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Urban wetlands: restoration or designed rehabilitation?

1 Department of Environmental Sciences, School of Environmental & Biological Sciences, Rutgers University. New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8554, USA
2 Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability, School of Environmental & Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8554, USA
3 Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Environmental & Biological Sciences, Rutgers University. New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8554, USA
4 USDA-NRCS. Somerset, NJ 08825-4148, USA
5 Biohabitats. Glen Ridge, NJ 07028, USA

The continuing loss of urban wetlands due to an expanding human population and urban development pressures makes restoration or creation of urban wetlands a high priority. However, urban wetland restorations are particularly challenging due to altered hydrologic patterns, a high proportion of impervious surface and stormwater runoff, degraded urban soils, historic contamination, and competitive pressure from non-native species. Urban wetland projects must also consider human-desired socio-economic benefits. We argue that using current wetland restoration approaches and existing regulatory “success” criteria, such as meeting restoration targets for vegetation structure based on reference sites in non-urban locations, will result in “failed” urban restorations. Using three wetland Case Studies in highly urbanized locations, we describe geophysical tools, stormwater management methods, and design approaches useful in addressing urban challenges and in supporting “successful” urban rehabilitation outcomes. We suggest that in human-dominated landscapes, the current paradigm of “restoration” to a previous state must shift to a paradigm of “rehabilitation”, which prioritizes wetland functions and values rather than vegetation structure in order to provide increased ecological benefits and much needed urban open space amenities.
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