Nature is in cities?
Isn't "urban nature" an oxymoron? People live in cities! Nature is "in the country!"
Cities abound with wild nature! In
fact, a large percentage of Earth's biodiversity
urban or urbanizing areas, which are often adjacent to
areas. It is more accurate to say that cities are
Cities are embedded in the natural
environment - the geology, watershed, climate and biodiversity -
whichever place on Earth where they devel0p.
Moreover, as of 2005, more people live in urban than in rural areas for the first time in Earth's history. Urban nature is critical for connecting half of the world's people with the natural environment. Connecting city dwellers with their local nature and watersheds is critical not only for building support for the conservation of faraway places, but also for the ecological restoration and stewardship of biodiversity at home.
Of course, more people means greater potential for
continued destruction of our local natural environment. But if we
we interact with nature, then we can turn people into a positive force
for ecological restoration. Conservation of local urban biodiversity,
unique in its own right, is as essential and paramount to global
ecosystem conservation, sustainability, and human survival on the
planet as is conservation of the Amazon rainforest or the Alaskan
Having nature in the city is part of addressing urban environmental justice. Many urban people cannot afford to go out of town to experience nature and/or they have grown up without the benefit of experiencing wild nature. San Francisco has wonderful natural areas all over town. Our challenge is to tell people about local nature and help them obtain resources to experience it. Given the chance and the tools, many of the City's communities could connect with their nature.
Urban areas are the diverse, complex, intensely developed and decisive milieu in which we humans are confronted with the global challenge of how to interact more harmoniously, locally, with the rest of the natural world. Urban ecological restoration and stewardship is critical to urban and global ecological sustainability.
One fundamental problem behind all efforts to restore nature is the 17th Century philosophy of Cartesian dualism - the dichotomous separation of humans from nature. The Cartesian dichotomy or paradigm has reinforced other ancient western cultural expressions of nature domination by placing humans above nature, as if we were not interconnected nor interdependent. For centuries, western society has controlled and dominated nature and become more and more disconnected from it. The human-nature dualism has proven to be one of the most important modern causes of human degradation of the biosphere, and it has produced many cascading effects right here in the watersheds of the City of San Francisco.
Nature in the City explicitly seeks to cause a paradigm shift away from this dichotomous relationship of humans with the rest of nature - to heal our physical and psychological disconnection from nature. Urban ecological conservation is the ideal cultural milieu in which to force this confrontation with our current relationship with nature. In the City, many of us humans are living in close proximity to our fellow members of the universe. We have to share our living space, our watershed. How do we consider the wildflowers emerging each winter down the street in our local natural area? What species of bird is that calling this morning? Why on earth did that coyote decide to take up residence in the City?
If we are going to survive on this planet, we must learn how to restore a more harmonious and respectful relationship with local nature, urban and rural. We cannot "just let nature take its course" and expect it to recover from our massive urban disturbance. The current human-ecological question is not whether or do we interact with nature. The question is " how do we interact with nature? "
Humans are of nature. Have we ever not interacted with nature? Our challenge is to change how we interact with nature - NOT "to leave nature alone" - including changing our definition of nature. Can we be truly connected to nature if our only "natural" experiences are annual visits to Yosemite and/or bimonthly day-trips to Point Reyes, interspersed with daily lives in front of TV, computers, and steering wheels? In order to reconnect with nature in a harmonious and sustainable way, we must learn that we can interact positively with nature in the city where we live. Ecological sustainability depends upon the restoration of our actual physical relationship with the rest of the natural world.
How many San Franciscans know that the name of the first native wildflower to bloom each year by New Year's Eve is footsteps of spring? People deserve to be presented with the opportunity to heal their collective disconnection from nature. Local people need the tools to learn about what nature we have and what they can do to help protect and restore it. They need to know about their local watersheds so that they can benefit from the pleasure that comes with participating with their neighbors in community-based ecological stewardship. San Francisco's wildlands need people, and people need their local nature to improve the quality of urban life and to experience and become aware of their interconnectedness with nature and each other.