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Shifts in ecosystem services in deprived urban areas: understanding people’s responses and consequences for well-being

Marthe L. Derkzen, Environmental Geography Group, Department of Earth Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Harini Nagendra, School of Development, Azim Premji University
Astrid J. A. Van Teeffelen, Environmental Geography Group, Department of Earth Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Anusha Purushotham, Karuna Trust
Peter H. Verburg, Environmental Geography Group, Department of Earth Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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Urban commons are under pressure. City development has led to the encroachment and ecological degradation of urban open space. Although there is growing insight that urban ecosystems need to be protected, there is hardly any attention for the consequences (of both pressures and protection efforts) for vulnerable human population groups. We aim to understand how urban development affects the well-being of the urban poor, through shifts in ecosystem services (ES) and people’s responses to these shifts. We performed household interviews and group mapping sessions in seven urban lake communities in Bangalore, India. Changes at Bangalore’s lakes can be summarized by three trends: privatization followed by conversion, pollution followed by degradation, and restoration followed by gentrification. Over time, this resulted in a shift in the types of ES supplied and demanded, the nature of use, and de facto governance: from provisioning, communal and public; to cultural, individual, and private. Lake dwellers responded by finding (other) sources of income, accepting lower quality or less accessible ES, and/or completely stopping the use of certain ES. The consequences of ecosystem change for people’s well-being differ depending on a household’s ability to adapt and on individual circumstances, land tenure and financial capital in particular. To guarantee a future for Bangalore’s lakes, restoration seems the only viable option. Although beautiful lake parks may be a solution for the well-off and not-too-poor, leaving the very poor without options to adapt to the new circumstances puts them at risk of becoming even more marginalized. We show that ecosystem degradation and restoration alike can impact the well-being of the urban poor. People’s experiences allowed us to couple ecosystem change to well-being through ES and adaptation strategies. Hence, we revealed multiple cause-effect relations. Understanding these relations contributes to sustainable urban development for people from all layers of society.

Key words

ecosystem restoration; environmental justice; gentrification; green infrastructure; participatory mapping; trade-offs; urban commons

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087