Urban ecological infrastructure: An inclusive concept for the non-built urban environment

Daniel L. Childers, Paul Bois, Hilairy E. Hartnett, Timon McPhearson, Geneviève S. Metson, Christopher A. Sanchez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


It is likely that half of the urban areas that will exist in 2050 have not yet been designed and built. This provides tremendous opportunities for enhancing urban sustainability, and using "nature in cities" is critical to more resilient solutions to urban challenges. Terms for "urban nature" include Green Infrastructure (GI), Green-Blue Infrastructure (GBI), Urban Green Space (UGS), and Nature-Based Solutions (NBS). These terms, and the concepts they represent, are incomplete because they tend to reduce the importance of non-terrestrial ecological features in cities. We argue that the concept of Urban Ecological Infrastructure (UEI), which came from a 2013 forum held in Beijing and from several subsequent 2017 publications, is a more inclusive alternative. In this paper we refine the 2013 definition of UEI and link the concept more directly to urban ecosystem services. In our refined definition, UEI comprises all parts of a city that support ecological structures and functions, as well as the ecosystem services provided by UEI that directly affect human outcomes and wellbeing. UEI often includes aspects of the built environment, and we discuss examples of this "hybrid infrastructure". We distinguish terrestrial, aquatic, and wetland UEI because each type provides different ecosystem services. We present several examples of both "accidental" UEI and UEI that was explicitly designed and managed, with an emphasis on wetland UEI because these ecotonal ecosystems are uniquely both terrestrial and aquatic. We show how both accidental and planned UEI produces unexpected ecosystem services, which justifies recognizing and maintaining both purposeful and serendipitous types of UEI in cities. Finally, we posit that by incorporating both "ecological" and "infrastructure", UEI also helps to bridge urban scientists and urban practitioners in a more transdisciplinary partnership to build more resilient and sustainable cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number385
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Ecosystem services
  • Hybrid infrastructure
  • Urban Ecological Infrastructure
  • Urban resilience
  • Urban sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Ecology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geology
  • Atmospheric Science


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