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Urban nature and biodiversity for cities

A new World Bank policy brief by Natural Capital Project scientists presents the scientific basis for incorporating nature into urban design.
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A new World Bank policy brief by Natural Capital Project scientists presents the scientific basis for incorporating nature into urban design.

The design of future cities — and the evolution of today’s — will determine the health and well-being of billions of people, according to a new World Bank policy brief authored by Natural Capital Project scientists. By 2050, more than 70% of humanity will live in cities. As people migrate towards urban centers, biodiversity is increasingly under threat. 

“Cities are hubs of social connection, economic vitality, and innovation,” said Anne Guerry, lead author on the brief and chief strategy officer and lead scientist for the Natural Capital Project. “Nature supports all of these things, but traditional urban planning doesn’t fully recognize it.”

The policy brief presents the scientific basis for why and how incorporating biodiversity and nature into urban design is crucial for achieving sustainable, equitable cities of the future.  The World Bank published the brief alongside the launch of its new initiative, C4B: Cities4Biodiveristy. The initiative aims to better support municipal leaders with practical tools and approaches to solving urban challenges with nature-based solutions, like creating healthier communities by increasing access to green space, addressing inequities in urban heat islands by planting trees in neighborhoods that lack shade, or tackling sea-level rise by guiding floodwaters to natural areas.  

The authors present a conceptual framework to guide urban planning, highlight practical tools for analyzing biodiversity and urban ecosystem services, and share examples of those approaches and tools in practice.  The Natural Capital Project’s InVEST software suite is one of the key tools featured in the brief — just this year, the Natural Capital Project published the science and case studies behind Urban InVEST, a cities-specific suite of software models. 

“Urban planning often occurs without much consideration of biodiversity and nature, while conservation planning often ignores cities,” said Guerry. “This policy brief — and much of our NatCap cities work — is designed to bring those two things together. We aim to bring nature into urban planning so that we can design cities that are more sustainable, more equitable, and more enjoyable places to live.”

Local urban leaders are the target audiences for the policy brief — from parks and recreation offices to city planning departments and elected officials, there are people embedded within all levels of government who can prioritize ecological planning. Right now, say the authors, there is a significant opportunity for those leaders to make decisions that will safeguard the well-being of city dwellers and the natural systems on which they depend. 

Anne Guerry and Gretchen Daily presented the policy brief, Urban Nature and Biodiversity for Cities, in the World Bank’s webinar series, “Bringing Nature to Cities: Integrated Urban Solutions to Biodiversity Loss and Climate Change.” Watch the recording here. 

Guerry is also a senior research associate in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Gretchen Daily, co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, Bing Professor of Environmental Science in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, and senior fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is also an author on the policy brief. The Natural Capital Project’s lead scientist Eric Lonsdorf and researcher Jeffrey Smith (at time of writing) are also authors on the brief.

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