Open space can be a major lead structure for sustainable, environmentally friendly urban and regional development under conditions of shrinkage or growth. However, it is far from clear how resilient open-space systems should be designed in concrete terms and how they are to be underpinned by development measures. Microbiotopes of various sorts and structures are one option for the effective use of infill, urban-renewal, and brownfield sites to shape and supplement the structures of urban open space, which the extant building stock often makes it difficult to expand. Moreover, small biotopes can also perform valuable ecosystem services. For these reasons, it is necessary to investigate the contribution this type of open space can make to preserving and developing biological diversity in the urban space. Succession areas (a variant of microbiotopes) are valuable for biotope and species conservation, but the public often see them as neglected and derelict. Appropriate measures to upgrade them backed by public relations are needed.
A pilot project under the federal and state government "Socially Integrative City" programme was converting selected sites in the Dresden-Prohlis urban renewal district into microbiotopes with the participation of an interested public of all age groups. The aim was to upgrade derelict sites aesthetically and to create habitats for wild animals and plants, as well as non-school recreational facilities. The IOER project provided scientific backing for the planning, implementation, and maintenance of microbiotopes with local actors and assesses public perception; the purpose was to develop recommendations for the Dresden municipality and gain general insights into the planning and implementation of microbiotopes.
The project was expected to help answer the following questions: (1) How can focused open-space and biotope design for nature conservation contribute to ecological urban renewal and to enhancing the urban quality of life? (2) What obstacles arise and what facilitates implementation? (3) What can the conversion of vacant sites into microbiotopes in collaboration with interested residents contribute to improving the residential environment, to acceptance of wild nature in the city, and to social cohesion?
Observation of the processes involved, along with surveys of actors and local residents mapped out stage by stage the preparation and realization of such biotopes; what actors were involved and how they worked together; what obstacles arose; what the work achieved; and how the general public and local residents perceived the resulting microbiotopes. Experience in the Dresden-Prohlis project was expected to provide useful information on suitable measures and procedures, allowing recommendations to be elaborated for establishing microbiotopes with public participation.
Conclusions derived from project results
The creation of microbiotopes can promote urban biodiversity and at the same time help to upgrade the residential environment. By involving local residents in the design and maintenance of such areas, it is possible to enhance cohesion, creativity and a sense of responsibility of those involved while sensitizing them to the importance of nature in the city. The projects considered here can be regarded as "good practice examples" for an "unconventional" design of the residential environment, in which the needs of city dwellers for recreation areas and nature experience can be reconciled with the requirements of nature conservation (promotion of urban biodiversity). When establishing small biotopes, care should be taken to ensure that suitable uses are enabled for each type of biotope. In other words, the biotopes should be designed in such a way that they are readily accessible and close to residential areas. In the interests of nature conservation and to ensure a positive nature experience, the aim should be for a high diversity of plants (e.g. hedges made up of a range of wild bushes instead of monotonous coniferous hedges, beds of wild shrubs instead of imported exotic varieties, wildflower meadows instead of lawns) while the design and planting of the areas should allow for easy maintenance in the long term. Existing potentials for local participation in the design and care of biotopes should be activated. This requires information to be supplied on each project, a good level of organization with an agreed timetable and close collaboration through contacts to other residents.