Author Archives: marcog

National Reconciliation Week 2020

By Natasha Ward

This year we celebrate National Reconciliation Week in a very different way than we could have ever predicted. From our homes, we mourn the loss of lives, families, culture and history. But we also work hard to look into the future. Whilst this may be like a random week chosen during the year, it has a very important historical meaning.

We always begin this week on the 27th of May. This is the date of the 1967 referendum, after which Indigenous Australians were counted in the Australian census. This week ends on the 3rd of June, the anniversary of the Mabo Decision, where is was acknowledged that this land was not Terra Nullius, and should never been called such, which lead to the Native Title Act. These dates are some of the more significant milestones in the reconciliation journey of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“In This Together”, the theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week, speaks loudly for all Australians during this tough time. We may be physically distant, but for many we have made a conscious effort to reach out, regardless of our race or cultures, to show that we will support each other no matter how rough times get ahead. I hope that this kinship continues beyond these next months, and this strong community continues to grow and build, so that we may work towards a stronger unified people, who recognise the importance of reconciliation for all Australians.

By striving for reconciliation and acknowledgement of our Traditional Owners nobody loses their history, but we will gain a rich culture and history that goes back 60,000+ years. We have far to go, but we can do it, as long as we are all #InThisTogether.

Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?

By Hugh Stanford

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Image: John Englart / CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to a growing global interconnectedness, the world is a highly uncertain place where the daily lives of individuals are increasingly susceptible to the happenings half a world away. To find examples of this, one only has to look at Australia’s current run through 2020, where ‘unprecedented’ climate change fuelled bushfires have given way to the ‘unprecedented’ realities of a COVID world. In these times, where the notion of ‘normality’ starts to appear as a novelty, the way in which we govern ourselves and the places we live needs to be adaptive in the face of uncertainty. The existing theory on resilience and sustainability advocate for an adaptive governance approach, where our governance systems are designed not to resist inevitable shocks, but to utilise them to shift towards a better future.

In a new book chapter titled “Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?”, ICON Science PhD candidate Hugh Stanford investigates how well Australian biodiversity land-use planning policy has gone about incorporating adaptive thinking into key policy documents. The chapter uses an analytical framework to assess land-use planning policies in Melbourne and Sydney, determining how well they adopt adaptive governance elements. The chapter concludes that, while some policy measures provide for adaptability in the face of uncertainty, more needs to be done to better protect Australia’s unique and valuable biodiversity from threats of an unpredictable future.

Reference

Stanford H., Bush J. (2020) Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?. In: Roggema R., Roggema A. (eds) Smart and Sustainable Cities and Buildings. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37635-2_14

What difference do protected areas make on vegetation extent and condition?

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Logging road in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Roshan Sharma.

Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on Earth and underpins the health of our planet. It provides important ecosystem services like food and fibre that are the basis of human existence. However, exploitative human activities on Earth have created an unprecedented breakdown of the environment, causing global biodiversity loss at an unprecedented rate and scale. Land cover change, mainly the conversion of vegetation – the state and processes that support biodiversity – is by far the most important driver of biodiversity loss. This conversion is led by the expansion of croplands, urban areas, infrastructure, logging, mining and fire (Curtis et al., 2018). 

The establishment of protected areas (PAs) is one of the most important and globally applicable approaches to reducing these conversions. PAs are clearly defined geographical areas that limit human activities in prescribed areas. Since the campaign to expand PAs in the World’s Park Congress in 1982, nations have strived to increase the extent of land under protection. The global PAs have grown to cover more than 28.4 million square kilometres or around 13 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (UNEP-WDPA, 2019). Further, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has called to increase the protected area state to 17 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (Aichi Target 11). 

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With the vast areas of land already under protection and calls to increase it, are PAs making a difference? PAs are known to be disproportionately established on marginal lands with least pressure of conversion and places unimportant for biodiversity. This means that PAs may not be having the intended impact – a reason many have criticised them. To understand the difference a PA is making, the outcome after the PA has been implemented needs to be compared with what would have happened without the PA in place (referred to as the counterfactual scenario). Estimating the counterfactual is the crux of finding such a difference or impact. However, estimating counterfactuals can be difficult due to the non-random allocation of PA. Evaluations that fail to accurately estimate the counterfactuals without considering non-random allocation of PAs and other spatial processes will cause bias and result in invalid estimates of impact.

This issue intrigued ICON Science PhD candidate Roshan Sharma, who started searching for literature for impact evaluation studies on PAs. He found that the literature is largely scattered, varied, and in many cases contradicting regarding how much difference PAs were making. There was a clear research gap that needed to be addressed.

Roshan decided to conduct a systematic review to address this research gap. Systematic reviews can be a great approach to synthesising evidence and generating higher quality evidence than individual studies. If done correctly, these reviews can allow researchers to come closer to understanding the true effect of an intervention. 

In an effort to increase the transparency and reproducibility of the review, Roshan developed a protocol with the help of ICON Science peers Ascelin Gordon and Marco Gutierrez, and fellow researchers from the University of Helsinki, the University of Western Australia, the University of Cambridge, and James Cook University. The protocol follows the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence guidelines and ROSES (RepOrting standards for Systematic Evidence Synthesis) reporting framework. Following the standard guidelines and frameworks ensures that the review covers all relevant literature, implements a dual consistency checking in screening and data extraction to remove reviewer bias, has a quality appraisal of all selected studies, and synthesizes only high-quality studies. Publishing the protocol ensures the results of the review will be published regardless of the findings, effectively removing publication bias. The protocol has been recently published in Environmental Evidence and can be found here

Now that the protocol has been published, Roshan and the team will be moving forward to undertake the review. They hope the results of the review will be useful for the larger scientific community and policymakers. There is an ongoing debate on whether the successor of Aichi Target 11 will be on setting higher area targets for PAs or emphasize more on impact measures. Thus, they hope that their findings will be relevant to the development of new post-2020 CBD targets. 

References

Curtis PG, Slay CM, Harris NL, Tyukavina A, Hansen MC. Classifying drivers of forest loss. Science. 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445

Sharma, R., Eklund, J., Barnes, M. et al. The impact of terrestrial protected areas on vegetation extent and condition: a systematic review protocol. Environ Evid 9, 8 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-020-00191-y

UNDEP-WDPA. The world database on protected areas. 2019.

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

by Freya Thomas

A few members of ICON Science recently collaborated with Dr Zoe Myers from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre in the School of Design at the University of Western Australia by entering a design challenge set by The City of Melbourne.

Our design was titled:

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

Our winning design sought to create a design for new and improved opportunities for immersive nature experiences that focus on the use of native vegetation to provide a sensory connection to nature in cities. Our design specifically focused on producing diverse sensory experiences, including previously under-emphasised and under-explored facets of sensory connection, such as touch and smell.

Our Haptic Pathway imagined urban greening along an inner-city residential street in Melbourne that was:

  • Inclusive – space and pathways to empower all residents, although particularly those who struggle to move through standard urban spaces and have reduced capacity to engage through sight and sound, to feel comfortable moving through a public space through everyday routines and through all seasons.
  • Civic – a design on a ‘regular’ urban street to invite people of all abilities, perceptions and ages to engage with biodiversity through incidental experiences.
  • Sensorial – a space with diverse and layered multi-sensory natural elements. A design that actively works with senses of touch and smell instead of just sight.
  • Ecological – we incorporated indigenous and native plants to provide sensorial experience but also biodiversity benefits by encouraging ecological interactions with birds and insects, highlighting the local ecology of the area.

Design elements we incorporated into Haptic Pathways include:

  • Colour blocking in central road verges specifically aimed at being striking to visually impaired people. The ecological value of this intervention is through mass plantings of floral resources for pollinators. Plants such as Wahlengergia species could be used which provide resources for native bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
  • Small aromatic, colour and sound blocks along footpath verges were designed particularly to smell and touch on rainy days. Aromatic plant species chosen, like Prostanthera species, also provide habitat for bird species.
  • Accessible sensory spaces designed to be used by wheelchairs, walking frames and prams, where people would be surrounded by colourful, textual and aromatic plants such as Chocolate lillies and fluffy Ptilotus species flowers.
  • Braille graffiti walls highlighting amazing local biodiversity where the ecological information about species is written in braille at an accessible height.

We included a comprehensive plant list of indigenous and Australian species using categories such as colour, trees and shrubs for rainy days, other aromatic species, small shrubs and ground cover textual plants to touch, plant for aural experiences, plants for temporally changing plantings.

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Image: Zoe Myers

It was an excellent collaborative and creative experience and we hope our design will inspire creative, accessible and ecologically minded plantings in urban areas.

Turning suburbs into mini office hubs as an opportunity to cut commute times post-COVID

Cities around the world are planning for more people to be walking and cycling to work instead of catching public transport, once lockdown restrictions are lifted. Measures that are being implemented in cities like New York, Paris and Milan include closing streets to cars and putting more bike lanes in their streets.

Thami Croeser (ICON Science) suggests another alternative for widely spread cities like Melbourne, where people travel longer distances to get to their workplaces. His idea is to turn suburbs into mini office hubs, with vacant offices and shopfronts used as co-working spaces or satellite offices for large companies. This approach would allow more people to walk or cycle to work while cutting long commute times and continuing to practice social distancing if needed.

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Image: Mat Connolley / CC BY-SA

In an analysis using census and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning data, Thami mapped the areas where potential office hubs could be located and identified homes in a 5-minute walking distance from those places. He found that up to 97 per cent Melburnians live within walking or cycling distance of a shopping strip and potential office hub.

The analysis and potential benefits of Thami’s suggestion are discussed this week at Domain.