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Chengfan Liang

ENVA 2001
Nov 18, 2018
Thematic Paper

Ecosystem-services wetland vegetation design in urban areas from

the perspective of Best Management Practices

This paper explores the ecosystem-services oriented landscape in urban areas and
focuses on the wetland vegetation design as one component of the urban ecosystem.
Urban ecosystems are different from natural ecosystems, and the concept of a novel
urban ecosystem (NUE) is introduced as the representation of an urban ecosystem.
Wetland design provides multiple functions and benefits including regulating services
and cultural ecosystem services, and the major contributor of these benefits are stheir
pecific vegetation elements. In this paper, two wetland vegetation design strategies
were selected as case study examples for analysis and comparison focusing on their
different design strategies within their different context and environmental conditions.

Key words
Urban ecosystem; BMPs; Landscape design; Wetland; Wetland vegetation design.

1 Introduction

2 Analysis and Findings

2-1 Urban ecosystem

2-2 Wetland

2-3 Vegetation design strategies

2-3-1 Case Study 1: Xiasha wetland vegetation system

2-3-2 Case Study 2: Qiaoyuan adaptative palettes

3 Discussion

3-1 Urban ecosystem-services within landscape design

3-2 BMPs: wetland vegetation design

4 Conclusion

5 References
1 Introduction
Urbanization has predominantly influenced the world’s landscape and its negative
effects reflect on the degradation of environment. This is reflected in changing climate
conditions, biodiversity loss and reduction in water and air quality. It will become
increasingly so in a long period and until approximately 2060 when people will
primarily live in urban areas when the global population is expected to stabilize at
around 70% urban (Ahern, 2016). Within the century of city, urban ecosystem is
discussed as an entire concept to support urban sustainability and resilience -
economically, socially and ecologically.
The concept of ecosystem services is focused for its benefits to both human well-
being and urban environment, and the awareness of its contribution to sustainable
development is increasing (Qi-zheng1, Gan-lin1, & Jian-guo1, 2015). How urban
ecosystem services can be maintained and improved has become one of the popular
topics in the field of urban landscape design and planning. In the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment (MA) report 2005, ecosystem services were defined as benefits
people obtain from ecosystems, and four categories of ecosystem services were
distinguished: supporting services, provisioning services, regulating services and
cultural services.
In natural ecosystems such as forests, the soft soil surface provides permeable mulch
for infiltrating runoff. However, the degradation of urban ecosystem results in the loss
of environmental services brought by the natural elements. The loss of regulating
service, for example, makes the damages of the water system. This reflects on the
flooding and water pollution (Nevue Ngan Associates & Sherwood Design Engineers,
2009). In order to avoid the problems coming with rainwater, it is necessary to organize
the green space and buildings and applied the stormwater Best Management Practices
(BMPs), which is a hydrological term describing water pollution control, as well as
other technologies incorporating landscape design and planning (Robert 1.1b 2018 ).
The concept of wetland is increasingly used in the field of landscape architecture, as
one of the stormwater BMPs. Wetland, combining the aquatic ecosystem and terrestrial
ecosystem, provides multiple ecosystem services, which is typically seen as runoff
attenuation, and removal of sediments and nutrients originating from various sources
(Daneshvar, 2017; Robert 1.2b 2018). Major wetland processes are found to be related
with vegetation and the microbial communities attached with vegetation. Many
emphasizes are put into the vegetation design when designing wetland. Typically, the
macrophyte can contribute to soil establishment, capturing water, attracting microbial
communities, and removing contamination (Knight,2000). Wetland create multiple
aesthetic values based on the organization and design of plants. Plants also help some
aquatic animals because they provide food and habitat.
Although there are many literatures studying urban ecosystem, BMPs, urban wetland,
and urban vegetation design respectively, few of literatures focuses on the ecosystem-
oriented wetland vegetation design. This paper is aimed at reviewing literatures
regarding the ecosystem-services oriented wetland landscape design, particularly
focusing on the ecosystem service related to BMPs, and giving discussions and
suggestions on the vegetation design strategies of two urban wetland projects.
2 Analysis and Findings
This section will give overall introduction to ecosystem-oriented landscape design,
urban wetland design strategies as one of the BMPs, and then give detailed information
on the vegetation design strategies, including vegetation system design and adaptive
palettes. The related literature will be analysed, and several case studies, covering
typical vegetation design strategies, will be followed.
2-1 Ecosystem-oriented landscape design
In urban environment, some differences of ecosystem services were found compared
to natural ecosystem services. Regulating services and cultural services predominantly
contribute to urban development. Examples as landscape infrastructures in green or
blue space provide various ecological functions such as temperature regulation, noise
reduction, air purification and runoff mitigation. Cultural services, such as recreation
for human provided by parks, urban forest and other forms of green space, can be seen
as the highest values for people living in urban areas. Urban ecosystem provides unique
cultural services (Erik Gómez-Baggethun et al., 2013)
The ecosystem-services oriented landscape design is based on the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), and it highlighted the functional roles of landscape
elements (Assessment, 2005). Here the concept of Novel Urban Ecosystem is focused
as a representative of systematic design strategy, and the components related to BMPs
will be highlighted.
The novel urban ecosystems (NUE) is described as “one way to understand, through
classification, how design strategies differ in terms of biotic diversity, the level of
management, and initial considerations for urban landscape design and management.”
The NUE, based on the level and type of urban biodiversity and species composition,
and the extent of human intervention and management, classifies landscape into four
different components: 1) Remnant / restored native landscape; 2) Abandoned / ruderal
landscape; 3) Horticultural / formal and 4) Green infrastructure-related landscape
(Ahern, 2016). The remnant/restored native landscape and green infrastructure-related
landscape turned out to be most related with BMPs because it is the regulation service
which is highlighted by the BMPs that the two types of landscape can mainly provide.
The remnant/restored native landscape consist of urban forest patches, marshes,
riparian corridors, restored woodlands, wetlands, and, similarly in typology, the green
infrastructure-related landscape incorporate created wetlands, bioswales, greenroofs,
bluebelts, many green infrastructure practices.
In the NUE typology, the origin, appearance, utility and ecosystem services are
focused. It gives a guide for ecosystem-services oriented landscape design, which tells
designers and planners what each of the component of ecosystem is and how the

Table1: Typology of Novel Urban Ecosystems / Landscape: Definition, Examples, Principal Ecosystem
/ Landscape Services, and Design and Management Considerations (from Ahern, 2016)

componential design should be considered. Detailed information covering all

ecosystem components is shown by the Table 1.
2-2 Urban wetland design
Wetland, as a typical component of urban ecosystem but also a representative of
BMPs, provides multiple ecosystem-oriented functions. The first primary function that
wetlands provide is the sponge effect. Wetland discharge part of the runoff by capturing
and infiltrating rainwater. It works as the sponge and slow down the flow speed of
runoff, functioning as buffer. The second important role that wetland play in
environment is the center for absorbing contamination. Some of contaminants are
adsorbed by plants, which is a form of phytoremediation, and some will precipitate into
the bottom soil. Thirdly, wetland has the greatest abundance and diversity of species.,
it is the most productive ecosystem (Robert 1.2b 2018).
In the urban environment, impermeable surface becomes the challenges of wetland
design and management both technically and financially. Wetland design usually starts
from the remnant landscape, green infrastructure, and restored industrial land
(Fanghong, 2010; Caiyuan, 2010 ), as the environmental conditions provide suitable
basis for growing vegetation and create the semi-aquatic landscape. However, this will
be confronted with the challenges of urban

development. Thus, the urban wetland design

generally considered the concept of replacement

mitigation, meaning the compensation of the loss
of wetland through development pressure
(Robert, 2003). Urban wetland can be designed in Figure 1 Mix-use wetland chain (from
Robert, 2003)
a variety of forms. Single cells and series cells are
commonly seen, and serpentine cells or parallel cells also perform well. Instead of
combining functions in one single cell, wetland that specializes in different functions
can be built and linked hydrologically. Typically, a chain of wetlands are built for
specific purposes, such as the chain of sedimentation-removal-biodiversity. This chain
provide multiple functions for handling water issues but also attract wildlife in the end
of the chain (Robert 3.2a 2018).
The most effective way to manage wetland is to manage the environment around the
wetland. Hydrology is supported by climate and the geomorphology of landscape, and
because it influences the geomorphology, soil and other ecological elements in wetland,
it is important to focus on the hydrology of wetland. The location of the watershed can
also affect the major ecological function of the wetland. Long-term decisions on
maintaining wetland should not only concern water but also the vegetation and soils.
Plants integrate with wetland through time, but water only reflects recent changes in
weather. Soil, seen as the base of water and vegetation, will be more progressive for the
existence of wetland (Robert 2.2d 2018).
2-3 Vegetation design strategies

Pollution is being removed by not only the vegetation planted with the wetland
environment but also the microbial community attached to the vegetation. Physical
filtration of the runoff will cause the sedimentation, and plants can slow down this
process (Robert 2.2d 2018). Besides, different wetland vegetation can bring animals
habitat and food, and then attract different animals, creating habitat diversity (Robert,
From the perspective of plant selection, there are four basic factors which should be
considered: Planting zones, growth forms, growth efficiencies and environmental
determinants. Wetland vegetation can be planted in six zones in relation to normal water
level: open water, deep marsh, shallow marsh, wet meadow, shrub wetland, forested
wetland. Based on the planting zones, five major types of vegetation are available for
use: free floating plant, floating anchored plant, submerged plant, emergent plant and
woody plant. Anticipated environment of wetland should be understood, including
sediments, water tolerance, seasonality, longevity, soil characteristics, hardiness, and
hydrology (Robert, 2003).
The concept of BMPs exists in a variety of forms in wetland vegetation design, and
its strategies differ wildly through different regions and nations. Here two examples
representing different vegetation design strategies are followed to illustrate how the
BMPs is achieved by the vegetation design in urban wetland.
2-3-1 Xiasha wetland vegetation system
The Xiasha wetland shows a planting system combining three different strategies:
surface-planted floating islands, subsurface-planted marshland, and free-floating
planted pond. The site is located in Dongguan, a city with the population density of
2747 people / square kilometer
in 2006. The city is experiencing
a rapid urbanization, seen as the
increase of residential areas and
the reduction of natural patches.
(Caiyuan, 2010). This wetland
vegetation design is aimed at
creating a wetland system which
remove the pollutant but also deal (Figure 2 Top view of Xiasha Wetland park
with the hypertrophication of the water.
The system combines a variety of plant species including aquatic plants and
terrestrial plants in order to form a diverse and resilient ecosystem. 5 typical aquatic
plants are: Axorus calamus, Colocasia antiquorum Schotte et Endl, Iris kamepferi cv.
Blue heaven, and Iris laevigata. 5 typical terrestrial plants include: Albizia falcataria
(L.) Fosberg, Bischofia javanica, Acacia confuse Merr, Sapium sebiferum, Ficus
microcarpa var. pusillifolia. In the concept of subsurface-planted marshland, Axorus
calamus is mainly used as the removal of pollutant. The subsurface stone material is
combined to slow down the flowing water, making greater opportunities for the mixture
of water and the rootzone of Axorus calamus. It turned out that this subsurface planted
marshland removed 87.13% CODCr, 97.33% TN, and 77.29% TP (Caiyuan, 2010).
The surface-planted floating islands incorporate the technology of soil-less
cultivation. It creates the island which can be planted with semi-aquatic and terrestrial
plants. By doing this, the removal of COD, TN, and TP can be achieved with the
contribution of semi-aquatic and terrestrial plants. It functions with the free-floating
plants around the pond as the aquatic component of the removal of pollutants.
2-3-2 Qiaoyuan adaptative palettes
Another typical urban wetland vegetation design related to BMPs is of Qiaoyuan
wetland park. The concept is named as“adaptive palettes”,meaning the creation of
diverse ecosystem by the configuration of plant communities with the design of
environment such as geomorphology water system, and transportation network.
As one of the oldest districts in Tianjin, the landscape is highly fragmented and
polluted. The proposed redevelopment of the coastal wetland landscape has the
capability of bringing the ecosystem services, typically functioning as treatment and
stormwater control, back to the
site. The shallow groundwater
table and slight changes in
topography translate into
highly varied soil properties,
allowing a variety of plant
communities to thrive. The
low site elevation and shallow
Figure 3 Qiaoyuan wetland park master plan (from Kongjian,
groundwater table creates a 2009)
myriad of ecosystems that will evolve and adapt depending on the variations in
elevation, pH, and moisture (Kongjian, 2009).
Based on the site geomorphology, the concept of the adaptive palettes mainly divided
the adaptive vegetation communities into three different forms: upland bubbles, pond
bubbles and buffer bubbles. There are seven upland bubbles, located in the northeast of
the wetland, functioning as the restoration of brownfield. The vegetation in upland
bubbles is consisted of the native ground cover and shrub communities, bringing the
site natural processing which can restore the contaminated soil. Two buffer bubbles are
located in the transitional zones of upland bubbles and pond bubbles. They are designed
as planted swales for capturing extra water coming from the two side. Water-tolerant
species and native species are the major plant community. Free floating and floating
anchored species are the major plant communities in pond bubbles. The 12 pond
bubbles are the major vegetation communities of the wetland, incorporating a variety
of functions including rainwater collection, pollutant removal, and aquatic habitat
(Shengju, 2017).
3 Discussion
3-1 Urban ecosystem-services landscape design
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provides a framework for considering the
design strategies in relation to ecosystem services. A representative of the concept of
urban ecosystem is the novel urban ecosystems. But what I really agreed with the author
is that “NUE need to be understood at multiple scales — from the microscopic to the
metro-region.” At broader scale, the ecosystem services depend on the interaction
between different ecosystem components that operate at broader scales. Likewise, it is
also important to clarify how each landscape element can function as a well-rounded
ecosystem component.
Based on the NUE typology, the urban wetland is classified into remnant landscape,
and the constructed wetland is classified into the green-infrastructure related landscape.
The wetland is usually a landscape patch in a smaller scale, and the study on its
ecosystem services is certainly meaningful for planning and constructing urban
ecosystem. Typically, from the perspective of BMPs, the urban wetland mainly
incorporates the function of pollutant removal and stormwater management, which is
defined as the regulating service in a urban ecosystem. Based on its function of creating
habitat for wildlife and recreational or culture-related amenities for human, the wetland
also provides cultural services in urban areas.
3-2 BMPs: wetland vegetation design
The findings on wetland design include the spatial considerations on its shape,
organization, and location. They indicate that an ecosystem-services oriented wetland
design should consider how the ability of stormwater control and pollutant removal can
be maximized by appropriate design. Typically, the wetland chain connects functions
from stormwater sedimentation to pollutant removal and finally into the habitat creation,
showing an effective ecosystem-services oriented strategy.
Two constructed wetland parks are reviewed as the examples of urban ecosystem-
oriented vegetation design. The two strategies all mainly used native plant species to
create adaptive vegetation communities. Geomorphology such as island, slopes, and
swales, is used to create different forms of spaces, contributes to the regulating services
brought by plants, but also creates multiple landscape elements such as the floating
island and the upland bubbles. They all well represents the combination of the
ecosystem services brought by natural processing and the cultural services which is
unique in urban areas.
4 Conclusion
Although the concept of urban ecosystem is well-know in the field of landscape
architecture, the related studies specific in the smaller scale or specific in each
component of the urban ecosystem turned out to be very few. This paper picked the
wetland design and, from the aspect of BMPs, explored two ecosystem-services
oriented vegetation design strategies: vegetation system design and adaptive palettes.
This is only a small part of the ecosystem-services oriented landscape, further study can
be made on other landscape components such as urban riparian forest and community
rain gardens. This can be achieved by setting up a guidebook on ecosystem component
design for landscape architect.

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