Knowledge gaps for urban land sharing & sparing

Photo courtesy of villes on flickr.
Photo courtesy of villes on flickr.

If you are reading this there is a good chance that you live in a city.

You’re not alone. About half of all humans now live in cities.

These cities will continue to grow for the next century and the rise of the megacity with more than 10 million souls will continue apace.

Because of this we need to think seriously about how we plan our cities so they can fulfil our needs as well as possible. They should be easy to get around, they should be a pleasant place to live and they should be as nature friendly as we can make them.

When you talk about cities and nature people often give you odd looks. “But surely all the nature is out there, in fields,” they say. They have a point. But when it comes to direct experience of nature most of us do that in cities.

Regular readers will know I have form in this area and this week a really interesting paper came out in the journal of Applied Ecology looking at the potential for using the land-sharing/land-sparing idea for urban planning.

I have to be honest that the initial thought when I saw this paper was “someone’s robbed the idea from my blog post!” After I calmed down and actually read the paper I realised that the authors had thought about it all a hell of a lot more than I had. I could hardly accuse them of stealing my ideas – after all there are a finite number of subjects out there, much like the material for jokes. With enough monkeys and enough typewriters and all that…

Anyway, the paper points out the similarities between the design of landscapes for agricultural production and urban areas, summarised below.

Sparing vs sharing urbanPanels (a) and (c) are the extreme ends of the land sparing continuum for agriculture and urban planning. Panels (b) and (d) are the land sharing ends of this spectrum.

The paper then discusses what we know about urban design in the context of the land sharing/land sparing debate. The answer is (spoiler alert!) not much.

To fix this the authors suggest 4 key areas we need more work on:

  • Understand how biodiversity reacts to urban intensification, particularly at the lower end of the scale.
  • Investigate how the shape and arrangement of fragments of habitat influences extinction risks.
  • Understand which urban ecosystems and designs are best for conserving populations and ecosystem services.
  • Undertake whole city analyses to compare between different city layouts and determine their ecological impact.

We live in an ever more crowded world, where people are shifting towards cities so we need to think about this stuff.  Go and read the paper.


4 thoughts on “Knowledge gaps for urban land sharing & sparing

  1. The idea that “surely all the nature is out there, in fields” is patently untrue if the fields are agricultural ones and the country is the UK, as the recent farmland bird report demonstrates! We’ve a few urban biodiversity projects ongoing/in the pipeline, including an assessment of solitary bee diversity in the centre of a large town (key finding – bee diversity is MUCH greater in the urban centre than in the nature reserves around the periphery of the town). So I agree, ignoring urban biodiversity means we ignore a significant reservoir of species. A couple of recent posts might interest you in this respect:

    All the best,


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