Institute News

Conference 2003
Greening the City:
Bringing Biodiversity Back
into the Urban Environment


Colin Meurk2003 Banks Memorial Lecture:
Cities are Cultural and Ecological Keys to Biodiversity Futures

Colin D. Meurk (Landcare Research, Lincoln)

Despite the 'call to arms' to halt the decline in New Zealand's natural character and biodiversity; despite the widely touted environmental consensus and positive contribution that restoration is making, there is still something going wrong. Attrition of primary habitat continues in our urban and wider cultural landscapes, and natural character is becoming invisible and irrelevant to the majority of people who never see it, recognise it, or identify with it. Cities however hold the key to turning this around. They are the crucibles of modern culture, where most people live and where popular opinion is forged - whether it concerns the environment, maintaining points of difference, or anything else.

Cities often developed at the junctions of major biomes (marine, river, and rainforest or dryland, on hills or plains) and thus naturally supported a broad cross-section of lowland biodiversity. Wild indigenous floras of our cities are on a par with those of our National Parks. These species are often represented by small precarious populations that could, nevertheless, be revitalised to form the basis for biodiverse cities. Cities are not only a focus of natural resources, but also of labour, technology and finances. The ecological turn around is therefore feasible so long as there is the political and cultural will. This has become complicated by the visual dominance of our cultural landscapes by exotic trees, shrubs, grasses/pastures, flowers (in lawns, hedges and herbaceous borders) and weeds. Generations of New Zealanders have been overwhelmingly exposed to species of other lands, and the nation's identity is accordingly at a crossroads. Sense of place is important for residents, and the discerning tourist market demands indigenous authenticity, not a pale replica of something available back home. City dwellers in New Zealand are already showing a positive change in attitude towards their indigenous plants and wildlife, but are often thwarted by conservative commercial gardening interests and political leaders who lag behind their constituents.

There is an urgent need to arrest the decline in our biodiversity, not only because of its intrinsic worth and our moral duty to look after the unique creations of this planet, but because we owe ourselves and our emerging culture an unambiguous sense of place. There are a range of actions and opportunities to be taken in cities - honest application of the spirit and intent of the Resource Management Act would be a good start, political mainstreaming of the environment, protecting remaining primary habitat as the benchmark for total ecosystem complexity, ruthless weed and pest control (including the banning of propagation and spread of invasive exotic plants), planning and restoring viable habitat patch configurations and connectivity, and most of all raising the profile of indigenous plants in biodiverse farms, gardens and city substrates - in lawns, hedges, shelterbelts, rock gardens, footpaths and brickwalls. In short, our natural heritage must become a part of every citizen's daily experience. When all the local native plants are regenerating, dispersing, establishing, dominating the seed banks again, supporting wildlife, and indeed have become the 'weeds' of our cities, we will know we have succeeded in turning around the extinction spiral of New Zealand's unique biota.

Read article based on this lecture

Conference sponsored by:

British Council NZ
The Community Trust
Landcare Research

Follow this link to view other organisations supportive of the conference

Top of page

Home | Journal | Newsletter | Conferences
Awards | Join RNZIH | RNZIH Directory | Links

20002024 Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture

Last updated: August 8, 2010