Urban Biodiversity: Improving Quality of Urban Life

Today, more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas which keep on growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2030, about 2 billion more people will become new city dwellers, mostly from rural areas in search of a better life, making them part of the 60% of the total population living in urban areas (The Nature Conservancy, 2008). These sprawling urban areas with swelling population exert tremendous pressure on and great potential for destruction of the environment. Resources are heavily concentrated on the urban areas causing major challenges such as waste disposal, noise, air and water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, etc. Consequently, biodiversity in urban areas is threatened.

The 1992 United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted and ratified by 188 member-states has laid down three objectives “aimed at the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” (Curitiba Declaration on Cities and Biodiversity, 2007). Because of the wide acceptance of CBD and its subsequent declarations, the global community has recognized the significance of biodiversity. In 2002, the 188 parties of CBD agreed to have the 2010 Biodiversity Target which intends to primarily reduce the biodiversity loss in the planet, including in urban areas.

It is documented that cities and their suburbs host places and spots with high and distinctive biodiversity. They have become centers and hubs of evolution, adaptation, importation and immigration of various species (The Erfurt Declaration-Urbio, 2008). That is why it is important to promote and adopt nature conservation in urban areas.

Nature conservation is a “focused activity that addresses those species which are under some sort of threat or decline” (Kendle and Forbes, 1997, p.xi). It includes planning and management of that focused activity on natural, peripheral or semi-natural habitats which are hosts to this rich biodiversity.

Benefits of Nature Conservation

There are a number of benefits of nature conservation in urban setting. First, nature conservation generally improves the quality of life for urban residents. Second, it enlivens ecosystem services such as moderating weather, stabilizing the climate, providing shades from the heat of the sun, filtering water and air, facilitating pollination of plants, providing habitat for various species, etc. Third, it enriches human health conditions. Fourth, it provides recreational spaces. Fifth, it fulfills our ethical responsibility for stewardship of nature. Sixth, it preserves the cultural values and meanings associated with nature. Seventh, the “greening” of or planting on open spaces contributes to the aesthetics and economics of urban areas.

Examples of Nature Conservation in the Cities

With the benefits of nature conservation in mind, some communities in the cities have implemented nature conservation activities. One is a community in Kampung Bidara Cina in Jakarta, Indonesia. Initiated by a government agency with the support of local council, the Greening Program is able to give a face-lift to immediate environment and, at the same time, generate additional income to the residents of Bidara Cina. The program reaped publicity and award for being innovative as community-led and community-based program in partnership with the local government (Darrunduno, 1998).

Another example is a community-based environmental management project in Keht Bankok Noi, Bangkok. With the initiative of Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) and funding from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the urban greening project is able to organize urban dwellers of Bankok Noi to plan, implement and maintain urban greening project in their area. Workshops with community members and local officials were conducted to find suitable site for the project. The project showcases a successful partnership between the community and local officials in upgrading the environment and harnessing participation from the urban dwellers (Fraser, 2002).

Lessons Learned from the Examples

From the examples cited, there are several lessons that can be gleaned. One is that urban dwellers should be seen as partners to nature conservation in the urban areas, rather than seeing them as polluters and spoilers of the environment. Community organizing and mobilizing is essential to foster participation from the urban dwellers. Another lesson is the showcasing of myriad of opportunities that lie in urban areas that are usually taken for granted. Public and private lands owned by cooperative community members that sit idly can be converted to urban greening projects. One more lesson is that involvement of local officials in the project should be sought and cultivated to ensure government’s support.

Role of National and Local Governments

As parties to CBD and other pertinent declarations related to urban biodiversity, state’s governments are committed to follow through the goals and targets of CBD and other declarations. Although there are initiatives such as Mega-Cities Project by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB) done by national and local governments in defining and appropriating these commitments to their respective jurisdiction, the threats to urban biodiversity remain daunting. There exists a need for coordinated and concerted efforts to halt biodiversity loss in urban areas through urban greening and nature conservation projects. Sharing of experiences and expertise through conferences, networks and exposure trips to sites demonstrating best practices on urban nature conservation must be instituted to build and maintain partnerships among governments, environmental groups and communities.
Since urbanization is on accelerated pace, developmental urban planning to cope up with and anticipate the expansion of urban areas in terms of population and size must be part of governance agenda of national and local councils.


Darrunduno (1998). Urban Greening in Bidara Cina, Jakarta, Indonesia. The Mega-Cities Project
Faser, E. (2002). Urban Ecology in Bangkok, Thailand: Community Participation, Urban Agriculture and
Forestry. Environments, 30 (1), 38-49. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from http://homepages.see.leeds.ac.uk/~earedgf/Personal/Publications_files/Bangkok.pdf
Kendle, T. and Forbes, S (1997). Urban Nature Conservation. London: E & FN SPON.
The Nature Conservancy (2008, June 17). Global Impact Of Urbanization Threatening World's
Biodiversity And Natural Resources. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2008/06/080610

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