A new study on the Stockholm urban region argues that stewards such as allotment garden owners are critical and that land-use planning and management seldom account for their role in the generation of urban ecosystem services. Photo: S. Zeff/Azote

Urban ecology

Lessons learned from Stockholm

New paper summarises 15 years of centre research in the Stockholm urban region

Story highlights

  • 15 years of research shows that urban planning strategies need to acknowledge ecological and social synergies
  • "Novel ecosystems" such as gardens, cemeteries and even golf courses deserve to be acknowledged for their biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Planning and management should account for the role of local stewards, such as allotment garden owners, in the generation of urban ecosystem services

That urban planning strategies need to acknowledge ecological and social synergies has been a mantra from centre researchers for a long time, particularly since two-thirds of the world population will soon live in cities. Stockholm is no exception.

In a new article recently published in Ambio, centre researchers Erik Andersson, Stephan Barthel, Sara Borgström, Johan Colding, Thomas Elmqvist, Carl Folke, and Åsa Gren argue that the Swedish capital must do a lot more to connect ecosystem services with social needs.

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The article, which summarises no less than 15 years of research in the Stockholm urban region, demonstrates how "novel ecosystems", such as gardens, cemeteries, old brown-fields and even golf courses deserve to be acknowledged for their biodiversity and ecosystem services.

"Our work in Stockholm has helped reveal green areas and ecosystem services not previously perceived in urban planning and clarified mismatches between institutions, governance, and urban ecosystems for human well-being"

Erik Andersson, lead author

Complex interactions
Although the most well-known link between green spaces and human well-being in cities is the so called cultural services such as recreation and health, the research in the Stockholm region has focused more on regulating ecosystem services, such as seed dispersal, pest regulation, and pollination. These services are generated by complex interactions between humans and nature and not by ecosystems alone.

Moreover, these regulating services tend to transcend habitat boundaries and affect also the surrounding landscape, implying that a landscape perspective on management and planning for urban ecosystem services is often necessary.

"Our research has for example revealed that the preservation of the highly valued recreational oak-dominated landscapes of the city’s national urban park benefits from seed dispersing birds that also need coniferous forest outside the park," explains the lead author, Erik Andersson.

Participation key
Another insight is that local stewards such as allotment garden owners are critical and that land-use planning and management seldom account for their role in the generation of urban ecosystem services.

This could be further aggravated by the global trend of privatization of public land in cities, something that tends to restrict local people’s ability to practically engage with urban ecosystems. This is contrary to the researchers' recommendation of developing participatory management approaches where a diversity of skills and knowledge can be applied.

The authors recognize that empirical work from one particular city set in a certain context has its limits, but still believe that their results can communicate with other cities and inspire important further research and discussions, also for cities in low and middle income countries.

"The importance and potential of urban planning highlight the need for more research in the resource scarce cities of the global south where the role played by planning is smaller," they write.

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citation

Citation

Andersson E, Barthel S, Borgström S, Colding J, Elmqvist T, Folke C, Gren Å. 2014. Reconnecting cities to the biosphere: stewardship of green infrastructure and urban ecosystem services. Ambio 43(4):445-53. doi: 10.1007/s13280-014-0506-y

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