As communities and economies continue to shift, their effects on ecosystems and biodiversity are still being understood. Urban farms have been on the rise due to a human desire to be better informed about the decisions we make, especially when it comes to food. Many research studies have been conducted to understand how green spaces affect the mental health of humans but fall short of determining what plant and animal species these spaces should contain.
Pollinators are an important part of urban biodiversity
Between 2012 and 2013, researchers in the UK moved the narrative in a positive direction by conducting a comprehensive and replicable study in four cities. This study was designed to see where pollinators visit most often in order to restore biodiversity in urban environments. Previous studies failed to see biodiversity on a city scale due to their focus on small land uses such as community and private gardens, parks, and cemeteries. Many studies also did not consider pollinators as a whole, but rather as subset species such as bees, hoverflies, or butterflies.
Ecological data was obtained through 10 daily observations of 9 major land uses distributed throughout 4 cities. Once buildings, roads, and water were excluded from available areas of study, 99% of the remaining land comprised community gardens, cemeteries, private gardens, man-made surfaces, nature reserves, parks, sidewalks, road merges, and other general green spaces. The data collected will be used to inform communities about the importance of biodiversity while promoting the need for sustainable urban development.
Community and private gardens were found to support the highest bee and hoverfly abundances while man-made surfaces supported the lowest. Similarly, floral abundance was greater in community and private gardens than in any other land use. Aside from these positives, the species of native flora that are most beneficial to pollinators are often viewed as obtrusive and unsightly.
Where can cities improve pollinator health?
The greatest number of pollinators were observed in areas that contain less than 1% of available land. Community gardens have the greatest pollinator biodiversity followed by private gardens and publicly managed green spaces. These green spaces contain 27-35% of the total available land and have the greatest potential for city-level improvements.
Socioeconomic status has the greatest influence over these changes. Communities with wealthier residents tend to have larger public project budgets and support, therefore developing projects moved along at a faster rate. Alternately, communities with less wealthy residents tend to be more hesitant in supporting such projects. These residents fear abandonment by local governments which would leave the maintenance to residents who are already facing economic struggles.
Building trust within a community
In 2014, Detroit, Michigan had an estimated 20,000 dead or hazardous trees following the city’s failed maintenance program. Budget cuts resulted in residents being hesitant to accept any further programs, leaving low-income
neighborhoods exposed to blight from vacant properties as well as a continued decrease in sustainable ecological biodiversity. These hypothetical ‘dead zones’ are often attributed to shorter attention spans in children and depression in adults. This hesitancy was overcome through greater community engagement and education.
Communities are often benefited from scientific guidance throughout a project’s planning process. Urban environments have allowed individuals to turn a blind eye to the ecosystems around them and this could have a catastrophic effect on the survival of some pollinator species. Education of community members and better allocation of finances can begin the process of developing more sustainable cities.