Valuing ecological services and community design : implications for the private market and local government




Hegg, Daniel Alexander

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Presently, conventional development does not adequately incorporate functional ecosystems into development design. Largely due to the intangible nature of most ecosystem services, functional ecosystems have not been directly identified as valuable and are, therefore, often ignored in economic decision frameworks. This has resulted in the degradation and loss of functional ecosystems and ecosystem services as the value and the associated costs of lost ecosystem services are not accounted for. The valuation of ecosystem services is a means by which ecological costs and values can be adequately represented in urban planning and decision-making processes. However, using current valuation methods, ecosystems are continuously being valued for their aggregated ecosystem service values and not for the value of their ability to resist/recover from disturbances and continue proving goods and services over time. The Swan Lake watershed case study was utilized to show that the estimated ecosystem service values are not risk adjusted to reflect the functional condition of an ecosystem. Specifically, based upon the current valuation estimates alone and without reference to the functional condition, the estimated ecosystem service values for the Swan Lake study suggest that the watershed is in a good (proper) functional condition, when in-fact, the overall health of the watershed is in a poor condition of health and its resilience to disturbance is low. Furthermore, the estimated values do not reflect the loss of ecosystem services due to past urbanization and agricultural activities. Because the estimated values do not provide the critical information decision makers require, the valuation of the functional condition of ecosystems is recommended. Due to the complexity involved in valuing the functional condition of an ecosystem, the integration of ecosystem valuation methods and ecosystem evaluation assessments is proposed and explored. In the context of post-urban planning and development, the proposed approach has immediate application as it would provide effective financial arguments for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems as well as facilitate more informed decisions in managing existing urban ecosystems for their function rather than ecosystem services. In a pre-development application, there exists a opportunity wherein an ecosystem’s functional condition could be valued as part of an integrated development design and planning process (IDP). The British Pacific Properties (BPP) Rodgers Creek development is used as a case study to describe how the proposed approach could be incorporated into the integrated design and planning (IDP) process. By clarifying the ecological tradeoffs between various land-use/development scenarios using a sieve analysis, the proposed approach could help a design team render more informed judgments regarding the functional condition of ecosystems and the value of the ecosystem services. The proposed approach also contributes to a much needed business case, which demonstrates that when urban developments are planned using an IDP process, where the landscape informs the design, there can be greater financial reward to the developer, community and municipality



ecosystem valuation, ecosystem health, urban planning and design, ecosystem services