Creating sustainable cities that are good for people and good for nature.
Nature in cities provides a remarkable range of benefits, including future-proofing against the impacts of climate change, improving the health and well-being of urban residents, improving the cognitive development of children and re-enchanting people with the awe and wonder of the natural world1 . Yet, for too long, biodiversity conservation has been thought of as something that happens ‘out there’, in National Parks and conservation reserves located outside of our cities, and away from where the vast majority of Australians live.
However, cities are critical places for conservation. Our recent research highlighted that, per unit area, Australian cities support three times as many threatened species as rural areas2 . So cities need nature, and nature needs cities. But, despite this seemingly obvious synergy, measurable guidelines for designing cities where nature can thrive did not previously exist.
We aimed to incorporate current ecological knowledge into an evidence-based protocol for Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design (BSUD) and demonstrate how it could be used to create cities that are good for people AND nature.
To be successful, BSUD would need to improve the fate of native species within the built environment, deliver improvements to human health and wellbeing, and result in better integration of biodiversity conservation into the planning system.
Our three-step approach combined technical excellence and scientific rigour with targeted communication and engagement strategies to incorporate ecological knowledge into the planning system while increasing the appetite for change within the broader community.
First, we developed a BSUD protocol that links individual urban design elements – such as a biodiverse green roof or a road underpass to facilitate animal dispersal – to measurable outcomes for native species and ecosystems. This protocol is:
BSUD can be used to improve the planning, design and construction of new urban developments, or retrofit existing urban areas.
Protecting and enhancing native grasslands in greenfield developments in Melbourne’s growth areas.
Third, we produced a practitioners’ guide that outlines steps for implementing BSUD . We also communicated BSUD to a wide and varied audience through the use of high-quality visualisations, media coverage, publication in academic and industry publications, and public presentations.
Urban design and building types
The sustainable mid-rise model achieves housing densities that are comparable to those identified for brownfield development sites in Plan Melbourne. However, when compared to the proposed high-rise development for Fishermans Bend, the sustainable mid-rise model will provide better urban design and human health and well-bieng outcomes, including better access to open space and improved streetscapes, a reduction in the urban heat island effect, a reduction in household energy use, and improved workplace productivity and childhood cognitive development.
To move towards the sustainable mid-rise model presented here, we need:
We are confident that the required elements are lining up to enable the mainstreaming of Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design in planning and development practice, including:
Unprecedented interest in urban greening and associated human health & wellbeing benefits;
An exciting, but currently unexplored, opportunity relates to links between BSUD and Indigenous culture through Caring for Country. Initial discussions with Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria and through our work in the National Environment Science Programme’s Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub have highlighted enormous potential to