Advancing urban ecosystem services assessment for urban planning
Within the next 30 years, more than 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Rapid urbanization at this unprecedented scale will place enormous pressure on ecosystems to provide healthy living conditions in and around cities. As urban areas transform through expansion and densification, it is essential that we ensure urban livability by maintaining Earth’s biodiversity and critical ecological processes. Urban stakeholders from mayors and neighborhood activists to developers need approaches for navigating these transformations, and are increasingly looking to urban ecosystems and green infrastructure to meet demands for benefits such as heat regulation, flood protection, and improved human health (Elmqvist et al., 2013).
Urban ecosystem services are benefits that urban residents derive from local urban ecosystem functions (Gomez-Baggethun et al., 2013). However, the mere presence of an ecosystem function does not ensure that people derive benefit from it. Rather, urban ecosystem services are co-produced by people and ecosystems (Andersson et al., 2014). Understanding how services flow from ecosystems to people, how they are distributed across the urban landscape, or how to plan for and maintain resilient supply in the future require approaches that integrate social and ecological sciences (McPhearson et al., 2014). The social-ecological systems approach to urban ecology can help to inform management of ecosystems to meet needs of urban populations in the context of urban change.
Here we discuss recent progress in urban ecosystem services research and present a social-ecological approach to assessing, mapping, and valuing urban ecosystem services through a case study of New York City. We present recent insights from the European and U.S. Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (URBES) project, including the first spatially-explicit citywide urban ecosystem services assessment for New York City. The project illustrates how combining an urban ecosystem services landscape approach and spatial multi-criteria analysis can help to achieve multi-functionality by minimizing trade-offs and maximizing synergies among multiple services. We highlight the importance of scale and demonstrate how recent empirical and modeling advances provide flexible approaches to urban ecosystem services assessment which allow for both neighborhood-level and citywide planning. We also highlight major challenges to applying the ecosystem services approach in cities, including the identification of adequate indicators and means for understanding how services are mediated by infrastructure and cultural characteristics.