Integrating Ecology into Urban Spaces

“Nature is a continuum, with wilderness at one pole and the city at the other.”
Ann Whiston Spirn, 1984

The spread of urban areas and developments within the city can have detrimental effects on wildlife. Regeneration in London is threatening populations of birds that use the open space for nesting and foraging. The black redstart is one such species whose population has been declining since the 1960’s. They are a fully protected species and a species of conservation concern on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
After the Second World War the population in London boomed due to the bombsites providing ideal habitats. However, if the current rates of regeneration continue the black redstart population in London may be lost completely.
Due to these concerns the Black Redstart Action Plan commissioned J&L Gibbons to develop a Landscape Report, which integrates ecological knowledge with innovative landscape design to maintain the London population and mitigate habitat loss.

The project uses material cladding that can be retrofit to existing structures or incorporated into new design. The choice of materials and textures encourage self-colonising species of plants to grow, attracting insects for the black redstart to forage. The following example of cladding the columns of the DLR creates areas for the black redstart to nest and also improves the space for pedestrians. This is a great way of using neglected or forgotten space for the benefit of urban wildlife.

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The project uses the black redstart as an umbrella species; although the project is focused on the black redstart many other species of flora and fauna will also benefit from the interventions. This approach can therefore create healthy urban ecosystems. In addition the plight of the black redstart is communicated through design to encourage public engagement and environmental awareness.

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“Framing and containerization of aggregates and planting is a critical issue for public perception and acceptance when integrating ecological habitats into urban settings.”
J&L Gibbons

Using steel edgings around ecological planting beds or mown paths through long grass are just two ways of framing what Nassauer describes as messy ecosystems. The presence of the frame subconsciously suggests to the viewer that the state of the space is deliberate (J.Nassauer, 1995). The idea is that the perception of an urban space that is managed to benefit wildlife – which is often a little rough and shaggy aesthetically – is shifted from an assumption of neglect to an appreciation of the sites purpose.

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The Black Redstart project goes a step further than framing ecological design and creates beautiful and functional instillations. These song posts enhance public space not just by their sculptural beauty but also by encouraging bird song to fill the space. Providing perches for the black redstarts to perform and communicate with each other is integral to the success of the population. With the dwindling numbers in London and the amount of noise pollution, it is harder and harder for the birds to find one another for mating. These instillations are a brilliant translation of ecological requirement to urban design.

The Black Redstart project highlights key point for ¬¬integrating ecology into urban spaces; public engagement and acceptance, innovative and interdisciplinary design and identification of forgotten space for ecological enhancement.
There is a lot of scope for using umbrella species as motivators of landscape design in urban environment. This approach can be taken for many other priority species that are struggling with urban spread and development. With creativity and ecological understanding these interventions make the city a better place for wildlife and people to inhabit.

 

 

 

Further reading:

• Ann Whiston Spirn, The Granite Garden, 1984

• Joan Iverson Nassauer, Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames, 1995

• J&L Gibbons Landscape report, Black Redstart Project http://www.blackredstarts.org.uk/pages/jlgibbons.html

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