One Million Things Gone
Try to picture one million different things in your head. OK, got it? Now picture all of them gone.
More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields in the last 100 years. Some domestic animal species have lost as much as half of their varied breeds and of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds, they are all being fished at or above their sustainable limits.
Native food systems are under threat, and with this so is the connected indigenous, traditional and local knowledge that’s been passed down for generations. Throughout history, communities have relied on local plants for medicines and cultural practices. Agrobiodiversity is disappearing rapidly, effecting all of us and the foods that we consume. A lack of dietary diversity is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition. Biodiversity is essential to human existence and a good quality of life. All that is lost in the natural world is irreplaceable and we will suffer at its costs.
To honor and leverage the importance of planetary biodiversity, The Convention on Biological Diversity has declared May 22 as International Day for Biological Diversity. This year’s theme is “our biodiversity, our food, our health”, a reminder of our deep and direct connection to the greater systems around us.
But why should we care?
For a long time, we’ve perhaps thought of our biodiversity efforts as saving nature for its own survival. While that is part of it, we humans are not separate from the issue. We too are nature. We are active participants in the wellness of species. Our personal food systems, nutrition and health all relate to biodiversity and determine the fate for healthy (or unhealthy) ecosystems and communities.
Today, humans rely on significantly fewer varieties of plants and animals to produce our food thanks to mono-cropping. As a result, the food system is becoming less resilient against pests and disease. This builds a dependency on pesticides and insecticides that further deplete the surrounding soil and species.
What can we do / what are we already doing as an industry?
As built environment design professionals, we must learn about and consider how our city-building and urban design practices can better integrate food production and minimize the loss of valuable ecosystem services. One example would be to work with municipal clients to establish systems that separate and reuse food waste through composting or bioenergy production. Within our individual practices, there are additional roles that we can play:
Planners can advocate for zoning regulations that promote urban agriculture;
Landscape architects can integrate community gardens and pollinator landscapes into open space design;
Architects can design buildings that allow for flexible market access and independent vendors to encourage local food sales; and
Civil engineers can help upgrade sewage treatment to minimize nutrient pollution of aquatic systems.
Biodiversity considerations and ecosystem valuation must be integrated into infrastructure design and decisions, rather than pushing the burden and assumption that someone else out there will take care of it. We must acknowledge the massive role that humans play in biodiversity and leverage this responsibility to enact great change.
Todd Smith is a landscape architect and certified arborist at IBI Group and has over 18 years of industry experience incorporating thoughtful and sensible design solutions into the needs of expanding urban areas and communities. At scales from multi-residential to regional, he is able to assess the conditions of existing and future needs as they pertain to provision of open space and parkland or to moving goods and people around the region. Parallel to this, the aesthetic and ecological conditions and experience exist as equally important parameters to achieve the strongest design solution.