Keeping the ‘Jungle’ in ‘Urban Jungle’

In the depths of our concrete jungle today we often forget how important it is to keep a natural environment close by.  We are constantly surrounded by biodiversity, even in the depths of the biggest cities. In fact, some urban areas may be described as biodiversity hotspots. From the Super Trees of Singapore; an iconic take on green space in the urban ‘jungle’, to New York’s Central Park; green spaces are often ‘must-see’ attractions in any city. In a recent conservation science conference, undergraduate Tyler Souza presented the topical arguments supporting urban conservation, as well as the controversies surrounding these ideals.

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Super Trees in Singapore. Photo by Ilya Genkin (www.genkin.org)

Historically, cities are located in areas which were rich in biodiversity before settlement (1), and so green spaces and parks can sometimes act as a remnant of a once bountiful environment, surrounded by a mayhem of concrete. Urban land area has been, and will continue to increase at a rate much faster than urban populations, sprawling into the natural environment, and devastating innumerable species and habitats as it does(2). The future of green spaces within cities is under threat, as the creeping urban jungle engulfs more land. Conserving these spaces for future generations to enjoy is essential for the well-being of the planet, as well as humanity.

Urban green spaces, understandably, are much smaller than natural wild areas, and so there isn’t enough room for predators to roam. This results in a safe haven for many species of both flora and fauna. Protected by the barrier of the urban jungle, species can flourish, and in some cases survive better in the city than their natural environment (3). In fact, in the USA, 22% of all threatened species are found within the 40 biggest cities(4), and in South Africa, the city of Cape Town is home to half of the country’s endangered species(4). Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, is the only known location of several different endangered species. Conserving these areas, and others like them is necessary for maintaining biodiversity in today’s Urban Jungle.

There are innumerable benefits of conserving green spaces in the urban environment, with improvements in human well-being, as well as profits for the entire natural environment. Numerous ecosystem services are provided through urban green spaces. Air is filtered, and pollution removed to improve air-quality for all city dwellers. Cities can be referred to as Heat Islands, due to the warming effects of the mass of concrete. Green spaces have the capacity to reduce this warming, and cool the surrounding area (4). The trees in Central Park have been estimated to contribute $10million worth of cooling to New York City. This occurs from the shade cast by leafy canopies, and plants release water into the air by evapotranspiration. With the ever expanding problem of increasing global temperatures, it’s important that conservation of urban green spaces continues in an attempt to mitigate the problem.

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Relaxation in Central Park, New York. Photo by Marcio Jose Bastos Silva (Shutterstock.com).

Maintaining greenery within cities has also been found to improve human well-being. Many city dwellers use parks as an escape from the stress of an urban lifestyle (2). Green areas encourage physical exercise; reducing the risk of disease, and improving overall health. They also provide the opportunity for rest, relaxation and recreation, which are essential to our mental health; reducing the occurrence of anxiety and depression, and improving our overall well-being.

Humans value biodiversity for many reasons. Maintaining this biodiversity, even in the depths of the world’s largest city, is important for the benefit of humans, plants and animals. The jungles in the ever expanding ‘urban jungle’, are a source of happiness and a glimmer of colour in the monotony of today’s city life.

More information on the importance of conserving green spaces in cities, a useful publication can be found at: http://leaf.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/LEAF_benefits_of_urban_green_space_2015_upd.pdf

References:

  • McDonald, R. (2015). The Value of Biodiversity in Cities. Conservation for Cities.
  • Dearborn, D. and Kark, S. (2010). Motivations for Conserving Urban Biodiversity. Conservation Biology, 24(2).
  • Ives, C., Lentini, P., Threlfall, C., Ikin, K., Shanahan, D., Garrard, G., Bekessy, S., Fuller, R., Mumaw, L., Rayner, L., Rowe, R., Valentine, L. and Kendal, D. (2015). Cities are hotspots for threatened species. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 25(1).
  • Convention on Biodiversity (2012). Cities and Biodiversity Outlook. A Global Assessment of the Links between Action and Policy Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services. [online] pp.22-28. Available at: https://www.cbd.int/doc/health/cbo-action-policy-en.pdf [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].

By Sarah

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