Ecomimicry: the nature-inspired design technique that could be the antidote to urban “blandscapes.”

Demand for urban space is increasing as skyscrapers rise higher and empty city sites become more rare. Making the most of this area necessitates a delicate balancing act between immediate human needs and long-term planetary advantages.

Attempting this balancing effort all too frequently results in “blandscaping.” The practice of producing practically homogeneous green landscapes devoid of local individuality or distinctiveness is known as blandscaping. These bland landscapes emerge when urban green spaces are created with a purely human focus: making them visually appealing and easy to manage while containing almost no of the valuable biodiversity that would otherwise have populated the space.

Photo by Jake Gard on Unsplash

Rather than customizing the constructed environment to the local terrain, blandscaping employs a “copy and paste” approach. Across the globe, equally generic designs abound, frequently employing the same materials — and the same species – across huge geographic distances.

This strategy, like a tidal wave of homogeneity, washes biodiversity aside. Just as intensive single-crop farming has threatened a wide range of plant and animal species, blandscapes homogenize previously diverse ecosystems by removing the variety of habitat features that allow nature to flourish, such as different soil types, complex plant structures, and unique hydrological patterns.

The critters that gain the most from blandscaping are “urban generalists”: hardy animals that can live practically anyplace, such as stray pigeons and house mice. These species outcompete those that require more specialised environments, such as hedgehogs and rare pollinators like the pantaloon bee.

The consequences of blandscaping

Blandscapes are frequently lauded for enhancing biodiversity simply because they have replaced tarmac or concrete slabs with anything green. Blinscapes, which often focus on evergreen hedges, exotic and complicated flowering plants, lots of grassy areas to sit or wander, and a covering of woodchippings to inhibit undesired plant species, may appear to create a home for nature at first glance.

When the starting point is a square of sterile grey, it may appear that adding some greenery is the greatest solution. However, the mantra of “any green is good” overlooks opportunities to rewild our urban landscapes with the complex mosaics of nooks and crannies that enable wildlife spread.

Photo by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash

Instead of being lauded, blandscaping should be viewed as the ecological counterpart of gentrification. Under the pretense of revitalizing the neighborhood, resident groups are being evicted, and what remains is a habitat appropriate solely for the elite few rather than the many.

Ecological cleansing is accomplished by incorporating generic plants and soil into a landscape design. When natural habitat variety, which offers the range of resources required to support all types of non-human societies, is lost, local species have little chance of survival.

The irony is that many of the post-industrial “wastelands” that are being blandscaped, such as the quickly regenerating landscape of the Royal Docks, were considerably richer in the very biodiversity that we need to safeguard prior to industrialization. Indeed, some of the most biodiverse environments in the UK can be found on unmanaged post-industrial areas like Canvey Wick in Essex, where nature has been permitted to grow on its own. Sites like these provide a considerably better model for urban planning than the cookie-cutter techniques that are prevalent in many municipal spaces.

When we confine ourselves to blandscapes, we miss out too. From birdsong to butterflies, proximity to nature carries a host of benefits. Why should we settle for unimaginative and exclusory urban environments, when the natural world has so much more to offer?

Ecomimicry: design inspired by nature

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Ecomimicry is a new approach to urban design that recognizes the many lessons we can learn from the natural world’s self-organizing systems. Mother Nature, according to designer Van Day Truex, is our best teacher when it comes to design.

An ecomimicry technique begins with a book-like reading of the surrounding terrain. By understanding how different aspects of a regional ecosystem interact, urban designers can incorporate ecological functionality that already exists in the environment, such as an abundance of pollinators, natural flood defenses, and food, into what they build.

Covering roofs in locally native plants that can feed animals and humans is one example, as is building around, rather than over, coastal treasures like dunes and mangrove forests, and incorporating habitat features of these landscapes into new surrounding landscaping to increase habitat connectivity, ecosystem service provision, and resilience.

With a growing understanding of the value of nature, an increasing number of entrepreneurs are creating nature-based products with ecomimicry at their core. Welcoming biodiversity back into our cities may help reconnect communities with nature while also promoting equal access to the social, physical, and psychological benefits that nature provides us for free.

Our project, EU Horizon 2020 Connecting Nature, is working with cities worldwide to explore how to bring nature back into urban landscapes. We’re helping tease out the trade-off process between human and environmental needs that city planners face when trying to integrate nature. In doing so, we hope to introduce ecomimicry approaches to the mainstream and to restore cities to the biodiverse glory of the landscapes in which they lie.

If ecomimicry is to gain a foothold in our landscapes, three things are necessary: We must involve local ecologists who understand the unique complexities of the habitats being altered. We must ensure that the inherent value of all creatures is reflected in our approach to urban design. And we must embed this approach into policy, so it lasts for years to come.

Source: The Coversation || Tom Ridout

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