As I took my seat in the Deakin Edge auditorium at Federation Square, I looked around to see three people that I had just said good-bye to at work a few hours ago. I also saw many other familiar faces scattered throughout the crowd…
My doubts about whether this forum would be relevant to me were somewhat eased. Later, I would also meet two more work colleges on the tram, both of whom had been to the same event.
The event was the launch of the book Urbanization, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities, accompanied by a discussion forum around the issues covered in the book. Although a review of the book itself would be well worthwhile, what struck me on this particular night was the directions and content of the discussion during the forum. A brief, slickly produced video narrated by Edward Norton, apart from casting my mind back to Fight Club, outlined the basic premises of the book:
- The planet is becoming increasingly urbanised.
- Cities are hubs of innovation and therefore have a responsibility to take the lead in sustainable development.
- Well-functioning ecosystems inside and outside our cities. can improve human health and well-being and help curb environmental degradation.
- More conscious lifestyles and smarter development can help support richer biodiversity inside and outside of cities
Following this was a keynote speech from Prof Thomas Elmqvist (Stockholm Resilience Centre), and then a panel discussion colourfully led by Virginia Trioli, (ABC News Breakfast) and comprising Prof Elmqvist, as well as Dr Chris Ives (RMIT), Dr Ruth Beilin (University of Melbourne) and Prof Mark McDonnell (ARCUE). While this panel did appear to be biased towards a focus on anthropomorphic-based biodiversity, this is not what got me thinking, this happened when the microphone was turned to the audience. The audience discussion was opened by a question that was to set the scene for the night’s discussion… “Isn’t this all just like putting lipstick on a pig?”. The questioner going on to state that the decisions are all made by the people with the money, the bankers.
What ensued was almost like a “cold war”, with the sustainable cities camp launching thinly veiled jibes at the narrow focus of bush restorationists, while half-heartedly acknowledging the importance of indigenous biodiversity. At the same time, the discontented mumbling of the urban bush restoration camp was almost audible, although rarely expressed in a clear voice. While much of this was in good humour, it hints at a much wider divide that we, as people concerned with the long term health of our environment, participate in at our own peril.
Effective conservation and development of indigenous and non-indigenous biodiversity in a place like Melbourne requires an ability for all involved to be able to appreciate either side and be able to switch perspectives to respond to the complex nature of managing different ecosystems that are so tightly intermeshed. It also requires us to be able to cogently identify why indigenous biodiversity is important in cities, and to be able to communicate this convincingly.
Between now and when I first drafted this article, I have changed jobs from an entirely indigenous vegetation management focussed world to that of needing to balance all the different uses of urban open space. Although this has led me to acknowledging the nonindigenous perspective on urban biodiversity, it has also provided me with a clearer view of how important it is to tease out what is important about conserving and fostering indigenous biodiversity in urban parklands. For some inspiration on how to balance indigenous and non-indigenous biodiversity, take a look at the Draft Urban Ecology Strategy recently released by Moonee Valley City Council: www.mvcc.vic.gov.au/UrbanEcology