Ecocity Insights

Becoming a Biodiverse City: bridging the urban-rural divide

Written by Jennie Moore

The International Ecocity Standards revolve around four pillars, and at the base is the pillar concerned with ecological imperatives for: i) healthy biodiversity, ii) Earth’s carrying capacity, and iii) ecological integrity. All life, including human life, depends on the healthy functioning of Earth’s ecosystems that maintain a holistic balance, also known as Gaia, referring to Earth’s ability to maintain homeostasis.

An important theme that will be explored at the upcoming Ecocity World Summit 2021 in Rotterdam this fall is the concept of “BiodiverCity.” This theme is well aligned with the ecological imperatives pillar of the International Ecocity Standards, and with the Healthy Biodiversity standard in particular. Biodiversity refers to the vast array of species, both flora and fauna, that populate the Earth. Their interactions create the ecosystems upon which we depend, characterized by various biomes including: deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and coral reefs (Newman and Jennings 2008).

Within the BiodiverCity theme is the concept of bridging the urban-rural divide. This is an essential aspect of biodiverse cities because there can be no lasting, local biodiversity without simultaneous global ecological stability that requires healthy biodiversity across Earth’s ecosystems as well.

Cities are always in relationship with the surrounding hinterlands, and rural communities therein. These rural areas provide resources such as food, fuel, fibers and water urban residents need. Rural hinterlands and surrounding wild areas also assimilate the wastes from cities, whether in solid, liquid or gaseous forms.

Healthy biodiversity needs intact nutrient cycles, no net loss of soils, and no accumulation of pollutants (in soil, air or water). Although approximately 12% of Earth’s wild places have been dedicated as natural reserves, global change processes, including climate change, mean that the systemic conditions needed for these places to thrive are being undermined. Biodiversity losses are being driven in part by urbanization processes that fragment natural habitats and nutrient cycles, deplete soils and aquifers, and increase pollution levels (Newman and Jennings 2008).

To achieve a BiodiverCity requires that the geo-physical and socio-cultural features of a city are in harmony with its surrounding bioregion. This means that indigenous flora and fauna are allowed to flourish. Equally important, ecocities do not draw down the resources or increase pollution levels in areas outside the bioregion either. This could happen through trade imbalances and/or taking advantage of global common resources, such as the waste sink capacities of oceans and atmosphere. Therefore, ecocities are concerned both with preserving and enabling healthy biodiversity in their bioregion as well as in the world generally.

The ecocity vision includes tightly clustered development immediately adjacent to naturally preserved areas (Register 2006). This allows people to experience nature at their doorstep despite living in high-density urban environments. Ecocities also utilize clean and renewable energy and responsible resources and materials that do not contribute to the destruction of natural habitat in their extraction nor the accumulation of toxics in their manufacture, use and disposal. Finally, by ensuring healthy and accessible food, ecocities also help to protect soils while keeping citizens well nourished.

There are many important urban-rural connections. I am looking forward to learning more about how BiodiverCities make these connections explicit at the upcoming Ecocity World Summit 2021.


Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. 2008. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington DC: Island Press.

Register, Richard. 2006. Ecocities: Redesigning Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola BC: New Society Publishers.

About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.