Benefits of Restoring Ecosystem Services in Urban Areas
Investing in restoring, protecting, and enhancing green infrastructure and ecosystem services in cities is not only ecologically and socially desirable, but also economically viable.
Elmqvist, T et al. (2015). Benefits of restoring ecosystem services in urban areas. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 14:101-108. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2015.05.001
Cities are a key nexus of the relationship between people and nature and are huge centers of demand for ecosystem services and also generate extremely large environmental impacts. Current projections of rapid expansion of urban areas present fundamental challenges and also opportunities to design more livable, healthy and resilient cities (e.g. adaptation to climate change effects). We present the results of an analysis of benefits of ecosystem services in urban areas.
Empirical analyses included estimates of monetary benefits from urban ecosystem services based on data from 25 urban areas in the USA, Canada, and China. Our results show that investing in ecological infrastructure in cities, and the ecological restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and woodlands occurring in urban areas, may not only be ecologically and socially desirable, but also quite often, economically advantageous, even based on the most traditional economic approaches.
We present an analysis of monetary benefits of ecosystem services provided by urban forests/woodlands based on 25 studies done in urban regions (20 in the USA, 4 in China and 1 in Canada) (Table 1). We restricted the literature search to include only studies in which estimates of monetary values of benefits were calculated, based on a quantification in biophysical terms (e.g. amounts of C stored/sequestered by trees per hectare per year).
The data from the above-cited studies support the finding that the analyzed ecosystems provide between US$ 3212 and 17 772 of benefits per ha per year. These estimates exclude some very important benefits, such as positive health effects and social welfare related to non-use values, and consequently should be treated as very conservative estimates. To put the values of the above-mentioned monetary benefits in perspective, we present data on costs of urban ecological restoration interventions, which includes costs for planning, preparation, soil restoration, plant propagation, planting, and management.
Investing in restoring, protecting, and enhancing green infrastructure and ecosystem services in cities is not only ecologically and socially desirable. It is also very often economically viable, even under prevailing economic models, provided that the multiple services and all their associated benefits for the large number of beneficiaries in cities are properly quantified and recognized. Such information is essential to include in decision-making processes related to land use and management in urban landscapes, and to help guide urban and landscape planners, architects, restoration practitioners, and public policy makers, as well as private and institutional stakeholders.
Even though economic calculations provide useful arguments for environmental improvements, they are insufficient to fully capture, measure or monitor the scope of benefits related to restoring ecosystem services in cities. Indeed, many important ecosystem services were not taken into account in the few published studies featuring economic assessments of urban green infrastructure benefits considered here, including multiple health effects, provisioning services, and social well-being related to non-use values.