Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

By Eugenie L. Birch; Susan M. Wachter | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Ecosystem Services and the Green City

DENNIS D. HIRSCH

Many recognize that natural ecosystems can produce commercial goods such as timber or seafood, yet few are aware that ecosystems also provide valuable services to human society.1 Wetlands and natural floodplains can protect cities from destructive floods. Trees, plants, and soils can filter and purify a city’s water. Insects pollinate crops. Forests absorb carbon and stabilize the climate. Despite the importance of these and other ecosystem services, many of us take them for granted.2 The vital effort to green our cities can, at times, suffer from the same narrowness of vision. Those who advocate the greening of cities rarely focus on the economic services that natural environments can provide. They thereby miss an important policy argument for investing in the natural environments in and around cities.

This chapter seeks to fill this gap. It proceeds in three sections. The first part explains how natural ecosystems can provide valuable services to cities. It describes the upstate watershed lands that filter the New York City water supply, and the gulf wetlands that historically protected New Orleans against storm surges. From these examples, it concludes that cities benefit greatly from healthy ecosystems and that, when it comes to investing in ecosystem services, environmental and economic goals can converge. The second part asks who should be responsible for the protection and enhancement of ecosystem services. Using a public goods argument, it asserts that government should be in charge, even though the market may also have a role to play in this area. The third part evaluates four government mechanisms that can be used for this purpose and assesses their strengths and weaknesses.


Economic and Environmental Values of Ecosystem Service
Investments for Cities

Ecosystems provide important services for cities as demonstrated by the upstate watershed lands that cleanse New York City’s drinking water, and

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