Historically, the “environmental movement” has focused on forests, reefs, rivers
and other ecosystems that can and have existed separately from human beings.
But why not consider cities?
If an ecosystem is considered a unit — a biological community and its physical
environment, then an urban ecosystem is, simply put, people in a city. But
urban ecosystems aren’t simple. While humans are the dominant species that
control the physical structure of the urban ecosystem, they are not the only
species. And urban ecosystems aren’t all natural. They are dominated by humanbuilt
environments with buildings and roads and water and power supply
systems, built mostly on pavement and other hard surfaces that don’t absorb
rainfall. Cities were built to meet human needs, often by controlling nature
and sheltering humans from the natural world. Even our parks, open spaces,
lakes, streams and other somewhat “natural” features in cities often have been
changed signi.cantly from their natural states. They have been landscaped,
repopulated with non-native species, dredged, graded and recon.gured. Urban
ecosystems support commerce, culture, education, industry and science. They
also generate wealth, waste and consumption of resources. The effects on the
environment are profound, both in urban areas and in surrounding ecosystems.
Urban ecosystems bring beauty to the city, but their importance goes well
beyond aesthetics. They also protect public health and deliver “ecosystem
services” that would otherwise need to be provided by expensive humanengineered
systems. For example, according to a 1999 study by American Forests,
Seattle’s urban forest — our street trees as well as our forested parks, greenbelts
and natural areas — provides $42 million worth of absorbed air pollution and
filtered storm water per year!
The world, and the ecosystems it supports, is more fragile than we once thought.
But we as individuals can take positive steps to preserve our urban ecosystems.
Personal choices, however small, can in.uence your family, your neighbor, your
book club, your co-workers and your government representatives. These choices
can even in.uence the decisions of large corporations.
This guide will explore those relationships and how individual actions can make a
We’ve presented a list of personal choices — “101 Eco-Actions” — that can
have a positive impact on Seattle’s urban ecosystem. These actions have been
carefully selected for their potential positive impacts on our urban ecosystem.
They all apply to Seattle and are tied to significant local resources that provide
information, education and support.
Eco-actions described in this section are not necessarily listed in order of
importance, but are assigned a benefit of between three and five stars. Since all
of the eco-actions listed here are considered important, each merits at least three