The other evening, I was out walking, when down the footpath came a large old koala wandering down the street on his way to somewhere. He stopped and looked at me and carried on by, just another member of the local Kensington community out for an evening stroll.
Not growing up in Australia, I am still amazed whenever I see the local fauna out and about, especially in an urban situation. My encounter, with our marsupial resident, started me thinking; why is it such an unusual or exceptional event to see koalas or other indigenous animals in our suburbs and why can’t we take a more fauna-centric view towards our cities. Perhaps, if we want our cities to be truly liveable and sustainable for all, we should cast our thinking wider than just the city’s human inhabitants. Is there a benefit to be gained by designing for wildlife in the city? Not simply form the point of view of curiosity, but from an ecosystem wide perspective.
When we add wildlife as a measure of success within our cities we start to add a new level of performance to the planning and design of our urban environments. For example, a measurement of bird species is not simply a count of animals. The type and number birds in an area can also represent the diversity of tree species, habitat quality and extent of urban woodlands in the city. Similarly, the number of koalas in the urban environment could signify the quality of habitat corridors and vegetation, whilst frogs could reflect the health and distribution of the creeks and water bodies. By using animals as a performance measure in our cities, we start to move away from the usual ‘function’ defined outcomes for infrastructure, especially green infrastructure (our creeks, wetlands and open spaces). If we are aiming to create liveable cities, perhaps a more diverse approach to design and planning is needed to allow us to achieve liveable and sustainable environments where bird song, koala sightings, bee hives, butterflies and frog spawn are measures of success rather than the usual social and economic indicators we use today.
Perhaps next time you are out in the suburbs try listening for the bird song and look around you. Does the amount of birds reflect to quality and quantity of trees around you as well as the shade and amenity of the street? Or consider this, if a street has no song, what amenity does it provide for people. How sustainable and liveable is that street?
Accidental Urban Designer – Warwick Keates – Director WAX Design