Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Metro Nature, Environmental Health, and Economic Value

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Metro Nature, Environmental Health, and Economic Value

Article excerpt


More than 50% of the world's population now live in cities and further concentration in urban areas is forecast (United Nations Population Fund 2007). Although some city governments struggle to meet basic daily needs such as safe housing, dependable utilities, and transportation, many others have achieved reliable and affordable basic systems and services. Of interest to both governments and citizens, once basic systems are in place, is the livability of urban areas and the quality of life afforded their citizens. Residents of highly urbanized centers often expect livable environments that include access to urban nature and investments in green infrastructure.

The public has long recognized that nature in cities and towns provides beauty and respite. There is now extensive evidence that both constructed and endemic nature elements can contribute significant ecosystem services (ES) that generate public health co-benefits. Services such as air and water purification, stormwater management, carbon sequestration, and reduction of heat island effects are fairly well-defined at this time (Chen and Jim 2008), and have been assessed for their potential economic values (Nowak et al. 2010). The psychosocial services provided by metro nature are of increasing interest, including the cognitive, emotional, and psychological benefits derived from interactions with nature (Bratman et al. 2012).

Consistent with the articulation of ES by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), various programs [such as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) (Sukhdev et al. 2014) and Earth Economics (Schrier et al. 2013)] and systems models (e.g., Reis et al. 2013; Rounsevell et al. 2010) have addressed the complexity of macro-ecological conservation in relation to human health, including concerns of biodiversity and climate change. Embedded within these more broadly scoped ecological management pursuits are the micro-scale nature elements that can permeate the urban environment.

Micro-scale nature elements can take many forms. The term "metro nature" is used here to refer to the collective opportunities for human nature experiences that improve urban livability (Wolf 2008). The term "metropolis," from which "metro" is derived, refers to an urbanized area made up of multiple settlements and political jurisdictions. Metro nature is a unifying concept that acknowledges cultural and ecological landscapes governed by diverse entities and landowners--both public and private--within cities. Metro nature includes endemic ecosystems, such as urban forests, greenbelts, conserved open spaces, and riparian corridors that may be patch, relic, or feral expressions of native ecological associations. It also includes culturally constructed nature such as parks, streetscapes, community gardens, pocket parks, and recreation paths. Finally, metro nature includes structural innovations that are integrated within built form to serve specific functions, such as green roofs, green walls, or green infrastructure facilities.

Recent studies have explored the definition and supply of urban ES. Papers about urban ES often represent a limited view of urban cultural aspects (Bolund and Hunhammar 1999; Gomez-Baggethun and Barton 2013; Larondelle and Haase 2013; Sander and Haight 2012) or have overlooked cultural values altogether (Jansson 2013; Li and Wu 2013). To date, the presentation and classification of urban ES does not adequately capture the full range of nature-based benefits and services within metro environments, particularly cultural ES (Wolf 2012).

The objective of this review was to demonstrate the extensive opportunities for research efforts that link metro nature, human health and well-being outcomes, and economic values. We begin by proposing a classification schematic that interprets a broader definition of ecosystem services, particularly cultural services, from an urban perspective. …

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