Australian citizens can become more involved in planning their cities with wildlife in mind thanks to a new tool developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). The research findings have been published in the November issue of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.
“When it comes to urban planning, protecting wildlife is often overlooked – but the loss of natural ecosystems in cities poses risks to public health and the quality of life of urban citizens,” says Dr Sarah Bekessy, of CEED and RMIT University. “Over half of Australia’s threatened species and ecosystems occur within the urban fringe and accelerating urbanisation is now a key threat to their survival.”
“Our team has developed a way to rank sites for development according to various priorities such as biodiversity loss, flood risk and transport planning. Decision-makers can use this tool to balance different objectives and explore the impact of trade-offs between competing priorities.
“You can then have a democratic process in which citizens are involved in helping to decide the right weight to give to the various planning priorities. The public can — and should — be drawn into the process of ranking development priorities so that important decisions such as protecting wildlife are made by citizens rather than planners,” Bekessy says.
Further important research by CEED also indicates that cities can be planned in a way that both encourages and protects native wildlife.
Jessica Sushinsky, Professor Hugh Possingham and Dr Richard Fuller of CEED and the University of Queensland recently published a study in the journal Global Change Biology which found that birds were much more plentiful in cities that mixed areas of intensive development with open green spaces.
“In a city like Brisbane where there are large green parks with a mix of vegetation we still find a relatively healthy diversity of birds such as Lewin’s honeyeater, grey shrike-thrush, the red-backed fairy-wren and the striated pardalote, which rely on more complex habitats than are usually found in private, manicured backyards.
“Where compact housing development leaves these important green spaces intact we see fewer local extinctions, even in Brisbane which has undergone substantial growth in recent years. Urban sprawl on the other hand not only results in the disappearance of many urban-sensitive birds but also leads to an increase in feral birds such as the common myna or the spotted turtle dove, both invasive species in Australia.
“While our findings suggest that future cities should be built ‘up’ rather than ‘out’, any reduction in the size of private backyards would also mean it is important to retain large public green spaces leading to cities that provide a better quality of life for both people and wildlife.”
“CEED’s research is about how we make decisions to protect the environment,” says Prof Hugh Possingham, Centre Director at CEED. “These two studies are an excellent example of the co-ordinated research being undertaken through the Centre. “Understanding how different types of urban development impact on birds means that the tool developed by Dr Bekessy and her colleagues can be used to balance the need for urban growth with important conservation priorities. Some priorities may even be decided by popular vote.”
(Source: CEED media release, 29.04.2013)