The case of Toluca, Mexico: Integrating ecosystems services in urban planning

In the central-eastern region of Mexico, it is expected that by 2020 eighty-six percent of the population will live in cities. As the capital of the fifth largest Metropolitan Zone in Mexico, Toluca is working to improve livability in the face of this rapid urbanization, and nature is a key part of their approach.

The City Council of Toluca recently used a self-assessment tool for cities to value and monitor the progress of their biodiversity conservation efforts. The tool – the City Biodiversity Index – assesses the state of a city’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems and identifies key areas of opportunity.

The assessment showed that including natural reserves, green areas makes up 25 percent of land in Toluca. That averages out to 6.9 m2 of green area per inhabitant, a smaller number than the nine to fifteen m2 recommended by the World Health Organization.

At the same time, it showed that Toluca’s green spaces support the conservation of habitats for 136 bird species, 315 native plant species, 65 species of butterflies, 51 reptile species and 15 mammal species.

The creation of attractive and livable cities is one of the greatest challenges of urban planning, requiring a deep understanding of the ecological, social and economic dimensions of the rural-urban landscape. By investing in natural ecosystems, cities can decrease the cost of public water supply, improve air quality, generate recreational spaces, and prevent and control floods.

An ecosystem-based approach can also reduce vulnerability to climate change in urban and peri-urban communities, providing multiple environmental, social and economic benefits.

Toluca is using remote sensing data from the European Space Agency – Copernicus Project to map potentially permeable land areas. According to the estimates of the IBU, a 10 percent increase in vegetation cover can reduce local temperatures by up to 3 degrees.

Campinas, Belo Horizonte and Londrina in Brazil are also undertaking natural asset mapping processes as a part of ICLEI’s INTERACT-Bio project which aims to strengthen the capacity of city-regions to integrate biodiversity and nature-based solutions into land use, infrastructure and development planning.

The municipality of Toluca also dedicates an annual budget to protecting and conserving biodiversity. Currently, there are 18 integrated local projects that correspond to two action plans at the local level, the Municipal Climate Action Plan and the 2030 Environmental Development Program.

The importance of natural ecosystem planning was also showcased at the International Forum on Air Quality in Toluca this past June. Toluca Mayor Juan Rodolfo Sánchez Gómez said “it is necessary for people to understand that the environmental issue is severely sensitive, and it is necessary to act because what we do not have is time.” At the Forum the General Directorate of Environment in Toluca presented 10 concrete proposals to reduce air pollution rates including a focus on building green corridors.

Additionally, Toluca is one of 70+ cities that have joined CitiesWithNature – a platform for cities and regions to connect, learn, act and inspire one another to design, plan and work with nature.

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