Brighton & Hove – first ‘Urban Biosphere City’?

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The Clayoquot Sound Reserve, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Canada - Photo: Mark Hobson

The Clayoquot Sound Reserve, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Canada - Photo: Mark Hobson

For centuries places such as the Amazon rainforest and the Mojave Desert have been recognised as being among the most unique and exceptional places on Earth; now it appears that Brighton and Hove hopes to join their ranks as it contends to become the world’s first Urban Biosphere Reserve.

Together they form an international network of sites attempting to reconcile the problems of conserving biodiversity and biological resources with sustainable use of natural resources.

Currently all Biosphere Reserves are rural, with more than 500 recognised areas around the world. UNESCO has now realised the need to establish the same ecological principles in urban areas and there has been much debate internationally about what a ‘biosphere city’ might look like.

Currently all Biosphere Reserves are rural, with more than 500 recognised areas around the world. UNESCO has now realised the need to establish the same ecological
principles in urban areas’

Most cities owe a huge ‘ecological debt’ to their rural surroundings which can only be sustained because cities cover a relatively small proportion of the globe. But cities are growing drastically: in 2007 over half the world’s population became city dwellers.

Denise Cobb, deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, hopes the UN will award the title in recognition of Brighton and Hove’s burgeoning green credentials. She said of the issue: “Making cities less environmentally harmful – or even beneficial – is one of our most pressing needs.”

Sceptics have argued that the title would be a hollow achievement, believing that far more work is needed in order to make the city’s environment one of international recognition.

Keith Taylor, convener of the city’s Green Party, said: “The aspiration to become the UK’s first urban biosphere city is fantastic… but we have a history in this city of chasing titles. I wonder whether we actually need to be called an urban biosphere city when what’s really wanted is action.”

However, a city council spokesman stressed the bid was a long-term ambition and acknowledged more work is needed on the city’s green credentials, saying: “This is a big ambition and would take a long time, maybe into the mid 2020s. We’re not making any grand claims about the city as it is – though we do have some very good examples of best practice, such as many eco-homes and growth in cycling.”

There will be a conference on the matter on October the 30th and 31st at Bellerby’s College. Organised by the University of Brighton and the City Council, and supported by the Environment Agency, the conference will aim to help local decision makers take biodiversity into account with regard to city planning, while addressing what the UNESCO classification would mean to Brighton and Hove, as well as contributing to the international debate about the future role of ecology in cities.

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