Urban green spaces are not just areas for plants and trees.  They are habitats and conservation sites for animals too, most commonly, insects.  While public opinion and appeal for insects isn’t always positive, insects are actually very beneficial to us.  They are pollinators, enemies of pests, and a major food source for other animals. Insects improve soil conditions for plants and are natural filters for otherwise contaminating materials.

Phuket Butterfly Garden

So how do we design biophilic spaces in a way that protects local insect populations? Originally from Hunter & Hunter (2008), the list below provides some considerations and recommendations for insect-aware site design in cities:

  • “People are more likely to support what they care about in the long term.”

Insect conservation areas need to appeal to the public long-term through aesthetically pleasing design and good maintenance practices.

  • “Ugly or unappreciated landscapes are not sustainable.”

Create beautiful sites that are also ecologically functional for targeted insect populations.
Teach visitors the function these sites serve. Greater knowledge and familiarity can change negative perceptions.

  • “Communities differ in their environmental preferences, depending upon local history, climate, landform and native ecosystems.”

Design areas that are considerate of community preferences as well as insect habitat requirements. This will help sites adhere to the communities  “sense of place” while meeting insect conservation goals.

  • “Ecological requirements for insect conservation may result in a design/management plan that creates a less preferred or non-preferred landscape, especially over the short term.”

Use creative site design to engage communities in education, art, and activities and help foster a sense of uniqueness, attachment, and beauty.  Careful plant selection and engineering designs can help alleviate unwanted insect species.

  • “We cannot fully predict the outcome of ecological designs.”

Sites should be monitored for insect composition and aesthetic perception. If change is needed, then adaptive management plans should be employed.

Phuket Butterfly Garden.Leaf Insect (1)

The next big question is: Where should insect conservation areas be built? Many urban areas have the potential to act as insect conversation sites. Private and community gardens, riparian buffers, public parks, brownfields, roadside vegetation, stormwater management areas, roadway easements and corridors, golf courses and green roofs are all examples of city areas that could connect, protect, and expand local insect populations.

Phuket Butterfly Garden.2

Successful development of these areas, however, must first begin with open collaboration between insect conservation biology practitioners, design practitioners, and social scientists. Unfortunately, no examples of collaborative work between these groups have yet to be found, although, many groups and programs are poised to allow dialogue across these professions. These include the North American Butterfly Association’s Butterfly Garden Certification Program, the Butterfly Conservation’s “Butterflies in Towns and Cities” Guide, and Cornell’s “The Lost Ladybug Project”.

Works Referenced
Hunter, M.C., Hunter, M.D. (2008). Designing for Conservation of Insects in the Built Environment. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 1, 189-196.

Image Credits
Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World


Mariah Gleason, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher

Mariah is a master’s candidate in Urban & Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.