Whenever someone finds out that I study zoology, the first thing they say is ‘Wow, that must be really interesting’. I agree with them, it is. The second thing they ask me is ‘are you going to work in a zoo?’. Unfortunately this time I have to disappoint them, most graduates of zoology don’t end up working in zoos. Just like a graduate in botany isn’t trained to grow plants in their back garden, a graduate of zoology is trained in much more than animal handling.
What a degree from the School of Natural Sciences teaches you is how to analyse a system, take it apart, examine the components and then rebuild it taking into account the interactions. And the interactions are the important aspect here. Ecology is the science of interactions and networks, and evolution is really just ecology over a longer period of time. And so graduates of the Natural Sciences tend to have a knack for ending up as city planners, addressing questions such as ‘how does the city function, what are its components and how do these interact?’ Perhaps most importantly: ‘how will this city evolve over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years and how do we want it to evolve?’.
With 35% of the Irish population living in urban centres (Ireland actually has one of the lowest urban/rural population ratios in the EU) city planning is becoming more and more important. By incorporating ideas like ecosystem services into city planning we can make a city a much more enjoyable, livable experience. Pollinators are important, an annual value of 153 billion speaks for itself. They’re easy to understand: with no insect visiting the flower, you don’t get an apple! But I think they’re just the tip of the ecosystem service iceberg, easy to see but just a small bit of the overall picture. There’s carbon sequestration and storage in parklands, flood mitigation and waste water treatment by appropriately placed wetlands, urban temperature regulation, traffic noise reduction, pest population control and they’re just some of the regulating services.
Some of the most expensive houses in New York City are the Brownstones located around Central Park. In the future, such recreational areas shouldn’t just be reserved for the privileged and rich but rather integrated into the cities themselves. Let’s have rooftop gardens connected with bridges, creating elevated green spaces. Let’s have a connected network of greenways so that people can cycle and walk to work in an environment that doesn’t frankly annoy you. College Green is ironically grey. Or how about Urban farms which can show kids where food actually comes from, not just a Tescos. Let’s have places people can go and simply get away from it all. It has been shown that Urban green infrastructure reduces stress and improves mental health. We have a pandemic of mental health issues in Ireland, especially among my generation, about which not much is being done. Having a network of green infrastructure that serves the people, communities and biodiversity of this the city not only makes economic sense, it creates a happier society.
However creating a city such as this requires an inter and transdisciplinary approach! It will require working closely across disciplines and Trinity has placed itself in a unique position with which to address this by establishing the Engineering, Energy and Environment Institute, E3. This sees the schools of Natural Science, Engineering and Computer Science coming together to teach and work in close collaboration to address some of society’s biggest needs. Integrating cultural, educational and provisional ecosystem services into civil engineering is the one I’m most excited about. It’s already happening in London, Singapore, Milan but with E3, Ireland could become a world leader in this area!
It’s not just about building a city that we could survive in, it’s about building a future we want to live in. The Trinity Campus Pollinator Plan could be the start of something great!
This week ZooSoc are taking over CampusBuzz! Today’s entry was the last in this series and was written by TCD’s ZooSoc President, Cian White (@). Cian is a fourth year Zoology student at TCD. He’s interested in ecology, evolution and how ecosystem services could best be integrated into society.