Crafting the Right Urban Ecology Approach

Posted by Ecogardens

 

 

The main issue with the prevailing conception of urban ecology is that it takes people out of the equation. Problem is, we can’t do that.

When you think of “ecology,” what do you see?

For most folks, it’s a winding river. A pristine prairie. A tall and silent forest, with old growth trees standing sentinel. Perhaps a regal stag or two.

The problem with this picture? Almost no one sees people as a part of it.

And believe us, that’s a problem.

Why? At more than 7.5 billion strong, humans are the most populous mammals on Earth (followed by cows, sheep, pigs and dogs, if you were curious). Our urban areas cover 3 percent of the world’s landmass, and that’s not even including rural settlements. Our livestock and agricultural production are among the leading causes of global climate change.

Any definition of or approach to ecology that fails to include humans is doomed to fail. We can’t operate on the assumption that we’re somehow “outside” the environment. Our worldwide hegemony, simply put, means we cannot be. Likely ever again, unless our species perishes at our own hand. Or, like asteroid strike maybe.

Too depressing for the morning? Okay, okay. Sorry.

Point being, we’re here. And we need to take account of … us.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

Bird Safety in Cities: How to Make Our Buildings Safe for Birds

Posted by Ecogardens

 

One of the biggest environmental hazards for birds is not pollution, disease or loss of habitat: It’s the buildings in which we live and work every day.

 

Since the earliest recordings of human history, we have used birds as symbols, metaphors, mythological figures, poetic devices and characters in our ever-mounting collection of stories.

We love our avian friends.

Which makes it all the more tragic that humans are responsible for the deaths of billions of birds every year. Yes, billions – both around the world and right here in the United States.

If we want to preserve our urban ecologies and the balance of the natural world, we must focus on bird safety in cities immediately – and that means taking a different approach to our buildings ASAP.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

How to Bridge the Gap Between Resilience and Sustainability

Posted by Ecogardens

 

While sustainability and resilience should mean the same thing in urban ecological design, they too often do not – leading to misunderstandings that work against both.

The word “sustainability” conjures up everything from reusable grocery bags to solar panels to biofuel to green roofs … but how many of us actually use the word correctly in reference to any particular system?

Moreover, how many of us ensure, when we use it, that we’re actually contributing to the overall resiliency of the system in question?

We recently had a chance to speak with the inimitable Keith Bowers, president of Biohabitats and a renowned landscape architect and restoration ecologist. One of his most interesting ideas, in our humble opinion, is that resilience and sustainability should amount to the same thing, but too often they do not.

The question is, where did this divide come from, and what can we do to heal it for the sake of understanding urban ecology and creating meaningful programs to foster it in cities?

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Topics: Urban Ecology, Green Infrastructure

How to Minimize the Impact of Nocturnal Lighting on Animals

Posted by Ecogardens

 

To us dark-defying humans, flipping on a light at night is as natural as eating or breathing. Unfortunately, it is incredible unnatural for many animals that rely on darkness to thrive.

It’s easy to go through daily life ignoring our surroundings, especially our external environments when we’re cozied up inside for the night.

Garage lighting? What of it? You don’t want someone to steal the basketball hoop, after all.

Office buildings lit up like Christmas trees all night long? Well, of course! We wouldn’t want miscreants to get the wrong idea – and plus, that skyline looks awfully pretty.

Problem is, the massive amount of light we put out each night is a form of pollution. In addition to obscuring a beautiful night sky, it confused birds and other animals that travel, eat or live their lives after the sun goes down. It’s seriously disruptive to our urban ecology.

We need to do something about it, and now.

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Topics: Urban Ecology, Pollinators

How to Use Urban Ecological Design to Help Cities Prosper

Posted by Ecogardens

 

Urban ecological design is a critical discipline if we want to bridge the divide between city infrastructure and the natural world.

So, exactly what is urban ecological design, you’re wondering? Well, that starts with asking: What’s wrong with our cities in the first place?

You don’t need to read City Mouse, Country Mouse to understand the divide between our sparsely populated rural places and our bustling urban spaces, complete with all the conveniences of modern times.

(Although if you haven’t read that book, you should – whether or not you have children. It’s a classic, mostly because, mice with clothes.)

The problem is that too many people see cities as centers of civilization, exclusive of the environment. On the other hand, nature is an idyllic escape that simply can’t exist inside metropolitan boundaries.

Frankly, we don’t care for that way of thinking. The only way we’ll heal the environment and transform cities into healthy places to live is to meld the two. That’s where urban ecological design comes in.

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Topics: Urban Ecology, Stormwater Management

The Invasive Species You Didn’t Know You Needed to Worry About

Posted by Ecogardens

 

Forget bindweed, crabgrass and thistle. You’ve got a bigger problem in your garden:

Gnomes.

“You’ll find them showing up in the herb garden, then in the vegetable garden, and pretty soon, in the annuals and perennials,” explains Jerry Goodspeed of Utah State University Extension’s Ogden Botanical Garden. “Once established, they’re very difficult to control.”

Of course, if you’ve ever seen those red hats popping up in your own yard, no one needs to tell you about the threat they pose. Waiting around and hoping the problem will resolve on its own is a bad idea.

“If left unchecked, they can out-compete other lawn ornaments and other parts of the landscape,” adds Goodspeed, cautioning that your urban ecology could truly suffer ill effects from such an infestation.

Luckily, he offers solutions too. We highly recommend you check out the video to learn more.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

How Urban Ecology Works And Why A True Definition Matters

Posted by Ecogardens

 

Many people have used the term “urban ecology” in many different ways, but in order to truly improve the ecosystems inside our cities, we need to settle on a streamlined definition.

Ever noticed how if you say something enough, the sounds start to lose meaning?

Try it. Say your own name over and over again. Guaranteed, after no more than 30 seconds, you’ll start to think, “Huh. Well, that’s a weird, pointless sound. Wonder what Mom and Dad were thinking?”

Buzz phrases such as sustainable, green and organic have suffered a similar fate: overuse sliding right into meaninglessness. Ditto conservation, energy efficiency, blah blah blah.

Oh, and urban ecology, of course.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

Everything You Never Knew About Pollinators But Wanted To

Posted by Ecogardens

 

When you hear the word pollinators, does your mind automatically change it to the word “bee”? Time to retrain your brain on all things pollination.

Look outside your window on a spring day, and you’ll see at least one flying thing.

If you live in a bustling Chicago neighborhood, like we do, you’re likely to see more than that: birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and even regular flies.

If someone asked you to point to the pollinators, though, we’re betting your finger would automatically gravitate toward the bees – especially those black and yellow striped honeybees we all know and love.

These days, though, we more than love the honeybee: We freak out about it constantly. Oft-cited reports of Colony Collapse Disorder – the unexplained die-off of honeybee hives – have people super-edgy about the fate of pollinators, and those who depend upon them. (Spoiler alert: us.)

While the humble honeybee has a time-honored place in our imaginations and on our cereal boxes, though, it’s far from the only pollinator around. In fact, it’s only one of many, many animals on which we depend for the propagation of plants and the health of our urban ecology.

This leads to a few questions: Why do pollinators matter, who represents the non-bee pollinating faction and are we doing enough to protect them?

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Topics: Urban Ecology, Pollinators

What You Need to Know About Urban Ecology Programs

Posted by Ecogardens

 

In recent decades, we have built a new framework of understanding regarding the ecological sphere represented by our cities. Now urban ecology programs are helping us to make that sphere healthier and more sustainable.

The new millennium has seen a major shift in thinking about our cities.

Formerly, our view of the urban environment was of a place apart from the wilderness – little islands scattered in a sea of Mother Nature. Today, though, we understand the impossibility of separating cities from the natural world. We’re all one, really.

If only Biggie and Tupac could have shared that attitude, I mean, you know?

Hip-hop gang wars aside, this represents a new and more useful way of envisioning the metropolitan environments in which we live. This new vision gives us the ability and the duty to institute urban ecology programs that will keep it as healthy as possible.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

Looking Beyond Agriculture: How to Reduce Monoculture in Cities

Posted by Ecogardens

 

While the word “monoculture” conjures up images of endless wheat fields and rows of soybeans, the problem is severe inside our cities as well.

If you spend about three seconds in Michael Pollan’s head, you’ll get a raft of invective against monoculture.

Seriously, we do not want to be within five miles of the cage match between him and GMO corn. It’s just not pretty.

Yet though important, this highly publicized debate has had an unintended negative consequence: It has left the lingering impression that rural agriculture is the only sphere in which we must worry about monoculture.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Monoculture affects our cities significantly as well – and more importantly, the plants and wildlife that used to thrive there.

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Topics: Urban Ecology