Urban Biosphere Network

UN headquarters

At the time when over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, environmental conservation in cities becomes a priority. Yesterday I learned about UNESCO’s opinion that until recently conservation of natural resources was focused mostly on undeveloped areas, and often ignored metropolitan sites. For example, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves protects biodiversity and ecosystems in places that were not significantly altered by human activities, but there are no similar international agreements about urban areas, which also provide significant ecosystem services.

This week I had an opportunity to learn more about current UNESCO efforts related to the urban environment after my advisor, Dr. Marianne Krasny, connected me with Christine Aflsen-Norodom, Senior Programme Specialist for Sciences in the UNESCO Office in New York. Located in NYC, this office initiated and coordinates the Urban Biosphere Network, which works closely with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and brings together researchers, policy makers, and citizens from about 10 cities worldwide, including New York Metropolitan Region, Cape Town Region, Bangalore, New Orleans, and Helsinki.

Christine mentioned that biodiversity in cities can actually be higher than in surrounding landscapes, and ecosystem services can be very valuable for nature and local economy. Now UNESCO NYC office and other cities in the Urban Biosphere Network develop maps of ecosystem services in urban areas, which is one of the main steps to understand the role of natural resources in resilience and sustainability of the urban environment.

These UNESCO’s ideas about the urban environment reinforced my experiences in the Bronx. Here environmental issues were neglected during a long time, and only now an increasing number of organizations and local initiative groups are caring about urban nature. To be honest, before this summer I was quite skeptical about the importance of ecosystem services in cities. In my opinion, nature in cities was important mostly because of psychological, recreational, educational, and other human-related impacts. After talking with conservation teams in the Bronx, communication with scientists who studied the urban environment, and participation in some restoration activities with the Bronx River Alliance my opinion has changed. Now I do believe that urban forests and other open spaces in cities contribute to storm water retention, soil and riverbank stabilization, clean the air, and provide habitats for local and migrating animals.

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