The Urban Ecosystem: From Highly Altered to Highly Livable
Our urban ecosystems pulse with the flow of material and energy, ultimately transforming our ideas and products into fascinating places for industry, trade, and community. But these systems also produce pollution and waste, and require outside subsidies in order to survive. This not only makes them unsustainable, but unable to adapt, or recover quickly from catastrophic events like major storms and droughts.
But there is good news. Each piece of land and drop of water in a city can play a part in holding the urban fabric together and supporting ecosystem viability. Once we recognize a city as an ecosystem—albeit highly altered—we can begin to identify components of the system that need improvement, broken loops that need to be closed. These may include buried streams, filled wetlands, or fragmented forests.
Looking to natural ecosystems as models, we can restore these broken loops and knit them back into the urban fabric. With each restored loop, dependence on outside resources decreases, the air becomes less polluted, the urban heat island cools a bit, waterways become a little cleaner, and natural areas become more inviting and accessible to all communities. As the urban ecosystem becomes healthier and more interconnected, so do we.