Concept and Philosophy

The interactions between living things and their environment are fundamental to the philosophy and practice of ecology. Designed Ecology is a novel approach to urban landscapes, using a nature-based design perspective to intervene in what, and how, these interactions between people, communities, biodiversity and their environments occur.

Currently, half the world’s population lives in cities and towns, and this is anticipated to increase to the number of 5 billion by 2050 – almost 70% of the worlds’ population living in urban environments by 2050.

While the visual representation of this urban expansion may seem startling (UNICEF: An Urban World), how this impacts on us as communities and individuals, depends on the choices we make now. There is clear evidence that urban living brings with it complexities of managing health and well-being balanced against opportunities for innovation. Policies, practices, and people’s behaviour affect whether this balance tips towards the negative or the positive

We propose that Designed Ecology has a crucial role to play in defining how well our future cities function. Designed Ecology enhances Green Infrastructure, from the wider scale of establishing and supporting connections that create functioning ecosystem networks, to the local scale of judicious plant selection, combinations and placement, a key part of which goes beyond essential function, to creating beautiful places.

At the core of Designed Ecology is the recognition that there must be more to Green Infrastructure than indiscriminately adding plants to the built landscape.

The multi-disciplinary Centre builds upon the international reputation of the Department of Landscape in landscape architecture, landscape horticulture, urban ecology, environmental psychology, health and social interactions with landscape, and combines this with expertise from Departments such as Animal and Plant Sciences and Civil and Structural Engineering, to deliver wide-ranging capability to address urban challenges of the future.

Designed Ecology recognises interactions between living organisms and the designed environment.

Designed Ecology introduces mechanisms to support and enhance these interactions.

Designed Ecology responds to the human need to engage with, and be part of nature.

Designed Ecology provides connections between the multi-layers of Green Infrastructure

Re-framing Green Infrastructure:

There are many reports on the problems of high-density urban environments and suggestions of solutions to improve living conditions and reduce environmental impacts.

Why we need to re-think our approach to urban landscapes

We recognise 4 aspects

  1. In an attempt to capture quantitative benefits, Green Infrastructure is becoming over-dominated by technical details, which makes it less understood, and therefore less intellectually relevant to the wider audience and less likely to be adopted.
  2. The term “Green” is now spread widely to refer to a range of strategies, from specific planting detail to anything that fits within the philosophy of sustainability by minimising impact on the environment.
  3. There is clearly documented evidence of the contribution that plants make to people’s health and well-being, particular in high-density urban landscapes. This contribution can be expanded through detailed attention to cultural connections.
  4. Reported benefits of green infrastructure – quantitative and qualitative – tend to focus on isolated features, without recognition for the synergistic effects of a holistic network. The concept of linear parks and nature corridors has been explored from the perspective of biodiversity, though has yet to be fully evaluated with regard to human ecology or urban ecology.

Climate change, and its many impacts on urban environments, has elevated the concept of sustainability from a general philosophy to a practical imperative. Sustainability is now an integral part of the built environment, with a focus on incrementally doing less harm to the environment, locally and globally. While this is good, this is not enough. Systems need to be adapted, amended, enhanced to work toward a new definition of sustainability that actively contributes to planet health, where the concept of health is more than the absence of disease.