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Georgina de Beaujeu

June 2023

Georgina de Beaujeu

Creating win-wins for urban nature and people in our projects is one practical way our profession can stem the tide of biodiversity loss.

We need nature to survive and to survive nature needs us to make different decisions. This is the ultimate example of a co-benefit.

Where trade-offs between the needs of both groups present, we need to consciously identify and discuss them, so we can moderate their impact.

Urban nature benefits v people benefits

But what types of co-benefits exist?

To understand what types of co-benefits may exist the social and physical determinants of health and wellbeing for people and urban nature as part of ‘daily living conditions’ were distilled and considered alongside each other to understand where co-benefit opportunity areas and trade-offs may present. From this analysis a range of co benefit ‘types’ emerged.

This list is by no means exhaustive, there are likely many more!  Trade-offs are possible in most co-benefit areas depending on how the opportunity is realised, including the level of engagement from residents, and institutions. Trade-offs arise when the needs of one group result in a negative outcome for another.

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of co-benefit types.

Increasing habitat (green space)

For urban nature the proportion of an area dedicated to ‘green’ space is linked to species abundance, and a foundational metric within the Singapore Biodiversity Index[i]. For people spending time in or viewing natural landscapes can provide restorative benefits[ii]. This suggests that improved coverage of natural landscapes in a suburb may bolster the potential for these benefits. Trade-offs may arise from the opportunity cost of land allocated to habitat, rather than another use.

Example design strategies:

  • Increase green space coverage in a neighbourhood by reclaiming underutilised space, such as hardscapes, roads, railway corridors, verges, brownfield sites, schools.
  • Reinstate concrete channels into functional water systems with healthy riparian zones.
  • Close or partially close roads to create pocket parks.
  • Bring private space together with public space in medium density developments to create pocket parks.
  • Temporary activation of underutilised space to benefit people and nature, such as creating native grasslands and meadows.

Connecting destinations and improving the journey.

In nature’s case the ability for wildlife to move through the landscape safely, access resources and support genetic dispersal is fundamental to the success of species in a particular area. Connectivity assessments for urban nature can be structural or functional. Structural connectivity considers the overall connectedness of green spaces but does not accommodate the varied dispersal characteristics of different taxa or species. Functional connectivity, however, includes metrics that accommodate the dispersal range of different taxa[iii].

Neighborhood level connectivity for people considers whether short, direct, routes are available to the facilities people need and whether the journey encourages active transport [iv]. Direct routes through grid configurations, with few road barriers and amenable features, such as a high green view index [v] can encourage people to choose active transport. In addition to physical health benefits this can support incidental community and wildlife interaction.

Aligning the movement of people and wildlife may create trade-offs in the form of disturbance and danger, for example street plantings that increase wildlife-vehicle collisions, dog attacks on wildlife or human perceptions of danger associated with increased shrubbery.

Example design strategies:

  • Undertake functional and structural connectivity analysis for local indicator species and overlay connectivity analysis for people (vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle) to understand where opportunities to improve connectivity for both groups reside.
  • Wildlife gardening in private gardens to act as steppingstones for urban nature through a suburban wildlife corridor and provide restorative benefits for people.
  • Street level habitat provided through vertical structural layers that enhances the green view for pedestrians and cyclists and bolsters connectivity for key taxa groups. Roof, wall, verge and front garden wildlife gardening that enhances street frontages for people and nature along connectivity routes.

Creating opportunities for safe wildlife interactions.

Safe wildlife interactions have been linked to a sense of connection and potentially care for the environment, that can encourage pro-environmental behaviours[vi]. Pro-environmental behaviors can have a flow on effect to the health of the community and environment at large, such as increased recycling. Trade-offs may entail interactions that create danger for people or wildlife.

Example design strategies:

  • Provide viewing areas into core habitat areas that minimsie disturbance but foster a connection.
  • Install evidence-based habitat analogues, such as tree hollows.

Protecting mature patches and priority habitats.

Mature remnant or core habitat areas have been shown to hold greater species diversity and can act as a cornerstone of an ecological network in an urban area[vii]. Within mature patches mature trees can act as a keystone structure providing critical nesting opportunities for select species. Mature trees can process more Co2, regulate more heat and water than immature plantings, as well as act as landmarks and nature-based tourism sites for people. The value that intact remnant sites can deliver to an ecological network cannot be recreated. The removal of these sites can undermine the potential to deliver many other co-benefits, for example nature-based tourism.

Trade-offs may arise from the opportunity cost of mature habitat retained rather than another use.

Example design strategies:

  • Map areas and features of remnant high biodiversity value and consider their role in supporting the ecological network to inform the placement of other design interventions.
  • Retain and protect mature trees, create a plant community at the base of trees through understory plantings.
  • Place protection orders on mature habitat patches and trees with hollows.
  • Restrict access to select mature habitat patches to create space for nature, in particular where sensitive species reside.

Optimsing habitat (green space) quality.

What constitutes quality is complex, as the idea of quality varies between different groups of people, taxa, and species. However, poor patch quality is a key determinant of success for urban nature given its impact on plant health, including longevity, form, flowering, and seed viability[viii]. The causes for poor patch quality can be diverse, from a lack of diversity of the flora species required for target species to thrive, through to compacted shallow soil that stunts tree growth.  

For people poor quality can be represented as a lack of maintenance, invasive, dead, or dying plants, litter, barren earth, and lack of facilities, such as footpaths, seating and toilet amenities that can signal a lack of civic pride and exacerbate perceptions an area is unsafe[ix].

Trade-offs entail a lack of alignment between the factors that drive a quality space for specific species or taxa and people. For example, additional mid-story shrubbery can obscure sight lines and a lower maintenance regime, linked to stronger biodiversity, can increase perceptions an area is unmaintained.

Urban and community farming.

Urban farming and community gardening have been shown to increase social cohesion and contribute to food security[x]. Humans rely on a diversity of invertebrate, bat, and bird pollinators to support flowering and sustainable food production across the seasons in private gardens and urban farming sites. Select species can use urban farming sites as habitat, steppingstones, or foraging grounds.

Trade-offs entail interactions that create danger for people or wildlife, such as the use of particular types of netting or crop losses due to wildlife.  A key design strategy centres on planning urban agriculture sites to benefit nature, as well as people. For example, planting species proven to attract native pollinators, connecting these sites to the existing ecological network and using safe wildlife deterrents where required e.g., appropriate netting.

A whistling tree frog (de beaujeu 2020)
A Whistling Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxi) eating white fly in the vege patch highlights the how urban farming can create co-benefits for urban nature and people (de Beaujeu 2020)

Harnessing indigenous knowledge networks and celebrating the unique character of a place.

A sense of civic pride can be linked to understanding and celebrating the unique ecosystem that exists in each and every neighbourhood.  Each place on Country is cared for by First Nations peoples across Australia, with unique song lines, sacred places and scar trees that provide a sense of identify and culture for indigenous peoples, who have some of the worst health outcomes of any group in Australia. Harnessing indigenous knowledge networks can reinforce the value of protecting mature patches and trees, which in turn provides benefits to nature.

Trade-offs may arise if people’s perception of a place does not align with the historical reference states that benefit the majority of endemic species.

  • Consult with indigenous groups on cultural mapping, naming, wayfinding, public art, and site management that presents and embeds indigenous knowledge.
  • Invest in indigenous job creation around care for and connection to Country.
  • Foster local civic pride using the unique sense of place created through the use of local plant species that supports endemic fauna and invertebrate species.
  • Develop an endemic and local species first plant palette that considers a diversity of flora across all structural layers.
  • Create, promote, and maintain quality nature-based tourism assets.
  • Support local native nurseries that create seed production areas and grow, sell, and promote locally adapted provenance sourced plants.
The christmas jewel spider (de beaujeu 2020)
Celebrating the unique ecosystem of a place to create co-benefits for urban nature and people; The Christmas Jewel Spider (Austracantha minax) (de Beaujeu 2020)
While not every type of co-benefit will be suitable for every place, many will be - so please take some time to consider how you can integrate urban nature into your project to deliver more benefits for people and nature.
[i] Chan L, Hillel O, Werner P, Holman N, Coetzee I, Galt R and Elmqvist T (Diversity SotCoB) (2021) ‘Handbook on the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity (City Biodiversity Index)’, Diversity SotCoB, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Singapore: National Parks Board,, Singapore accessed Feb 2022.
[ii] Health benefots of natre  Aerts R, Honnay O and Van Nieuwenhuyse A (2018) ‘Biodiversity and human health: mechanisms and evidence of the positive health effects of diversity in nature and green spaces’, British medical bulletin, 127(1):5-22,
Marselle MR, Martens D, Dallimer M and Irvine KN (2019) Biodiversity and Health in the Face of Climate Change, Springer Open, Germany,
Mumaw L and Mata L (2021) ‘Wildlife Gardening: An Urban Nexus of Social and Ecological Relationships’,
[iii] Kirk H, Threlfall C, Soanes K, Ramalho C, Parris K, Amati M, Bekessy S and Mata L (2018) Linking Nature in the City: A framework for improving ecological connectivity across the City of Melbourne, Report prepared for the City of Melbourne Urban Sustainability Branch.
Deslauriers M, Asgary A, Nazarnia N and Jaeger J (2017) ‘Implementing the connectivity of natural areas in cities as an indicator in the City Biodiversity Index (CBI)’, Ecological Indicators, 94,
[iv] NSW Department of Health (2009) Healthy Urban Development Checklist – A guide for health services when commenting on development policies, plans and proposals, Sydney New South Wales, accessed 10 August 2022.
[v] Ki D and Lee S (2021) ‘Analyzing the effects of Green View Index of neighborhood streets on walking time using Google Street View and deep learning’, Landscape and urban planning, 205:103920,
Lu Y (2019) ‘Using Google Street View to investigate the association between street greenery and physical activity’, Landscape and urban planning, 191:103435,
[vi] Church SP (2018) ‘From street trees to natural areas: retrofitting cities for human connectedness to nature’, Journal of Environmental Planning & Management, 61(5/6):878-903,
Keaulana S, Kahili-Heede M, Riley L, Park MLN, Makua KL, Vegas JK and Antonio MCK (2021) ‘A Scoping Review of Nature, Land, and Environmental Connectedness and Relatedness’, International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(11),
[vii] Chan L, Hillel O, Werner P, Holman N, Coetzee I, Galt R and Elmqvist T (Diversity SotCoB) (2021) ‘Handbook on the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity (City Biodiversity Index)’, Diversity SotCoB, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Singapore: National Parks Board,, Singapore accessed Feb 2022.
[viii] Farinha-Marques P, Lameiras JM, Fernandes C, Silva S and Guilherme F (2011) ‘Urban biodiversity: a review of current concepts and contributions to multidisciplinary approaches’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences, 24(3):247-271,
[ix] Abbasi A, Alalouch C and Bramley G (2016) ‘Open space quality in deprived urban areas: user perspective and use pattern’, Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 216:194-205,
[x] Delshad AB (2022) ‘Community gardens: An investment in social cohesion, public health, economic sustainability, and the urban environment’, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 70,

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