Healthy Biodiversity


Condition for an Ecocity

Biodiversity of local, bioregional and global ecosystems is sustained, including species diversity, ecosystem diversity and genetic diversity; natural habitat and biodiversity is restored.

Suggested Headline Indicator

Number of representative keystone species in bioregion where city is located and from where city draws sustenance

Biodiversity refers to the vast array of species, both flora and fauna, that populate the Earth. Their interactions create the ecosystems upon which we depend, characterized by various biomes including: deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and coral reefs (Newman and Jennings 2008).

Healthy biodiversity needs intact nutrient cycles, no net loss of soils, and no accumulation of pollutants (in soil, air or water). Although approximately 12% of Earth’s wild places have been dedicated as natural reserves, global change processes, including climate change, mean that the systemic conditions needed for these places to thrive are being undermined. Biodiversity losses are being driven in part by urbanization processes that fragment natural habitats and nutrient cycles, deplete soils and aquifers, and increase pollution levels (Newman and Jennings 2008).

To achieve the “Ecocity: Level 1 Condition” requires that the geo-physical and socio-cultural features of a city are in harmony with its surrounding bioregion ( This means that indigenous flora and fauna are allowed to flourish. Equally important, ecocities do not draw down the resources or increase pollution levels in areas outside the bioregion either. This could happen through trade imbalances and/or taking advantage of global common resources, such as the waste sink capacities of oceans and atmosphere. Therefore, ecocities are concerned both with preserving and enabling healthy biodiversity in their bioregion as well as in the world generally.

The ecocity vision includes tightly clustered development immediately adjacent to naturally preserved areas (Register 2006). This allows people to experience nature at their doorstep despite living in high-density urban environments. By shifting from sprawl to compact development, ecocities leave room for regeneration of natural and agricultural landscapes, specifically focusing on rebuilding soils, naturally sequestering carbon, daylighting streams, and recreating wetlands and aquatic sediments. Ecocities also utilize clean and renewable energy, healthy and accessible food, and responsible resources and materials. These choices support stewardship of natural resources within and outside the city, including in remote locations.

Biomimicry, which refers to design informed by nature, can also support healthy biodiversity. For example, Alan Savory’s work on natural carbon sequestration through compact herding of cattle to regenerate grasslands was inspired by watching the impacts of migratory wildebeest in Africa. Natural carbon sequestration techniques could also be applied in forests, peatlands, wetlands, aquatic and marine environments.

Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. 2008. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems:
Principles and Practices. Washington DC: Island Press.
Register, Richard. 2006. Ecocities: Redesigning Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola
BC: New Society Publishers.
Sullivan, Colin and Climate Wire. 2013. Can Livestock Grazing Stop Desertification? Scientific American, March 5 ( grazing-stop-desertification/).

Suggested Ecocity Level 1 Benchmark

Critical ecological processes are intact and functioning. | EC 1: ecological processes are not drawing down on natural capital. | Gaia: ecological processes are being restored.

Intact and functioning ecological processes of a bioregion is a holistic way of measuring healthy biodiversity. As it may be difficult to measure ecological processes, measuring keystone species (e.g. orcas, salmon in Vancouver’s bioregion) may  be a useful indicator.