In spaces that officials and investors consider wastelands ripe for new development, urban residents frequently see considerable value. These spaces become entangled with residents’ sense of place and community, offer respite from the heat and bustle of the city, and are perceived as providing habitat and refuges for biodiversity. If mobilization to care for and protect informal urban green places reflects intense social attachments to them, the contributions of these spaces to terrestrial ecosystems and to climate resilience are less obvious. After all, informal green spaces tend to cluster in (former) industrial spaces, along transportation infrastructure, and at the socioeconomic margins of the city. Far from being pristine, the ecosystems in these locations have been deeply and repeatedly fragmented, disturbed, and, often, contaminated. While a growing body of research demonstrates that informal urban green spaces can nonetheless contribute to sustainability (e.g., Albro 2019; Anderson & Minor 2021; Turo et al. 2021), many questions remain unanswered about whether and when they do so in practice. We propose to (1) pilot methods to evaluate the contributions of informal urban green spaces to biodiversity (SDG 15), social inclusion (SDG 11), and climate resilience (SDG 13); (2) assess the applicability of these methods across four informal green spaces in Montreal with diverse socio-ecological characteristics (Falaise St. Jacques, Technoparc, Champ des Possibles, Boisé Vimont); and (3) engage urban residents in collaborative learning and reflection in collaboration with community partners. The pilot study will lay the foundation for seeking external funding to pursue our longer term objectives of (1) evaluating the contributions of informal urban green spaces to biodiversity, social inclusion, and climate resilience; (2) analyzing relationships among various ecological, social, and climate buffering traits of these site; (3) raising awareness of the social as well as ecological values, of these spaces; and (4) identifying ways to enhance their contributions to socio-ecological sustainability.
In the first months of this study. the research team is focusing on stengthening and deepening community partnerships and collecting preliminary biodiversity and social data from a subset of the sites.
The pilot year of this study is supported by a Sustainable Transitions Team Research Initiative grant from the Office of Research and by the Canada Summer Jobs program through a partnership with UrbaNature.