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October 6, 2016


Birds and Buildings: Case Study for How Our Built Environment Can Better Support Urban Wildlife

In collaboration with The Animal Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association

This Symposium event departed from earlier events by focusing on the impacts of the built environment on non-human animals, specifically focusing on the impacts of buildings and birds and how the built environment can better support urban wildlife. Owners of infrastructure and building assets are in a continual process of maintaining and repairing them, sometimes at a level of renovation that approaches new construction, and replacing them with new construction. All such efforts deal with constraints and current policy considerations so that the pipelines for various capital programs represent opportunities to bring in addition policy concerns to inform the planning and design of assets and their maintenance, repair and replacement. This event was intended to begin an initial collective discussion to support a Town+Gown research question entitled Investigations into the Relation of Built Environment Design and Natural Phenomena.  

The relationship of the built environment to all natural phenomena is complex especially as our landscapes are becoming increasingly urbanized.  Historically, our built environment and the processes that create and maintain them do not consider the ecological needs of non-human animals. Among the many examples of interactions between animals and the built environment, one increasing in public awareness is that of migrating birds often colliding with glass structures, during day-time stop-overs, having been lured into dangerous environments by night-time lights. In addition, certain birds that were once migratory but are now resident are attracted to certain assets that can conflict with public health and safety concerns and policies.  

Animals find themselves in previously thought unlikely places, such as above ground utility infrastructure elements and golf courses. This event, focused on the interactions between birds and glass buildings, exploring how asset owners can take advantage of planning and design, supported by the science of animals, to improve outcomes for both humans and animals. The conversation began with an academic presentation about the interactions of birds with glass buildings during seasonal migrations, as a foundation to begin to establish methodologies to quantify the long-term costs imposed by current human action as reified in the built environment and the long-term benefits that can accrue to making changes in the built environment practices and policies to support all animal life. If it is possible to value and quantify the social benefits of expanding tree canopies and green infrastructure in an urban environment, which have associated costs, it is thought that it should be possible to perform similar calculations with respect to increasing urban biodiversity with changes in built environment practices and policies. The remainder of the conversation consisted of foundational discussions about the interactions in various urban contexts, such as parks, environmental reclamation and private commercial construction projects, within public planning constraints. Click here to see a video of the event.