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Maintaining experiences of nature as a city grows
 

Sushinsky JR, Rhodes JR, Shanahan DF, Possingham HP & Fuller RA (2017) Maintaining experiences of nature as a city grows. Ecology and Society, 22, 1-11.

Experiences of nature contribute to human health and well-being, yet as the world’s population continues to concentrate in towns and cities there is mounting concern that these experiences are diminishing. Despite this, little is known about how we can maintain experiences of nature as cities grow. Here, we quantify how people’s opportunities to experience nature might change with future urban growth in the city of Brisbane, Australia. We simulated the addition of 84,642 houses under compact and sprawling growth scenarios and modeled changes in people’s opportunities to experience nature by estimating changes in backyard size, public green space provision, and bird species richness close to households. We discovered that the form of urban growth could strongly influence people’s opportunities to experience nature in a way that is highly nonrandom across the socioeconomic gradient. Under a sprawling pattern of development, with low residential densities and few interstitial green spaces, our models suggest severe declines in access to public green space and bird species richness around people’s homes. These declines are predicted to be concentrated in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of the city. Compact development leads to greater reductions in backyard size, but smaller declines in access to public green space and bird species richness. Our results point to a difficult trade-off; residential infill will maintain larger green spaces and higher overall bird diversity but reduce backyard sizes, impacting people’s opportunities to experience nature in a different way. Careful planning is needed to balance the availability of public and private urban green spaces to ensure that the opportunities for people to experience nature are maintained as urbanization continues.

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