San Francisco Estuary Institute. 2023. Ecology for Health: Design Guidance for Fostering Human Health and Biodiversity in Cities. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. SFEI Contribution No. 1130. San Francisco Estuary Institute: Richmond, CA.

Ecology for HealthGreenspaces provide crucial nature contact for urban residents. When we have greater access and exposure to nature in the places where we live, work, learn, and play, we tend to experience better human health outcomes. Urban parks, trees, and vegetation encourage physical activity, reduce anxiety and depression, support social cohesion by providing gathering spaces, and are associated with reduced mortality and improved overall health.

While traditionally biodiversity conservation has focused on large open spaces, cities can also play a key role in supporting biodiversity. Many of the world’s major cities developed in biodiversity hotspots due to historical settlement patterns dependent on natural resources. Thus cities contain vital remnant habitat as well as globally important native and endangered species that rely on urban greenspaces.

As urbanization increases, cities around the world are developing and implementing plans to better integrate nature within urban settings. Many of these plans emphasize the importance of urban greening in providing multiple, substantial benefits such as biodiversity conservation, stormwater management, human health and well-being improvements, climate resilience, and more. However not all greenspaces are created equal in their biodiversity support and human health provision.

The goal of this document is to provide science-based guidance for designing urban spaces that foster both human health and urban biodiversity. Anyone making decisions about land use and urban design in cities across the world can benefit from the recommendations in this document (including community organizations, local non-profits, local leaders and policy makers, city planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, gardeners/horticulturists/arborists, residents, and landowners). However, the majority of the document is specifically aimed at supporting designers and planners who work at the planning, site, and detailed design scales such as landscape architects, civil engineers, and urban designers. As noted in more detail in the limitations section below, this document synthesizes global research and design strategies while strongly informed by our experience as scientists and designers in California’s San Francisco Bay Area.