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Global Roundtable


  • Born to be Wild (Sort of)

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    September 17, 2014

    Paul Downton

    “Civilisation; it’s all about knives and forks.” —David Byrne

    As a child I was not nature-deprived. I lived in small towns and villages in rural Somerset in England, and enjoyed nature study in primary school but I know that I’ve never seen or experienced anything truly wild. I never will, and as a civilised ape I’m really grateful for that.

    Left to our own devices most of us couldn’t survive in the wilderness, not even in what passes for wilderness in its degraded form. Yet we need the wild, we evolved there, and as we can’t experience it for real anymore we make do with controlled, vicarious ‘wildness’, most of which involves getting scared in some way—roller-coasters, horror movies, going face-to-face with tigers in a zoo…

    For those with nihilistic tendencies it isn’t hard to argue that there is no longer any such thing as wilderness. If you define wilderness as natural environment untainted by human intervention and manipulation, then there isn’t any because the damaging reach of industrial civilisation is literally global—DDT contaminates Antarctic penguins and the PCB contamination of oceanic particulate matter in Antarctic waters is similar to the level of contamination in the North Sea .

    Real forests are wild. They are places where one can both be lost and wish to escape from. But are ‘urban forests’ truly wild? For all the talk of ‘wild’, the wildlife experience is no longer defined by lived experience, because the definition of ‘wild’ has escaped into the thickets of a wholly urban civilisation. ‘Wild’ is behind bars, ‘wild’ is on a screen, ‘wild’ is not something that most of the human race ever experiences any more. ‘Wild’ is vicarious. It’s seductive and dangerous—but not in the way that wild used to be, it’s dangerous because it’s … Continue Reading

  • We Should Look at Urban Nature More Through the Eyes of Children 

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    September 14, 2014

    Ana Faggi

    Environmental perception by people is complex and dynamic. Individuals are active agents in their perceptions of nature—not passive receivers of information—while the environment is a global unity on which environmental processes within cities are based. Cognitive, interpretive and evaluative components are all incorporated into the perceptual processes of individuals.

    The world we perceive is a world created by ourselves through our experiences, which reflects our expectations, needs and goals. Gibson, in his environmental perception theory, asserted that objects are perceived according to the meaning, action and behaviour involved and not according to the physical characteristics they possess.

    All of this influences how we plan, design and manage our cities.

    Many Nature of Cities posts call the attention to the relevance of green and blue infrastructure in densely built-up areas, representing a win-win way to conciliate urbanization with the protection of ecosystems services. The success of reconnecting people to their nearby nature will hang principally on people´s values.

    Riverscapes are attractive places not only because water is one of the most important aesthetic elements of the landscape, but because of the many native plants and animals that occupy the shore. As Wilson asserted in his Biophilia theory, we all have an inborn affinity for other forms of life. At the same time, since the beginning of the last century architects, designers, planners, psychologists and researchers interested in environmental behaviour have consistently reported the presence of water as one of the most important and attractive visual elements of a natural or built landscape. The attraction exerted by the rivers and their banks are explained by the “Hydro- and Biophilia” theories (Wilson (1984) .

    This human preference is ancient. Settlements have always been located near water because of the resources that water offer for life. Waterscapes attract tourists, may be distinctive urban icons and have cultural … Continue Reading

  • A Natural Offset for the Rio 2016 Olympic Park

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    September 10, 2014

    Pierre-André Martin

    Brazilian landscapes suffer rapid and repetitive transformations through intense and successive periods of exploitation—for example, the Brazilwood that gave the country its name, sugar cane, coffee, cattle, soy or urbanization and its infrastructural needs. Such degradation processes provoke losses of nature and biodiversity, which are hardly reversible, but restoration initiatives had already been introduced and occur in rural and urban landscapes at the intersection of landscape architecture, landscape planning, landscape ecology and ecological restoration.

    The Rio 2016 Olympic Park, on the city’s waterfront, is converting its degraded landfill into an ecological restoration project. This is not an isolated initiative but is part of a larger ecological and landscape strategy for lagoon borders and ecological corridors for the city of Rio de Janeiro.

    EMBYÁ Paisagens & Ecossistemas landscape studio was commissioned to detail and pursue AECOM’s preliminary landscape architectural study for the Olympic path and the park at the lagoon’s edge. The project for the border of the lagoon had evolved from the preliminary study, due to the environmental requirements of creating an ecological restoration.

    The Rio 2016 Olympic Park is inserted in the Macro Watershed of the Jacarepaguá  district (commonly called Barra da Tijuca) and planned in 1969 by Lucio Costa, who was also an urban planner who worked on the city of Brasilia. The district’s composition is influenced by rational urbanism, its traffic structures are bold and its uses observe monofunctional zoning categories.

    Lucio Costa’s plan has suffered social transformations since its design and, as a result of market pressure, has been transformed into a district of gated communities punctuated by commercial structures that mostly have a “Miami” residential identity. In forty years it has been transformed from a human desert that only had only beaches, swamps, sand dunes, shrubs and thickets, into a district with more than 300,000 inhabitants, a … Continue Reading

  • Inviting You to Collaborate with Nature to Transform Your City

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    September 7, 2014

    Janice Astbury

    In the many current discussions about how to make cities more resilient, the potential roles of citizens and urban nature are largely overlooked. There are exceptions, including Krasny and Tidball’s work on civic ecology and that of a number of people associated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (cf. Andersson, Barthel, & Ahrné, 2007; Barthel, 2006; Bendt, Barthel, & Colding, 2013; Elmqvist et al., 2004; Ernstson, Barthel, & Andersson, 2010; Krasny & Tidball, 2012; Tidball & Krasny, 2007). However, the level of interest seems disproportionately small given the tremendous opportunities for citizens to steward nature in cities—or to ‘collaborate’ with nature, as Ernstson and colleagues have inspired me to think of it:

    In order to build resilience and face uncertainty and change means to harness the interactions between stakeholders. This requires an involvement of society in its broadest sense towards a change of culture that makes ‘‘collaboration’’ between society and the environment (rather than mere ‘‘interaction’’) the central focus of attention.
    Ernstson, Leeuw, et al., 2010, p. 538

    Along with citizens and nature, urban spaces are the third player in this transition waiting to happen. I share Timon McPhearson’s belief in the potential of vacant land in cities (TNOC Encore July 2014). My interest also extends to other ‘loose spaces’ (Franck & Stevens, 2007). These include areas that are not necessarily empty but are in transition, such as post-industrial sites, alleyways that are no longer used for service provision, waterways along which freight has ceased to move and even official greenspaces that do not currently meet the needs of … Continue Reading

  • Stewarding Memories: Caring for People, Trees, and Land 

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    September 3, 2014

    Lindsay Campbell

    “We will never forget.”  After September 11 (2001), this claim was made in countless political speeches, memorial eulogies, bumper stickers, carved stones, tattoos, and tee-shirts.

    But we do forget.  Time rolls on.  We age.  New people are born who have no lived experience of the tragic occurrences of that day.  So too, does the landscape change.  New buildings rise, trees grow, roads are built.  We exist in an on-going cycle of disturbance and recovery.  As such, our lives and our landscapes are constantly shifting in new and different ways.

    So what happens to the places that were purposively set-aside as spaces of remembrance?  How do they change or persist?  What role do they play in the lives of their creators, their stewards, and their users as we move further in time away from a particular event?  These are the questions that we are exploring as we re-visit sites associated with the Living Memorials Project.  These sites are community-based memorials that use nature (from single tree plantings, to park dedications, to forest restoration projects, to labyrinths, to community gardens) to commemorate September 11, 2001.

    Living memorials exist all across the country, but are concentrated in the areas surrounding the crash sites: the New York City metropolitan area, the Washington, D.C.-Virginia area, and near Shanksville, PA.  Many of them were created in the immediate days and months following September 11, on much quicker timelines than the formal, state-led built memorials that are now dedicated and open to the public at these sites.  The Living Memorials Project was funded by the USDA Forest Service to provide community grants to stewardship groups and conduct research to understand changes in the use of the landscape post-September 11.  In many cases, the creation and maintenance of these sites was led by civic groups—from informal groups … Continue Reading

  • Untapping the Potential of Science-Government Partnerships to Benefit Urban Nature 

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    August 31, 2014

    Chris Ives

    Promoting urban nature is a significant challenge for local governments. As demonstrated by so many posts on this blog, it is evident that it consists of much more than simply protecting areas of high biodiversity from human activity; it is about enhancing and even creating novel forms of ‘nature’ to promote the environmental and social sustainability of cities for decades to come. Such a task is unparalleled in its complexity and requires new knowledge to be achieved. This challenge calls for a close and effective interaction between science and governance. However, all too often, the potential for collaboration between local government and academic researchers to co-produce knowledge and develop policy and programs that benefit urban nature remains unexplored. In this post, we outline some of the lessons learnt from our individual experiences working in research and government in Melbourne and provide a series of tips to help others harness the potential of local government-science partnerships.

    The need for science to be applied through practice is not a new concept in the academic literature on biodiversity and conservation. Much has been written on the science-policy interface and the need for ‘actionable science’ (see McNie, 2007; Palmer, 2012). Indeed, without good research, practice can be ineffective, inappropriate and unjustified; without an understanding of practice, research can be irrelevant. However, despite the obvious benefits of interaction, the potential of collaboration between local government and academic researchers remains unexplored for many reasons. Working in an urban setting throws up many challenges to collaboration such as the requirement to interact with multiple stakeholders and communities with differing values and needs and gathering data within a variety of land tenures. However, the potential benefits of collaboration are significant.

    Three models for conducting research

    Broadly, there are three common ways that research … Continue Reading