Document Details

Urban Ecological Planning Guide for Santa Clara Valley

Steve Hagerty, Erica Spotswood, Katie McKnight, Robin Grossinger | June 20, 2019
Summary

Like most cities, the urbanized region of Santa Clara Valley is a challenging place for plants and animals to make a home. Largely covered with pavement, crisscrossed by major freeways, and fragmented by a variety of land uses, the urban landscape creates barriers to the movement of wildlife and hostile environments for plants. While a small set of species tolerant of cities (such as pigeons and raccoons) can tolerate these difficult conditions, our cities have the potential to support much greater biodiversity. Urban greening projects are already occurring piecemeal across urban landscapes. Harnessing this momentum can help these efforts build greater benefits for biodiversity and for people. 

Urban greening projects may take many forms, such as rain gardens beside roadways; bike trails with vegetated medians; planted and expanded riparian vegetation along stream corridors; and landscaping in corporate campuses, municipal parks and private gardens. While often driven by a narrow set of goals such as stormwater capture, public safety, shade, or beautification, these green spaces can be designed and coordinated to support enhanced biodiversity as well. Rain gardens can support native wetland plants, bike trail medians can support ribbons of wildflowers for native insects, street trees can shade pedestrians and provide acorns for birds and squirrels, and stream revegetation or daylighting projects can provide a reflective place for people and strengthen corridors for regional species movement. While each of these types of projects provides benefits, strategically designing these features to reflect ecologically-minded planning, and where possible, coordinating across the landscape, can provide value for humans and nature alike. 

This document provides some of the scientific foundation needed to guide planning for urban biodiversity in the Santa Clara Valley region, grounded in an understanding of landscape history, urban ecology and local setting. It can be used to envision the ecological potential for individual urban greening projects, and to guide their siting, design and implementation. It also can be used to guide coordination of projects across the landscape, with the cooperation of a group of stakeholders (such as multiple agencies, cities and counties). Users of this report may include a wide range of entities, such as local nonprofits, public agencies, city planners, and applicants to the Open Space Authority’s Urban Open Space Grant Program. 

This document is not intended to inform all aspects of site-specific planning. Much guidance on these topics is already available, and we reference some of those resources here. Rather, it is intended as a companion to existing materials, to inform a broader vision of how such site-scale projects can fit into the larger fabric of the Santa Clara Valley landscape. This document also recommends appropriate habitats and lists of their associated plants for the region, as well as general guidance on practical considerations related to project implementation. 

Product Description

Like most cities, the urbanized region of Santa Clara Valley is a challenging place for plants and animals to make a home. Largely covered with pavement, crisscrossed by major freeways, and fragmented by a variety of land uses, the urban landscape creates barriers to the movement of wildlife and hostile environments for plants. While a small set of species tolerant of cities (such as pigeons and raccoons) can tolerate these difficult conditions, our cities have the potential to support much greater biodiversity. Urban greening projects are already occurring piecemeal across urban landscapes. Harnessing this momentum can help these efforts build greater benefits for biodiversity and for people. 

Urban greening projects may take many forms, such as rain gardens beside roadways; bike trails with vegetated medians; planted and expanded riparian vegetation along stream corridors; and landscaping in corporate campuses, municipal parks and private gardens. While often driven by a narrow set of goals such as stormwater capture, public safety, shade, or beautification, these green spaces can be designed and coordinated to support enhanced biodiversity as well. Rain gardens can support native wetland plants, bike trail medians can support ribbons of wildflowers for native insects, street trees can shade pedestrians and provide acorns for birds and squirrels, and stream revegetation or daylighting projects can provide a reflective place for people and strengthen corridors for regional species movement. While each of these types of projects provides benefits, strategically designing these features to reflect ecologically-minded planning, and where possible, coordinating across the landscape, can provide value for humans and nature alike. 

This document provides some of the scientific foundation needed to guide planning for urban biodiversity in the Santa Clara Valley region, grounded in an understanding of landscape history, urban ecology and local setting. It can be used to envision the ecological potential for individual urban greening projects, and to guide their siting, design and implementation. It also can be used to guide coordination of projects across the landscape, with the cooperation of a group of stakeholders (such as multiple agencies, cities and counties). Users of this report may include a wide range of entities, such as local nonprofits, public agencies, city planners, and applicants to the Open Space Authority’s Urban Open Space Grant Program. 

This document is not intended to inform all aspects of site-specific planning. Much guidance on these topics is already available, and we reference some of those resources here. Rather, it is intended as a companion to existing materials, to inform a broader vision of how such site-scale projects can fit into the larger fabric of the Santa Clara Valley landscape. This document also recommends appropriate habitats and lists of their associated plants for the region, as well as general guidance on practical considerations related to project implementation. 

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UrbanEcologicalPlanningGuide_Final_062119

Keywords:

climate change, ecosystem management, land use, planning and management, stormwater, urban water conservation