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Envisioning a Great Green City

Nature needs cities. Cities need nature.

Imagine cities that are not apart from nature—but a part of nature.

We can aspire to cities where people and nature both thrive; truly flourishing communities where green space is seen not as a luxury – but critical urban infrastructure that effectively addresses some of cities’ biggest challenges.

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By 2050, two of every three people on Earth will live in a city. This human migration from rural to urban lives is unprecedented and is projected to result in the rapid urbanization of a land area the size of France, driving habitat loss as well as the degradation of lands that we rely on to protect our drinking water and grow our food. Poorly planned urban growth could even interfere with cities’ best defense against a changing climate—the natural systems that sequester and mitigate greenhouse gases and help communities adapt to climate change.

Rather than embracing nature, however, we’ve built our cities and towns to work against it. A shift to natural solutions can help cities address myriad challenges.

"The great green city of the future is ecologically and economically resilient; it’s made up of healthy, livable neighborhoods where the benefits of nature are available to all people."

Pascal Mittermaier

Global Managing Director, Cities, The Nature Conservancy

Brooklyn Bridge Park looking towards Manhattan. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Brooklyn Bridge Park looking towards Manhattan. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Louisville, Kentucky. Photo © Randy Olsen/The Nature Conservancy
Louisville, Kentucky. Photo © Randy Olsen/The Nature Conservancy
An employee waters the rooftop garden on the rooftop garden on the Tencent Binhai towers in Shenzhen, China. Photo © Theodore Kaye
An employee waters the rooftop garden on the rooftop garden on the Tencent Binhai towers in Shenzhen, China. Photo © Theodore Kaye
Aerial view of the Atibaina Reservoir near the town of Nazare Paulista, Brazil. Photo ©Scott Warren
Aerial view of the Atibaina Reservoir near the town of Nazare Paulista, Brazil. Photo ©Scott Warren
Birmingham, Alabama. Photo © The Nature Conservancy
Birmingham, Alabama. Photo © The Nature Conservancy

A Great Green City is Healthy

Climate change will make cities hotter and less livable, exacerbating respiratory and cardiac disease. Already, millions die each year when heat waves strike urban centers, and suffer the health effects of polluted air.

But trees, when planted in the right places, can cool urban streets and reduce disease by filtering the air. From Phoenix, Arizona to Louisville, Kentucky, The Nature Conservancy is planting trees to make cities more livable and urban life healthier.

Rob McDonald

Lead Scientist for Global Cities, The Nature Conservancy

"The scientific evidence is increasingly clear: interacting with nature is associated with multiple health benefits. Smart cities are planning for nature as a crucial type of infrastructure to provide for their citizens."


A Great Green City is Resilient

Cities must manage millions of gallons of rainwater, running off rooftops and across acres of concrete that make up a modern city. This water can cause serious pollution issues, and contribute to dangerous flooding during storms, which are growing ever more frequent and intense.

From Shenzhen, China to Washington, DC to Houston, Texas, The Nature Conservancy is developing new financing mechanisms and incentives for city leaders to consider natural urban water solutions.

"Urban green spaces can mitigate heat and air pollution, manage storm water and protect against climate impacts while enhancing city life. Nature can help create thriving, resilient cities—that’s a huge return on investment."

Laura Huffman

Texas Regional Director and North America Cities Committee Chair, The Nature Conservancy


A Great Green City is Equitable

Cities aren’t the problem—they, and the people that bring them to life, can be the solution to many of the environmental challenges we face. Well-planned cities that incorporate nature can bring countless benefits to the world as a whole. But too often, urban plans have historically failed to consider the diversity of needs of the people in all city neighborhoods, resulting in inequity and displacement.

Natural solutions should benefit all neighborhoods, and The Nature Conservancy is working alongside urban residents and listening to their perspectives to ensure that our efforts to make cities greener result in healthier, more livable communities for everyone.

Meera Bhat

North America Cities Network Director, The Nature Conservancy

"We work at the intersection of conservation and the needs of underresourced communities. At the heart of our approach is our emphasis on building relationships in communities, our focus on diversity, and our aim to measure the social impact of our projects."


A Great Green City is Secure

The billions of people who live in cities rely on the natural world for food and water, and without careful planning, this demand could make urban life untenable. More than 1 in 4 global cities could face water scarcity by 2050, if we don’t take action now. And 4 out of 5 of the world’s largest cities could improve their water quality with investment in nature. From Sao Paulo, Brazil to Nairobi, Kenya, The Nature Conservancy is working with local people to better manage the watersheds that provide urban residents and businesses with drinking water, improving access while creating additional benefits including habitat protection and job creation.

"By investing in and maintaining the land around our water sources, we can create a more secure future for cities. By realizing that nature is vital water infrastructure, we start down the path of giving nature the credit it deserves."

Andrea Erickson

Managing Director, Water Security, The Nature Conservancy

For more information, please contact us at cities@tnc.org.


Resources

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(4.72 MB PDF)

Envisioning a Great Green City

View The Nature Conservancy’s vision for a sustainable urban century.

More information

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(4.51 MB PDF)

Field Guide to Conservation in Cities in North America

This guide, in partnership with the Center for Whole Communities, provides guidance to conservation leaders in launching new or expanding existing urban conservation programs and partnerships.

More information

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(4.69 MB PDF)

Funding Trees for Health

An analysis by The Nature Conservancy on finance and policy actions to enable tree planting for public health.

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(41.2 MB PDF)

Beyond The Source

New report analyzes 4,000 cities to demonstrate the health, climate and biodiversity benefits of source water protection.

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(29.5 MB PDF)

Planting Healthy Air

The report shows that even a conservative global investment in urban trees can save tens of thousands of lives.

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(16.9 MB PDF)

Urban Water Blueprint

The Urban Water Blueprint report analyzes the state of water in cities around the world and offers cost-effective solutions to improve water quality.

More information