Integrating biodiversity as a non-human stakeholder within urban development.

‚ÄúGreater focus on the need of the people who use cities must be a key goal for the future‚ÄĚ

Jan Gehl [1, p6].

This quote from Jan Gehl, one of the most influential urban thinkers of the last 50 years, is a criticism to planning strategies that favour transport and human mobility while disregarding the ‚Äėplace‚Äô experience of urban citizens. The quote appears in his book ‚ÄúCities for People‚ÄĚ where he asks designers to work at a human-scale and to design for human experiences‚Ķ But are cities for people?

The problem with this phrasing lies in what is implied: cities are [just] for people. It implies that humans are the only living being with a right to the city. It ignores the ‚Äėother‚Äô dwellers of our cities: animals, plants, natural processes and habitats – the non-human.

Non-human urban dwellers are also entities we share cities with. They have their own agency and play and active role in shaping our cities into what they are. As such, they are also end-users that built environment professionals should design for.

Recognising non-human urban dwellers

In urbanism and design, nature is often viewed and valued for its critical role enhancing human experiences. Trees and parks are important features that deliver more enjoyable urban experiences. Unfortunately, this view frames nature, and all the different non-humans, as a commodity that is here to provide us, humans, with a service. It is here for humans to enjoy, manage and control.

This framing also disregards biodiversity’s role as a stakeholder.

Our paper, published recently in Landscape and Urban Planning, explores potential roles that designers consciously or unconsciously assign to biodiversity [2]. Inspired by grammatical terms of ‚Äėpassive‚Äô and ‚Äėactive‚Äô voice, we identified three roles that built environment professionals assign to biodiversity and draw a parallel between these roles and the participatory ladder.

Participatory Continuum for non-humans, it shows the parallel between the participatory ladder (by Arnstein 1969) and the passive, incidental and active roles designers’ assign to biodiversity. Image sourced from Hernandez-Santin et al 2023.

The journey to design for biodiversity starts by recognising the three potential roles assigned to biodiversity. Then, we can aim to design processes that are inclusive to biodiversity by taking critical action to integrate biodiversity’s views as an active stakeholder.

Specifically, we suggest that designers should:

‚ÄúGreater focus on the need of the people who use cities must be a key goal for the future‚ÄĚ Jan Gehl [1, p6].
  • Reframe species, natural processes, and habitats as ‚Äėnon-human users of place‚Äô.
  • Treat ‚Äėnon-human users‚Äô as relevant stakeholders to design for.
  • Articulate the needs and priorities for ‚Äėnon-human users‚Äô.
  • Aim to include ‚Äėnon-human users‚Äô as active stakeholders by explicitly considering biodiversity‚Äôs needs within the design process.

We call this, biodiversity inclusive design.

Check out our paper for more information!


  1. Gehl, J., B.B. Svarre, and J. Risom, Cities for people. Planning News, 2011. 37(4): p. 6-8.
  2. Hernandez-Santin, C., et al., Integrating biodiversity as a non-human stakeholder within urban development. Landscape and Urban Planning, accepted.

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