 #ProtectOurSpecies and tag @EarthDayNetwork. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EarthDayNetwork to receive information and updates.
To become an Earth Day 2019 Partner City:
For any other questions about Earth Day 2019 in your city or becoming a Partner City please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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