BiodiverseCity St. Louis

Rethinking urban and suburban life

When someone asks you to describe “nature,” what images come to mind? A national park vista? A wild animal? A favorite local park? Perhaps the Missouri Botanical Garden? Do you think of the plantings in a parking lot median, the highway swaths of grasses and wildflowers, or the lawns surrounding your school or office? While the latter may not be postcard-perfect ideas of the natural world, a diversity of life forms called biodiversity fills these common places.

Biodiversity is in our back yards, schoolyards, corporate campuses, city streets, parking lots, roadside berms, and balconies. Our biodiverse neighbors live in the soil underfoot and in the street tree canopy overhead. They clean and cool our air, prevent our streets from flooding, remove toxins from our soil, and provide sustenance for people and all kinds of wildlife.

BiodiverseCity St. Louis, a new Garden-led community-wide network of more than a 100 organizations working together to enhance and protect nature in ways that improve health and well-being, increase native biodiversity, and ensure a more resilient, thriving St. Louis for generations to come.  Launched in May of 2013 with a mission to cultivate connections and solutions across the greater St. Louis eco-region, BiodiverseCity St. Louis envisions more people connected to nature in their everyday lives.  BiodiverseCity St. Louis as a bi-state collaboration aims to increase local species and habitat diversity and reverse conditions contributing to biodiversity loss through research, public education, policy, and action projects.

Urban roots, global impact

Garden President Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson took notice of urban wildlife in his native Dublin a few decades ago. This eventually lead to his first book, The Flora of Inner Dublin, and his participation in a Biodiversity Action Plan for Ballymun, an impoverished, high-crime area on Dublin’s northside that now has several programs focused on biodiversity, including school-area clean-ups and wildlife counts, organic gardening programs, and abandoned space restorations. “While field research remains essential, work in urban areas is increasingly vital to long-term biodiversity conservation,” says Dr. Wyse Jackson. “When cities start considering landscape plants as a form of green infrastructure, significant benefits can result such as improved public health and livability, reduced expenses, and increased awareness of how reliant we are on local and global biodiversity as our life support system.” Informed and inspired by Dr. Wyse Jackson himself, as well as by mounting evidence linking urban biodiversity with healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities, BiodiverseCity St. Louis is all about growing a stronger community.

Why urban biodiversity?

While likely not the subject of dinner-table conversation, biodiversity drives our economies and makes life as we know it possible. Regrettably, the increasingly rapid, large-scale global extinction of species in the past century has occurred at a rate a thousands times higher than the average rate during the preceding 65 million years. As the number of species declines, so does the ability of ecosystems to effectively function. The vast majority of the world’s biological diversity is found in a handful of tropical and subtropical countries, and Garden researchers and conservation experts are already working in many of these places to safeguard at-risk plants, people, and places.

But an urban focus is critical too. Cities occupy just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet their inhabitants use 75 percent of the natural resources. Healthy ecosystems and biological diversity are vital for communities everywhere to function properly. “Activity to increase biodiversity in the urban core is a great opportunity to engage more people as good stewards of the earth while improving the quality of urban life,” says Catherine Werner, Sustainability Director for the City of St. Louis.

Who is involved?

In many ways, biodiversity is already a regional concern. Biodiversity outcomes are cited throughout both the City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments’ OneSTL Regional Plan for Sustainable Development. At the BiodiverseCity St. Louis summit in May at the Garden, more than 70 attendees represented local governments, corporations, nonprofit organizations, universities, and citizen groups, and dozens more have since joined.

By design, BiodiverseCity St. Louis embraces and promotes existing projects and programs already underway. Garden researchers recently completed the Flora of Missouri.  A Seed Bank was established at Shaw Nature Reserve. The Deer Creek Watershed Alliance RainScaping program puts plants to work to manage stormwater. Gateway Greening strengthens neighborhoods by growing gardens. The Academy of Science–St. Louis’s BioBlitz trains citizens to monitor biodiversity. The St. Louis Audubon Society helps homeowners transform backyards into bird and butterfly habitats. Through the St. Louis Green Business Challenge, companies are integrating biodiversity with other sustainability practices.  The list goes on. BiodiverseCity St. Louis aims to shine a deserving light on these important programs and unify them under a broader reason for being: transforming St. Louis into a thriving, healthy, vibrant eco-region that values biodiversity and serves as an urban model for the nation and the world.

What’s next?

Learn more by visiting www.biodiversecitystl.org. Check out the different organizations that are already working toward this goal, get informed, and get involved!

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