International experts in ecology, biodiversity management and community engagement gathered in Jerusalem with key Israeli specialists to produce strategies for URBIS – an emerging urban biosphere concept. URBIS aims to promote sustainability in city planning transcending municipal boundaries and fostering regional cooperation.
URBIS’s aim is to engender cities with greater socio-ecological benefits by promoting sustainable planning, policies and landscape management at the bio-regional level. It proposes a designation process to recognize efforts of local governments in engaging in participatory approaches to urban planning for sustainability, networking, sharing experiences and successes with other cities.
The Jerusalem Municipality, through the office of Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, has partnered with the Dead Sea Drainage Authority, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (an IUCN Member), the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Jerusalem Wastewater and Purification Company and the Beracha Foundation to explore Jerusalem’s landscape, projects and initiatives as a case study for the development of the URBIS concept.
Over the last decade, the international community has increasingly focused on integrating the theme of biodiversity into urban sustainability. Jerusalem’s entry into these discussions came in 2009 and since then the community interest in urban nature has been fostered through the work of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), one of IUCN’s Members, and a survey of valuable urban nature sites has been undertaken.
“Strengthening the connection between urban environments and their surrounding green spaces helps provide natural solutions to address urban challenges and to shape a sustainable future for cities,” said Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer of the IUCN European Union Representative Office “It was inspiring to be part of this international exchange of experiences and to see growing awareness of the link between urban development and natural ecosystems here in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Europe. Demonstrating and sharing knowledge and best practices on urban ecological processes is an excellent way to improve the integration of biodiversity into urban planning”.
A rich variety of flora and fauna characterizes Israel. Yet Israel's biological diversity is endangered largely as a result of accelerated development and population growth. While about 20 percent of Israel's land area is preserved within declared nature reserves, most of these are located in the desert area. Only about three percent of the Mediterranean region is protected in nature reserves.
In the coming years, Israel is expected to become the most densely populated country in the Western world. The SPNI has recently published a report on Israel’s planning and building threats to open spaces, which presents a very disconcerting trend towards development pressures with negative environmental, social and economic consequences.
Despite the many threats to urban nature areas, arising from breaches in the urban planning policy, the SPNI is optimistic about a budding cooperation with the business sector, increased public involvement and the willingness of government agencies to establish a dialogue for proactive sustainable development. Cooperation on developing the URBIS concept for the city of Jerusalem contributes to this dialogue.
The residents of Jerusalem are concerned about the protection of urban wildlife sites. A prominent example is the so-called "Gazelle Valley" in the urban heartland of several West Jerusalem neighbourhoods. The valley is reserved as a natural zone for wildlife and recreation. It is best known for a herd of mountain gazelles, which survived the massive urban development of the area, which is one of the few remaining natural valleys in the city.
There is enormous potential for community urban wildlife sites to create win-win situations for people and the environment. The advantages are enormous not only in terms of biodiversity conservation but also for education, employment, research, health and the overall quality of life for urban citizens. This belief is at the heart of the URBIS concept.
For more information, please contact:
Chantal van Ham, IUCN European Programme Officer
Itamar Ben-David, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel