Biodiversity has a key role in placemaking; companies must think big

Placemaking must support both people and nature for stronger communities

May 19, 2023

Whether it’s a favorite picnic spot in a park, a preferred riverside walking route or a coffee shop’s leafy courtyard, we all have our go-to urban places where we enjoy spending time.

What makes many of these spaces so popular is their connection to nature. These green oases that support local flora and fauna are an important factor in our quality of life – and also in the health and resilience of our towns and cities as they face the effects of climate change.

In many high-rise, traffic-filled urban areas, they’re in short supply. Fortunately, that’s something the real estate industry is increasingly realizing amid growing awareness of the social and environmental benefits that improving local biodiversity can deliver.

Alongside improved air quality, reduced heat island effects and higher carbon absorption, a growing body of research indicates that nature is key to people’s mental and physical health. The impact of natural light, fresh air and greenery can help to reduce stress levels and blood pressure – not to mention providing a psychological boost.

With two-thirds of the world projected to live in cities by 2050, placemaking initiatives that prioritize biodiversity are only going to become more vital to build and maintain healthy and resilient communities.

This is particularly important for deprived communities which often have less access to green space. Addressing this imbalance across multiple smaller projects will ultimately help to create more equitable societies.

So, what does this look like in practice? In Singapore, the 51-storey Capita Spring building features more than 80,000 plants from over 130 different species, and includes a Green Oasis, an expansive spiraling botanical promenade open to the public.

The Trudo Vertical Forest in the Dutch city of Eindhoven followed the world-famous precedent set by Milan’s Bosco Verticale but with added social value as the first social housing vertical forest in the world. There are 135 trees of various species and 10,000 shrubs and plants across the facade of the 19-storey building.

And in the UK, Manchester recently launched both Mayfield Park – the first new green space in the city center in a century – and Castlefield Viaduct, which aims to improve biodiversity and bring communities together with a free-to-access park on a disused railway line.

Regulations coming into play

While growing public awareness around climate change and social inequity is supporting greater biodiversity in real estate, regulation is already driving a move towards building more nature-friendly communities.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal ended with a landmark deal between 188 countries to guide global action on nature this decade, including on biodiversity loss and restoring ecosystems. This incorporated the 30x30 target to protect and conserve at least 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030. It’s touted by many to be as significant as the Paris agreement in 2015 to limit global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, the global Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which aims to enable organisations to report and act on evolving nature-related risks, is gaining momentum. A sister framework to the widely used Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), one of the key recommendations from COP15 was to also make the TNFD mandatory. 

Building owners are also increasingly subject to nature-specific guidelines in construction. All new buildings in France’s commercial zones must already partially cover roofs with plants or solar panels, while in the UK, all developments granted planning permission will need to have a minimum 10% gain in biodiversity from November 2023.

The makings of successful schemes

As countries and cities develop policies, and local authorities and organizations implement initiatives around boosting biodiversity, a few key areas will define the difference between successful and ineffective schemes.

Firstly, it’s not enough just to provide green spaces; a holistic approach to ESG will add the most value. As JLL’s Responsible Real Estate: Social Value report highlights, the environmental and social aspects should be considered in tandem to restore the link between people and nature and create real impact.

Secondly, sharing ideas and learning from one another is crucial but each initiative must be customized for the local environment to withstand different temperatures and weather conditions but also support local cultures and align with local habits to maximize use. To do this, developers must ensure that communities are fully consulted to maximize the social and environmental value of biodiversity-related initiatives.

Finally, we need to make cities work for all species if we want to tackle the global effects of mass urbanization. Pollinators, for example, are crucial to food security and measures to support their natural habitats are urgently needed.

Right now, a lack of clear metrics to enable quantifiable and measurable evaluation, is a sticking point, especially amid the growing focus on tightening reporting regulations and the demand for proof of progress towards sustainability commitments. Further collaboration and data in this area will help improve future metrics.

What’s important now is that real estate actively takes steps towards building in nature-based solutions – from green walls and rooftops to rewilding projects – and does so in a way that helps to create healthier and more sustainable communities that can better withstand the social and environmental challenges facing them.

For more information about how JLL can help you to incorporate biodiversity within your real estate contact our sustainability experts.

Contributor: Amanda Skeldon, Climate and Nature Director, JLL