Biodiversity and the City
Canadian cities are growing at an increasingly rapid pace. Yet as this rapid expansion happens, the natural environments that surround our cities need to prosper too. Both the city and nature need to remain healthy and vibrant, and this can only be done by balancing the needs of both of these important habitats.
Moves made by Canadian cities to ensure this harmony will be increasingly important as Canada works towards the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2010 target and the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity,
Why we need biodiversity in cities
A naturalized corridor under a major highway in Edmonton provides a passage for wildlife and maintains ecological connectivity. Photo: © City of Edmonton, 2008. Click here to enlarge.
Conserving biodiversity in the city can be achieved by including natural habitats as well as semi-natural – those that are created and maintained by humans – that are home to wild species. These spaces can take many forms, ranging from parks, gardens, and ravines to engineered stormwater management ponds and wetlands.
Natural areas in urban spaces can be rich in wild species. This biodiversity in the heart of a city can play an important role in maintaining overall quality of life. For example, green spaces provide more opportunities for exercise, recreational activities and healthy transportation alternatives.
Biodiversity purifies the water and air, controls pests and pollinates plants. These "ecosystem services", as they are known, actually save taxpayers money because the cost of these activities is paid by the local municipality.
Photo © Parks Canada, 1991. Click here to enlarge.
Biodiversity initiatives are needed as cities grow, because roads and railways fragment wildlife habitats, while highways and waterways used as shipping routes can introduce invasive alien species. These are species that are have moved from their normal habitat to another.
Expanding urban centres also have indirect impacts on distant ecosystems. For example, increased pollution could affect the sensitive ecosystems of the Canadian Arctic, as contaminants are carried over long distances by air and ocean currents to the North.
Canadian cities hearing the call
Canal and Montreal skyline. Photo © Parks Canada, 1975. Click here to enlarge.
In 2020, 85 to 90 per cent of Canada’s 36 million people will live in urban areas.
This statistic is prompting municipalities to ramp up biodiversity projects that connect city dwellers with their natural surroundings. For example, Montreal, as the host city of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, raises public awareness of biodiversity issues and is represented on an international steering committee on cities and biodiversity under the Convention. Montrealturned a 100 hectare garbage dump with 35 million tonnes of waste intoits Saint-Michel environmental park, and boasts nature museums like the Biodôme and the Botanical Garden, which has helped to preserve endangered plant species. These nature museums attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Edmonton is one of 21 international Local Action for Biodiversity pilot cities, and the only Canadian city on the list. Edmonton is also showcasing its best practices in urban biodiversity to the world. In June 2009, the city will host the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives Urban Nature Forum.
The successes of these initiatives will be shared in 2010 at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
Federal Initiatives Underway
The Government of Canada offers a range of federal programs to help cities and community groups support urban sustainability, biodiversity and prompt the use of green space, including:
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- It is estimated that 85 to 90 per cent of Canada’s 36 million people will live in urban areas by 2020.
- The Quebec City-Windsor corridor is home to almost half of Canada’s threatened or endangered species – and also, half of Canada’s population.
- Academic studies have found that there is likely a strong link between personal exposure to wild species in cities -- even common ones, like raccoons -- and Canadians’ sensitivity towards biodiversity.
- Nature provides many "ecosystem services", taking on tasks like the purification of water and air, carbon sequestering, oxygen supply, natural pest control and pollination, to name a few.
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