What are the unifying elements of an urban ecology of the Global South and geographic south? Are they different than those in the north?

Pippin Anderson, Cape Town.  Olga Barbosa, Valdivia.  Timothy Bonebrake, Hong Kong.  Bharat Dahiya, Bangkok.  Ana Faggi, Buenos Aires.  Sabina Caula, Ibarra, Ecuador.  Shuaib Lwasa, Kampala.  Fadi Hamdan, Beirut.  Yvonne Lynch, Melbourne.  Colin Meurk, Christchurch.  Sue Parnell, Cape Town.  Steward Pickett, Poughkeepsie.  Luis Sandoval, San José.  Seth Schindler, Sheffield.  Tan Puay Yok, Singapore. 
14 August 2016

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.
Every month we feature a Global Roundtable in which a group of people respond to a specific question in The Nature of Cities.
List of writers
Hover over a name to see an excerpt of their response…click on the name to see their full response.
Pippin Anderson, Cape Town We should be training young urban ecologists in the Global South to recognize that their voices belong in the conversation.
Olga Barbosa, Valdivia We need to take the best of the existing knowledge from the Global North and incorporate (and value) the singularities of the Global South.
Tim Bonebrake, Hong Kong Research gaps in urban ecology likely hinder adequate management of nature in cities of the Global South… but everyone likes butterflies.
Sabina Caula, Ibarra, Ecuador The homogenization of urban greening leaves sensitive birds outside urban borders both in cities North and South.
Bharat Dahiya, Bangkok The diversity of “Southern” perspectives draws on the cultural diversity of the “South”, which  is rooted in the ecological diversity of this geographical collective.
Ana Faggi, Buenos Aires The homogenization of urban greening leaves sensitive birds outside urban borders both in cities North and South.
Shuaib Lwasa, Kampala Foundational differences unify urban ecologies within the Global South more than between the Global North and Global South.
Fadi Hamdan, Beirut In the age of globalisation, urban governance is the main factor affecting urban ecology and urbanites’ ability to build just, resilient, and sustainable cities.
Yvonne Lynch, Melbourne Responding to rapid growth trajectories whilst protecting our ecosystems will provide a new paradigm for urban ecology in the South.
Colin Meurk, Lincoln Dramatic differences between continental and oceanic ecosystems, such as in New Zealand, lead to a need for very different management approaches than in the North.
Susan Parnell, Cape Town One characteristic of the southern city is that built and natural systems have not been entirely severed and that nature works for the city dweller.
Steward Pickett, Poughkeepsie Urban ecology works well in the Global North and South, but only when the assumptions of its empirical and conceptual models are exposed.
Luis Sandoval, San José The dichotomy between the development of natural areas and urban areas is one of the unifying elements of urban ecology in the Global South.
Seth Shindler, Sheffield Formal infrastructure systems in Southern cities are incomplete and exclusive compared to those of Northern cities.
Tan Puay Yok, Singapore Urban ecological principles should be the key means to unifying our understanding of the urban ecology of and in the Global South.
David Maddox

About the Writer:
David Maddox

David Maddox (PhD) likes cities—especially ones that are resilient, sustainable, livable, and just. He has worked at various levels of government, NGOs, and the private sector. He is Founder and Executive Director of The Nature of Cities. David is also an award-winning playwright, musician, and composer.

Introduction

A key theme at The Nature of Cities is the fundamental connection between urban nature and the challenges of creating better cities, particularly cities that are more resilient, sustainable, livable, and just. Cities around the world experience similar challenges related to this theme, and they also may pursue many shared or convergently evolved approaches to them.

Yet, cities are also different, every one. One pattern that emerges in such difference is along a North-South gradient. By this we mean not only geographic north and south (e.g., relative to the equator), but also—and perhaps more importantly—differences in cities currently perched at different stages along a developmental trajectory: that is, as we now say, cities in the Global South versus the Global North. Cities in the Global South, or “developing countries”, may struggle with insufficient resources to address their challenges; they also may have different approaches to planning and environmental management; or maybe not enough study has been applied there; or maybe…and so on. In any case, much of the ecological work and urban thought—and climate-changing economic activity—applied globally emerges from the Global North, and is applied to the South. Or, at least, such a bias is commonly cited. Is this true? Is it a problem?

This roundtable is convened to discuss urban ecology from a southern perspective. Is urban ecology somehow different in the south? Are there cultural or governance nuances that mean that common ecological principles are best modified when applied to urban planning in the south? How might we propel a Global South urban ecology for the design of better cities in these regions? Perhaps the models of the North are not the only, or best, options.

These questions are key for our global future, for it is in the Global South that the majority of rapid urbanization is taking place. Here we convene 15 scientists and thought leaders, mostly from the South, to discuss the ways forward.

Pippin Anderson

About the Writer:
Pippin Anderson

Pippin Anderson, a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, is an African urban ecologist who enjoys the untidiness of cities where society and nature must thrive together. FULL BIO

Pippin Anderson

Growing global-contributing urban ecologists in the Global South, or: Who lines the walls of fame in urban ecology? Interrogating community and belonging

I was interviewed for my current job in the University of Cape Town’s Science Faculty boardroom. This boardroom, probably like many others around the world, has something of a “hall of fame” line up of framed photographs of past Deans of the Faculty. It’s a classic collection of black and white photographs of somewhat austere looking, heavy-eye-browed men. It is an honourable group of hardworking men who have built up an excellent intuition over the last 100 years. Looking at them, as I sat there, sweaty-palmed, made me feel terribly out of place. I wondered, was this the place for a young female scientist, and could I legitimately make a contribution here?

How can we train young urban ecologists in the Global South to recognize that their voices belong in the conversation?

Of course, my point in telling this anecdote is a straightforward one—one we are all acutely aware of—about representation and belonging. Who has the right to speak? Whose voice is heard? Whose story is valid?

There are enough brilliant minds in this roundtable to put forward clever arguments on how urban ecology in the Global South differs from that of the Global North, and to that end I will focus my energy on a smaller and more delicate issue within this broader debate. What I wonder is: How should we be training young urban ecologists in the Global South? What worries me is that my own students look around at the urban ecology literature and ask themselves a similar question to the one I asked when I looked up at those portraits in my job interview: they wonder if they belong. We constantly tell our students to chime in on the conversations taking place in the published literature, to be active participants in the debates and discussion taking place among the authors publishing in their field. We expect them to draw on ideas and present these in relation to other ideas, and to pit them against their own ideas and findings. But what if, from the very get-go, they do not feel part of the community, or that their experiences and understandings exclude them in some way from these conversations?

Ismail Wambi and urban ecology class UCT
University of Cape Town urban ecology students chatting to local conservator Ismail Wambi while on a field trip to the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area in Cape Town. Photo: Pippin Anderson

There is lots of excellent urban ecology literature emerging from our Global South cities, and I firmly believe there is a lot of excellent literature that is relevant but not always readily flagged as urban ecology literature in the Global South. Sometimes, one has to dig a little deeper to find it. That said, there is no escaping that the bulk of the voices in the urban ecology conversations are from the Global North. I think any seasoned urban ecologist from the Global South can readily engage in healthy and productive debate with these voices and views and can critically engage with them around the numerous points of departure and agreement between the South and North with respect to the urban ecology of our cities. I do, however, worry about growing young students in this space, where the heavy tidal flow of cases and opinions are skewed to the Global North, leaving them feeling that this is not their territory or that their contribution is not legitimate.

Indeed, a student of mine pointed out to me last week that while the case study she had chosen to present in my class was from South America, the authors were from Florida, in the United States. Sometimes, even where the material is Global South in content, the voices retain a Global North tone. These voices are often very confident, from institutions that are globally known, relatively well-funded, and infused with a culture of older cities, cities with different development trajectories, which have no sense of urban informality or devastating inequality, and possibly have a closer proximity to global publishing houses, etc. etc. I think the only way to get around this is to flag these issues, talk about how they have come about, encourage students to critically engage with those circumstance, using such questions as: How might this case have been presented differently if the author was from Bogotá? Did the authors own their positionality? How would you engage with your positionality when writing about your own city?

It is vital to encourage students to publish their own work and to offer whatever support one can to grow the groundswell of literature that reports on and reflects on urban ecology in the cities of the Global South. I think another important bolstering opportunity is engaging with communities of local urban ecologists to grow a sense of belonging and to allow students to find their “voices” in local spaces. To this end, I find fieldtrips and engagement with local practitioners extremely useful. I suppose that just as I got my job, and went on to be part of a Department that is actually dominated by women (the Dean who interviewed me at the time was the first woman Dean of our Faculty, whose picture now also adorns the boardroom wall), so too will this tide turn. It is a question of acknowledging, engaging, and encouraging one’s students (and self) to be part of the movement that sees the growth of urban ecology literature from the Global South.

Olga Barbosa

About the Writer:
Olga Barbosa

Dr. Olga Barbosa is an ecologist interested in the relationship between humans and the environment from an ecosystem ecology perspective. She is an Associate Professor at the Universidad Austral de Chile.

Olga Barbosa

There are several unifying elements of urban ecology, no matter in which part of the world you live. As humans, we all have similar needs and the differences are tuned by the degree to which we (and cities) have been able to satisfy those basic needs. I think this discrepancy—the lesser degree to which cities have been able to satisfy basic needs in the Global South—is one of biggest differences we can find between the Global North and South, which of course influences the study of ecology in cities and for cities in both sides of the world.

In Latin America, we should make the best use of knowledge from the Global North while incorporating (and valuing) the singularities of the Global South.
For example, Latin America—one of the most urbanized regions of the world—is beginning to show a “stabilization” of urban demographic growth, in which most cities have covered basic human needs associated with rapid urban growth (e.g., housing, sanitation). Therefore, we should have the capacity to rethink the way Latin American cities are growing and advance to a more sustainable trajectory based on available models. However, how informative are the available (Global North) models for the Global South?

We know urbanization growth patterns have huge implications on nature. Thirteen years ago, Liu and collaborators published a paper in Nature showing a general growth of household numbers globally. The research highlighted the potential consequences this household dynamic would have on biodiversity due to increased rates of consumption of wood for fuel, habitat fragmentation, greenhouse emissions, etc. As shown in their study, which remains valid, household growth was significantly higher in countries with biodiversity hotspots (regions with high diversity and endemism and priority for conservation), which are usually developing countries. How can urban ecology inform what we know and how we address the consequences of losing nature—and the benefits it provides to urban dwellers?

Urban ecology research has been extremely scarce in Global South, not to say inexistent in our region (Latin America). For example, in Chile (which is not very different from other Latina American countries), we face challenges associated with a lack of systematized basic information, such as spatially explicit demographics on household dynamics, not to mention urban biodiversity inventories. Although urban ecology studies are growing fast, our research must invest a lot of effort in gathering basic data to answer even elementary urban ecology questions, let alone our more complex sustainability questions. We are ready to focus on the complexities of urban dynamics, even while we are still learning the basics.

What are the consequences of the Global North guiding urban growth and the field of urban ecology in the Global South? Real problems come when decisions are made based on general models without the complexities of particular (local) realities. Problems are likely to arise when we follow the growth patterns of the Global North, knowing they have failed under certain circumstances. Climate change has demonstrated a huge challenge for existing grey infrastructure in developed countries. Nowadays, these countries are moving toward the integration of green and hybrid infrastructure that is expected to provide multiple functions and to be “safer to fail”. Still, our Southern cities yearn to follow the Global North patterns and build monumental infrastructure, neglecting undeveloped land that harbors nature—our unintended green infrastructure—that provides multi-functional ecosystem services.

Rather than relying solely on the urban ecology models from the Global North, we in Latin America should highlight the opportunities we have, in which we can make the best use of existing knowledge while incorporating (and valuing) the singularities and particularities of the Global South.

To achieve this, urban ecologists not only need to generate more research, but also to develop stronger links with society to move our scientific knowledge into action, and ultimately into policymaking.

Timothy Bonebrake

About the Writer:
Timothy Bonebrake

Dr. Timothy C. Bonebrake is an Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong studying global change, urban ecology, and tropical conservation.

Tim Bonebrake

As an ecologist doing research in a number of countries located in the Global South, my main experiences of major urban centers usually takes place as I transit from the airport, maybe make a few supplies/permit stops, and then head to the forest to catch butterflies. I’m not alone. In a 2012 survey, Martin et al. (2012) found that over 60 percent of ecological research is conducted in protected areas.

Research gaps in urban ecology likely hinder adequate management of nature in cities of the Global South… but everyone likes butterflies.
In fact, most ecological research is conducted in countries with high incomes in the first place; 90 percent of surveyed studies came from high-income countries in the 70-100th percentiles (Martin et al. 2012). The situation is even worse for the field of “urban ecology”, as approximately 70 percent of published studies have taken place in Anglo-Saxon countries, even though over 90 percent of projected future growth in urban areas will take place in Latin America, Asia, and Africa (Shwartz et al. 2014). As a consequence of this pattern, ecologists spend a comparatively small proportion of their time in the cities of the Global South.

elsalvadorassistantJan2007
A young research assistant helps the author conduct butterfly transects in urban El Salvador in January 2007. Photo: Tim Bonebrake

According to recent statistics (March 2016), San Salvador has the third highest homicide rate in the world. In this environment, you might not expect a population that would care much for their urban butterfly biodiversity. I ended up in El Salvador myself, largely on a whim, to do PhD research. A friend of mine from high school, Celia, invited me to join her on a visit to see her family and I wound up spending a couple of weeks in a municipality not far (about 30km) from San Salvador. We had running water (usually in the mornings) only about half of the time I was there. Gang violence was a frequent topic of discussion. A variety of other challenges I was not accustomed to as a product of my middle class American experience were readily apparent during my stay there.

In the absence of good urban ecology data from the Global South, one can only speculate as to the similarities and differences regarding urban nature priorities and challenges across the North-South (development) divide. But I suspect it would be fair to say that people in the South have bigger problems on their minds than urban nature, in most cases.

Having said that, I can’t help but think back to my eye-opening first two weeks in El Salvador living with Celia’s family on the outskirts of San Salvador. I brought my butterfly net and decided to run some transects in the small backyard where I was staying. The backyard was on the corner of a somewhat busy street, and it had no fences. I felt strange (and more than a little uncomfortable) at first, swinging at passing butterflies while being watched by confused neighbors. But after a while, I got pretty good at explaining with gestures and (very) broken Spanish that I was hunting mariposas. Pretty soon rumors of my bizarre behavior had made their way through town and I accumulated a following (see photo above). Lots of folks had suggestions on where I should go if I wanted to see some cool butterflies (usually close to where they lived). And on one memorable occasion, a young girl, maybe six or seven years old, came to our house and handed me a very large and very dead sphingid moth as a gift. After a couple of weeks, I had only found about 10 species in the backyard, but I had made a lot of friends.

I went on to spend part of the next three summers/falls of my PhD program working in El Salvador. But like most ecologists, I usually stopped in San Salvador only briefly, to pick up permits or supplies (and to visit my friends/familia) before heading off to the forest to study climate change and butterflies. So, unfortunately, I’ve not been able to do much personally regarding the data gap in urban ecological research in the Global South. The North-South divide is clearly worthy of further investigation and surely our research biases are contributing to inadequate management of nature in urban areas in the South. But I’m also convinced that there are some similarities that unite cities all over the world, based on my personal experience. That is, if you wander a city with a tall butterfly net in hand, as I have, be it in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Yaounde, or San Salvador, you’re likely to get many inquisitive looks…and even a handful of smiles.

References

http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/most-dangerous-cities-in-the-world.html

Martin, L. J., Blossey, B., & Ellis, E. (2012). Mapping where ecologists work: biases in the global distribution of terrestrial ecological observations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10, 195-201.

Shwartz, A., Turbé, A., Julliard, R., Simon, L., & Prévot, A. C. (2014). Outstanding challenges for urban conservation research and action. Global Environmental Change, 28, 39-49.

Bharat Dahiya

About the Writer:
Bharat Dahiya

An award-winning Urbanist, Bharat combines research, policy analysis, and development practice aimed at examining and tackling socio-economic, environmental and governance issues in the global urban context.

Bharat Dahiya

The difference isn’t ecological, it’s cultural

It is seemingly a strange notion that there should be different perspectives on urban ecology, especially when urban areas worldwide exhibit similar characteristics in the broader era that we now commonly call the anthropocene.

The diversity of “Southern” perspectives draws on the cultural diversity of the “South”, which  is rooted in the ecological diversity of this geographical collective.
These perspectives should be similar—if not outrightly the same—everywhere, as the problems related to urban environments (see the four urban environmental goals identified by Bigio and Dahiya, 2004) and urban ecology are rather similar, even though they manifest themselves differently. Further, based on the “urban environment stage model” (Bai and Imura, 2000), we can with great confidence say that urban environments around the world are going through a similar, if not really the same, transition in the so-called “South” in today’s anthropocene.

It follows, therefore, that if the “Southern” perspective is different from the ‘Northern’ perspective, this distinction must be based on or rooted in something equally fundamental, and that is culture. From this standpoint, the relevance of the “Southern” perspective, or perspectives more correctly, becomes highly significant. The diversity of “Southern” perspectives must then draw on the cultural diversity of the “South”, which in turn is rooted in the natural and/or ecological diversity of this geographical collective.

As Carl O. Sauer elaborated, the cultural landscape of a particular place is a cumulative result of the interactions between the nature and culture of that place. In his words, “The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape is the result.” From this perspective, the thoughts that developed in the “South” on urban ecology, or a broader nature-culture relationship, form an extraordinary subject of study.

From the geographically vast and culturally diverse Asian region, a few of these “Southern” perspectives are worth mentioning to illustrate the point.

First is an ancient thought borne out of the culturally rich and fertile soil of India. In Indian thought and tradition, a human being is considered as a part of a larger and nested structure. The individual human being is nested within the wider human society. The dialectic between the human individual and society defines their mutual complementarity. The society (including all individuals) is then nested within nature, and the relationship between the two gives rise to the culture of a specific place. Further, the individual, the society, and nature are nested within the cosmos. These four seemingly are different concepts and identifiable realities. However, they are part of each other, or better to say, identifiable with regard to each other. This underlines each entity’s interdependence and, therefore, interconnectedness. In practical terms, this idea gets translated into the philosophy of “oneness” (Sanskrit: Ekatmata) or “non-duality” (Sanskrit: Advaita) in the entire cosmos, “the world is one family” (Sanskrit: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam), and “non-violence” (Sanskrit: Ahimsa). Using this concept, the Indus Valley cities in ancient India, such as Dholavira, had developed elaborate systems of water harvesting and management that helped their citizens to survive in some of the harshest arid environments that nature presented. It is this concept and its understanding in the wider society that leads to the worship of nature and her representations, such as rivers, mountains, trees, and so on.

Second, the idea of “Pratītyasamutpāda” (Sanskrit; Pali: Paticcasamuppāda) or “dependent origination”, which is commonly known as “interconnectedness”, finds a philosophical place and practical application in the Buddhist tradition. According to the principle of “dependent origination”, all things arise with dependence on one another. It follows that, since we, as human beings, are interconnected with nature, it becomes our duty to be compassionate to Mother Nature and all living beings. Therefore, Emperor Ashoka, who adopted Buddhism as the state religion in his reign (from c. 268 to 232 BCE) in India, prohibited the killing of animals and birds. With Buddhism, the principle of “interconnectedness” spread far and wide in Asia. For example, in Thailand, rivers are revered as “mae nam” or “mother river” to the present date. With such rich endowments of thought, tradition, and culture, one would expect that the relationship between Mother Nature on the one hand, and cities and human settlements on the other, would be truly harmonious in current times in these places as well. That is, however, not a widespread practice in urban Asia.

Still, some of these ideas and thoughts are being tested for their practical application in today’s urban Asia. For example, public authorities in Lumphini Park—Bangkok’s oldest green space, have allowed the growth of Bodhi plants that had germinated from seeds contained in bird-droppings (Lai, 2016); Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. In India, the National Ganga River Basin Authority has started the Mission Clean Ganga with a comprehensive approach to champion the challenges posed to Ganga (commonly known as Ganges) River through four different sectors: wastewater management, solid waste management, industrial pollution, and river front development.

But an obvious question arises: Why are these efforts not widespread? A set of interrelated factors causes the present situation to persist, or even worsen in some places.

First is the meaning associated with “development” in the international arena. “Development” is commonly understood as an increase in income and an improvement in the quality of life, which are the derivatives of national economic growth. This is based on the example set by the Global North, which, for historical, geo-political, and economic reasons, “developed” before the South did. Once economic growth became the marker of development in the North, the South started to follow this paradigm, facilitated by international development agencies. And until the late 1980s, the idea of “development” did not include sufficient attention to nature.

Second is the integration of the world economy through the process of economic globalization, which finds spatio-economic manifestation in the cities of the “South” (as well as the “North”). This often allows little space for the inclusion of caring for Mother Nature as a “mother” or “giver of all life”. The concomitant occurrence of urban environmental problems related to poverty, production, and consumption (following Bai and Imura, 2000) in the South confirms this.

Third, the South generally follows the path laid by the North: grow first, clean up later. This has worked for the North as it has had a long gestation period with regard to its economic “development” process. However, this will not necessarily work for the South, where cities are experiencing explosive economic, demographic, and spatial growth, particularly in Asia (see Dahiya, 2014).

Lastly, the neo-liberal economic model crowds out caring for nature even though nature is deemed culturally important. This is because the culture of caring for nature is increasingly being replaced by the culture of accumulation and consumption. Money, after all, matters a lot!

Looking forward, the culture of respect and care for nature will have to be brought back if the cities of the South, as well as those of the North—and, for that matter, humanity and all forms of life—have a chance of survival on planet Earth.

References

Bai, Xuemei and Hidefumi Imura (2000) A Comparative Study of Urban Environment in East Asia: Stage Model of Urban Environmental Evolution, International Review for Environmental Strategies, 1(1), pp. 135-158.

Bigio, Anthony G. and Bharat Dahiya (2004) Urban Environment and Infrastructure: Toward Livable Cities, Directions in Development Series, The World Bank, Washington DC.

Dahiya, Bharat (2014) Southeast Asia and Sustainable Urbanization, Global Asia – journal of the East Asia Foundation, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 84-91.

Lai, Chieh-Ming (2016) Public Green Spaces in Bangkok: A Case Study of Lumphini Park, M.A. Thesis, Southeast Asian Studies Program, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

Ana Faggi

About the Writer:
Ana Faggi

Ana Faggi is a researcher at the Argentine National Council of Research. Her research and teaching focus on regional ecology, restoration and the conservation of biodiversity.

Ana Faggi and Sabina Caula

Why should southern and northern cities be ecologically different in this globalizing world? In the end, a city is a complex mosaic of interrelated patches of green, blue, grey, and brown infrastructures that influences the composition and abundance of urban biodiversity. As in the north, southern cities show biotic homogenization trends that have significant ecological, evolutionary, and social consequences.

To birds’ eyes, urban greenery in the South and North is highly similar—a quality that’s good for generalists, but not for specialists.
Much knowledge of urban ecology has been based on avian community studies. Birds are charismatic components of the urban landscape that can find habitability, connectivity, and resilience in the varied structural typologies in the city. For this reason, we want to answer the question posed in this roundtable by using South American birds as indicators.

Studies around the world have shown that in cities, metrics that help us measure ecological health, such as bird species richness and the number of food guilds (organizations of species based on their diets), decrease; meanwhile, the number of exotic species and the rate of nest predation increases with urbanization. In South America, the assemblage of birds is simplifying with increasing urbanization both at the species and guild levels, so that generalist omnivores and seedeaters dominate. Omnivorous birds are common along the urban gradient and seedeaters are also tolerant to urban development. As in the north, specialized insectivores and frugivores are the most negatively affected groups.

Fig. 1 Stanberg
Image 1. Rock doves and sparrows in Stanberg railway station, Germany. Photo: Anna Faggi

In South America, there are two foreign species, native to the Global North, that are nonetheless recorded as common and abundant in most cities: Columba livia (Rock Dove) and Passer domesticus (Sparrow), but they are mainly found in the areas with a higher density of buildings and sealed surfaces (Images 1 and 2).

As in other parts of the world, evidence shows that most of the birds observed in “green” areas are native. From México to Chile, common native urban bird species recorded are: Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis), House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata), Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis), Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Vermilion Flycatcher (Pirocephalus rubinus), and Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulfuratus). From north to south, most of these birds are just generalists adapted to new manmade urban habitats, while sensitive ones disappear.

Fig. 2 Buenos Aires
Image 2. Rock doves as dominating species in Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Ana Faggi

In cities all over the world, vegetation is the most attractive cover for bird communities. In urban parks, the mixed native and exotic trees and shrubs facilitate generalist birds to make use of the greater plant diversity by offering a higher quantity of food and refuges, especially during ecologically challenging seasons. Because native vegetation and local bird species have co-evolved together, in the breeding season, green remnants rich in native vegetation offer a comparatively large number of habitats available for specialist birds.. Unlike “natural” habitats, the parks in South America often have similar structures in all cities, because they have been designed and planted following European styles. In our globalized world, new fashions imposed by designers, architects, and urban planners have given rise to urban green spaces that suit a particular aesthetic, but which have nothing to do with the local identity and, in many cases, have excluded the native flora and fauna.

Most of these spaces have been developed from French, Spanish, and Italian prototypes, using similar non-native species arranged in a savannah type display, with large grass areas, always neatly cut, as well as granite and asphalt. These parks can be found anywhere in the world, from Sydney to Santiago, and from the historic centers of the city to the periphery. In Latin American cities, seasonally ornamental flowers and exotic trees from different continents prevail: Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.), cypress (Cupressus sp.), acacia (Acacia retinodes), poplar (Populus sp.), willow (Salix babylonica), linden (Tilia cordata), maple (Acer sp.), chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach), sycamore (Acer pseudoplanatus), London plane (P. occidentalis x P. orientalis=Platanus x acerifolia) and Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) are common in temperate and mountain cities, whereas Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.), pine (Araucaria heterophylla), tree orchid (Bauhinia sp.), yellow flame tree (Peltophorum pterocarpum), Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Ficus sp., Flamboyant or acacia (Delonix regia) and Mango (Mangifera indica) are common in neotropical cities.

For birds, these tree assemblages become an environmental filter that excludes many differentiating sensitive species. To birds’ eyes, urban greenery in the South and North is highly similar. As such, plans to create green spaces in the Global South should be adopted by any city to promote local biodiversity and to conserve and restore native vegetation, rather than planting exotics from the North.

Sabina Caula

About the Writer:
Sabina Caula

Sabina Caula is a biologist with graduate degrees in ecology from the Central University of Venezuela and the University of Montpellier II in France. Her work focuses on the ecology of bird communities, urban ecology, environmental and socioeconomic assessments, and environmental education.

Shuaib Lwasa

About the Writer:
Shuaib Lwasa

Shuaib Lwasa is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at Makerere University. Shuaib has over 15 years of experience in university teaching and research working on interdisciplinary projects related to urban sustainability.

Shuaib Lwasa

The laws of nature are universal, but our understanding of how they can be applied in the Global North and South is constrained by tools and approaches developed in the Global North. Unifying laws that determine how elements of nature operate and relate have been a central consideration in making cities better for human populations and, more recently, in how people can relate with urban nature. Most of the tools and approaches to understanding urban ecology have been developed in the Global North. This no surprise because, again, urban development principles promoting the notion of universality emerged from the Global North. Does the Northern perspective of this framework matter?

Foundational differences unify urban ecologies within the Global South more than between the Global North and Global South.

The application of science developed in the Global North

Whereas the approaches and tools of the Global North are evident in many cities of the global South, there is also divergence in the form of patterns and processes. Urban development trajectories of the South present differing patterns and processes. In some literature, this has been referred to as “insurgent urbanism”, while in more recent literature, the urban development trajectories represented in the Global South are referred to as “alternative urbanism” with its own theory. We use “insurgent urbanism” to give a perspective on how urban ecology of the South can be described, characterised, and compared. “Insurgent Urbanism” here is understood as alternative urban development trajectories to the Global North experiences. Although the Global South’s Insurgent Urbanism has been perceived as not decent, not up to standards, there is recognition of many good elements of this urbanism.

Based on this Insurgent Urbanism, urban ecology of the Global South differs greatly from that of the Global North. Taking the broader definition of urban ecology as comprising built elements, population and its culture, as well as nature, the configuration of these helps us understand the differences that perhaps unify urban ecologies of Africa and South America more than between Africa and Europe. The foundation of the different urban ecologies in the Global South lies in the terrestrial ecologies on which the urban areas were superimposed. As with many cities in North America and Europe, cities in the Global South were strategically built on river transport ways, strategic inland points (for economic reasons), coastal zones, mountainous areas, and in desert environments (for economic resource extraction). These defined the inherent elements of the urban ecologies on which were weaved built components that determine the green patches; waterways; wetlands; road islands with various forms of configuration as linear objects; circular, discrete patches; and/or corridors of nature that serve various purposes.

The foundation also determines how urban populations and the various cultures relate with natural elements. There are patches that are tethered through urban planning or infrastructure development, but many are remnants of natural areas that form a unique mosaic of urban ecology, including public green spaces, water canals, valued environmental components (such as wetlands, hilltops and urban forests). The tethered patches also include plot-level landscaping and manicuring. An interesting feature of urban ecology is the definition of “public spaces”, which differs between Global North and Global South. Public areas in a state-led tethering of space are often planned, protected, and maintained by the municipal authority. Though these spaces have generated more contestations lately, with expression of civil rights’ views as in the case of Nairobi, for example, and the Wangari Maathai greenbelt movement. On the other hand, “public” in a largely “informal” city is not limited to publically defined spaces, but to all space, including private spaces that dwellers can make use of in any way, even if, by law, such use infringes on the protected rights of the territorial owner, as is largely the case in Kampala. There seem to be various informal rules of utilization of such spaces that differ from in Global North.

Patterns of change

Another difference is in relation to peri-urban areas that, across the Global South, have undergone tremendous spatial, social, and environmental change. As is the case in Kampala, these areas have the characteristics of spontaneous developments, with a mix of distinct agricultural patches. This change is converting large areas to urban uses, but in a fragmented matter. Peri-urban areas are presenting more theoretical and definitional challenges, with a character that makes it useless to distinguish between “urban” and “rural’ characteristics” in these areas.

The maze of land use activities seems to display configurations of ecological patches of different forms. Thus, urban ecological fragmentation is one feature that both unifies the Global North and South, while simultaneously distinguishing between them. For example, in Kampala, the fragmentation of urban nature is a significant feature of urban development, just as in other cities. The reason for this continued fragmentation is that most urban areas are founded on earlier urban development principles and structures, among which is the separation of “incompatible” land uses. But this process is broken by spontaneous developments that disregard separated “urban uses”, such as industry, residential, and commercial zones aiming to create a mosaic of uses at various scales of development.

To generate solutions, contemporary planning of cities is slowly embracing the “planning with nature” principle, which is motivated by recent discourse on global environmental change. For this reason, any attempt to compare urban ecology of the Global North with the Global South leads to more questions than answers. From a practical point of view, it is important that the differences between the two are recognized and enhancement of urban ecology builds on the nature of urban imprints in the South. Urban ecological planning is one possible approach to enhancing the Southern cities’ ecosystems services and the relations between nature and people. This approach takes the situation, resources, and conditions into consideration while developing contextual solutions, as opposed to superimposing solutions from elsewhere.

References

S. Lwasa, Planning innovation for better urban communities in sub-Saharan Africa: The education challenge and potential responses, Town Reg. Plan. 60 (2013) 38–48.

H. Ernstson, S.E. Leeuw, C.L. Redman, D.J. Meffert, G. Davis, C. Alfsen, et al., Urban Transitions: On Urban Resilience and Human-Dominated Ecosystems, AMBIO. 39 (2010) 531–545.

E.A. Pieterse, A.M. Simone, Rogue Urbanism: Emergent African Cities, Jacana Media, 2013.

Habitat, UN 2009      Planning Sustainable cities—Global Report on Human Settlements 2009. Earthscan, London.

Lwasa, Shuaib, Frank Mugagga, Bolanle Wahab, et al. 2014        Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Forestry: Transcending Poverty Alleviation to Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. Urban Climate 7: 92–106.

Fadi Hamdan

About the Writer:
Fadi Hamdan

Fadi works on the interaction between risk governance and communication, disaster risk management, resilience, sustainable development, growth, and use of resources in cities.

Fadi Hamdan

Human beings living both in the Global South and the Global North aspire to live in sustainable, livable, resilient, and just cities. Guiding principles for achieving this include recognizing and studying how cities are both drivers of, and driven by, ecological processes within and beyond their boundaries.

Weak governance within and between cities acts as a barrier against developing and implementing a unified vision and strategy to achieve just cities.
Before trying to identify convergent and divergent challenges, opportunities, and methodologies in urban ecology between the Global North and the Global South, it is first necessary to select an indicator which can act as a measure of on which side of the gap the country is located. One such indicator is the Human Development Index (or HDI), used to develop the Human Development Report, and put forward by the UNDP (http://report.hdr.undp.org/). In this report’s definition, HDI is calculated based on three main variables, namely: 1) the health dimension, which is assessed by life expectancy at birth; 2) the education dimension, which is measured by mean number of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more, and expected years of schooling for children of the age to enter school; and 3) the standard of living dimension, which is measured by gross national income per capita.

However, the HDI simplifies and captures only part of what human development entails; in particular, it does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, access to the decision-making process, and governance in general. Even the Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index (or IHDI), addresses inequalities in the health, education and income dimensions, while falling short of scrutinising governance arrangements. In this sense, the HDI can be viewed as a measure of human development outcome. Notwithstanding the importance of the above, for the purposes of this debate, what is needed is a measure of inputs (e.g. governance arrangements that lead to certain policies) that can produce countries with the same Gross National Income per capita, while nevertheless having very different human development and urban ecology outcomes. The remainder of this short contribution will therefore focus on the effect of urban governance on urban ecology.

Human activity within city boundaries is related to the use, production, and distribution of natural resources including water, land, air, and minerals. This human activity leads to a particular distribution of benefits; exposure to risks; vulnerabilities; and risks and losses due to disasters, climate change, and interaction with the environment in general. Different political systems lead to differences in the 1) mechanisms for decision-making (regarding the human activities above), 2) gate keepers guarding access to new ideas in the decision-making forum, and 3) legal and illegal forms of formal and informal lobbying, amongst others. In weak governance countries, limited debate takes place in the decision-making forum regarding what constitutes a “just” use and distribution of benefits and vulnerabilities. Furthermore, there are few checks and balances in place to prevent one sector (e.g. the banking and real estate sector) to become a dominant sector, driving policies and activities at the detriment of other “pro-poor, job-rich” sectors such as the industrial and agricultural sectors. Hence, in order to understand internal mechanisms affecting the driving forces of interaction between human society and urban ecology, it is necessary to closely examine and scrutinize urban governance.

Another related issue is the effect of globalisation on urban governance, in both weak and good governance countries. While globalisation (in the form of the free movement of goods, services, and capital) exerts pressures on urban governance, countries and cities with good urban governance arrangements are better equipped to resist these pressures, and to ensure transparent and participatory debates in the decision-making forum. Conversely, weak governance arrangements within cities (usually in the Global South) render them ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of globalisation on urban governance arrangements and on urban ecology. Hence, urban ecology methodologies and urban indicators must try to address these differences.

More recently, various international and regional aid agencies are carrying out initiatives for improving the resilience in cities, where Terms of Reference (or ToR) are drafted and international consultancies are selected based on a competitive bid process. While these initiatives are devised based on ToRs that aim to protect the stakeholders’ interests (i.e., the inhabitants of the city under consideration), more often than not, in the context of weak urban governance, the recommendations shift towards representing shareholders’ interests (of both local and international consultancies) leading to a shift in focus to capital-intensive investments in security and major infrastructure in rich urban areas, with limited benefits to the most vulnerable.

Along the same lines, the use, production and distribution of resources beyond city boundaries, at the global level, leads to a particular distribution of benefits, risks, and losses within the city. Due to inter-city, and inter-country governance arrangements, cities in the Global South have very little say in, and limited access to, the decision-making process in the Global North, but are often detrimentally affected by this process (e.g. the issue of climate change on Small Island Developing States, or the role of a particular city in global supply chain economics).

Urban ecology poses challenges to the whole of humanity, which is an opportunity for human societies to unite along good urban ecology principles. However, weak governance intra- and inter- cities and countries acts as a barrier against developing, and/or implementing a unified vision and strategy. The way forward is to develop and refine contextualized good urban governance principles and indicators within and between cities, and then to monitor and lobby for their implementation.

Yvonne Lynch

About the Writer:
Yvonne Lynch

Yvonne is a climate adaptation expert and communications strategist. Her expertise extends to nature-based solutions for cities, climate resilience, strategic communication and citizen engagement. She has developed and led progressive, award-winning policies and initiatives for the City of Melbourne. Her opinions are her own and are not endorsed any organisation. She is currently on maternity leave from her role leading City of Melbourne's Urban Ecology and Urban Forest Team.

Yvonne Lynch

Knowledge of the ecology of urbanization has been missing until recently. Over the past decade, our understanding of the ecology of and in cities has evolved. We’ve never known more than we do now, so how we create resilient and sustainable cities for the future will largely depend on the application and further development of this knowledge.

In the Global South and geographic south, our common challenge is responding to rapid growth trajectories whilst protecting our ecosystems
Urbanization is an uneven development process, both temporally and geographically, with differences in patterns of growth and change across the globe. However, we can make some generalizations; the future development trajectory for cities is markedly different in the North versus South. In the Global South and geographic south, our cities are expanding at an unprecedented rate and will accommodate most of the planet’s growing population. In fact, 37 percent of predicted urban growth is expected to take place in three countries by 2050: China, India, and Nigeria.

The North is predominantly, but not exclusively, experiencing a process of de-densification. Shrinking cities are located primarily in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. Whilst population decline is not limited to the North, this is an issue that mainly Northern cities will have to grapple with, particularly in terms of its implications for urban ecology.

If one was to posit a core unifying element of an urban ecology of the Global South and the geographic south, it is that our common challenge of responding to rapid growth trajectories whilst protecting our ecosystems will provide a new paradigm for urban ecology beyond what we have known to date.

We need to understand how we curb the negative effects of aggressive urban sprawl on ecosystems. Australia is home to some of the fastest growing cities in the developed world, but over 40 percent of nationally threatened ecological communities and more than 50 percent of threatened species occur in urban fringe areas, which means many of our threatened ecosystems are verging on the brink of extinction. Recent investments in integrated research programs and partnerships will shape and inform Australian urban policy for how we manage this challenge. Our researchers are also working to understand how over 40,000 years of Aboriginal knowledge can inform our approach to urban ecology. How we embrace the cultural and social diversity implicit in the fabric of our cities, particularly indigenous knowledge, to shape a modern urban ecology has the potential to be a defining opportunity for many cities in the Global South and geographic south.

We also need to understand how we can avoid green gentrification of our cities and ensure ecosystem service provision is equally distributed for all urban residents. Ultimately, the urban poor will remain located in the Global South. Minimizing social inequalities will define the resilient city of the future. In South America, we can find some great examples of addressing inequality. Curitiba has approximately 52 m² of green space per capita—the highest urban green space ratio in world. The city was transformed into a global model of sustainability through strong leadership and the revision of land use planning in tandem with a suite of supporting environmental initiatives. Bogotá Humana is Bogota’s local government urban development plan, outlining policies to address climate change and growth in a manner that prioritizes ecosystem services.

As we build the cities for the future, we will spend an estimated US$5 trillion per annum in the coming decades to provide basic levels of infrastructure. The question is, what kind of infrastructures will we provide? Singapore provides a leading example for urban ecology, where green infrastructure is very much on par with grey infrastructure and shows how a city can increase its vegetation cover and minimize biodiversity impacts whilst doubling its population. In 2012, Beijing made a bold investment in green infrastructure, committing over US$4.7 billion to construct 67,000 hectares of trees around the city to minimize air pollution.

Ultimately, city collaboration will provide a unifying framework for urban ecology because, in a time of unprecedented global change, learning from contemporaries will be the key to success. Climatic similarities may take precedence over other similarities as cities adapt to and grow with climate change. Therefore, we may see increased collaboration for urban ecology between cities facing similar climate change impacts.

For now, the lack of common datasets in cities, which would allow for comparative analysis of urban ecologies, remains an issue. This lack of data is even problematic for how we define cities. As digital transformation sweeps our cities, now is the time to unlock the opportunity technology holds for enhancing our understanding of urban ecology.

Colin Meurk

About the Writer:
Colin Meurk

Dr Colin Meurk is a senior ecologist at Landcare Research, a NZ government research institute specialising in characterisation, understanding and sustainable use of terrestrial resources. His special interests are biogeography, ecological restoration and design, landscape dynamics, urban ecology and conservation biology.

Colin Meurk

There is another kind of “south”; biologically special in one way, but disadvantaged in another. This is the “islands versus continents” divide. The vast majority of the world’s ecological literature, as well as conservation philosophy, methodology, and investment is generated from the (affluent) population centres of the northern hemisphere continents and tropics—or continental islands such as the British Isles—with long histories of mammalian and human occupation.

The north-south question is one of the world’s “wicked problems”.
New Zealand is a south Pacific mini-continent that has been isolated, as a sliver of ancient Gondwana, for the past 65 million years—missing out on the land mammal thing. Accordingly, primeval New Zealand was a bird/lizard/macro-invertebrate driven ecosystem. There are pollinator bats, sea mammals, and there were once large colonies of land-nesting sea birds that transported nutrients to the mainland, compensating for the oceanic leaching climate. No part of NZ is more than 150 km from the coast. When people arrived a mere millennium ago, and brought the first of a host of introduced predators, natural systems were decimated, especially the ground-dwelling wildlife.

The historic absence of land mammals had a profound evolutionary influence on the vegetation and bird life and, in particular, resulted in a high proportion of flightless creatures. Compared to continentally-honed ecosystems, the NZ native biota is relatively sluggish and some might say drab (we would say endearing). Organisms evolving in NZ had no need for “rapid response” physiology or a competitive edge, adapted as they were to defoliation by herd herbivores, and having poor fight/flight strategies and reproduction rates for dealing with voracious predators.

This dramatic difference between continental and oceanic ecosystems leads to a need for very different management approaches, but NZ is as much colonised by ideas of nature and landscape from the European homeland as it is by thousands of exotic organisms. This is no more so than in cities, where extinction of experience (Miller) is a significant cultural impediment to recognising that there is a problem to be addressed. And in the hinterland, hunters strongly lobby for wild (exotic) game. They are not “seeing” the exponential destruction caused by introduced organisms. Even the recent fashion of “reconciliation ecology” is a continentally derived philosophic construct. It sounds nice, but in New Zealand’s oceanic, evolutionary context, the end point of ecosystems, left to their own devices (without active management), would almost certainly be one indistinguishable from a globalised northern temperate biome dominated in its early stages by pines, willows, Douglas fir, European sycamore, holly, ivy, gorse, broom, prunus, and blackberry, and European passerines, mustelids, rodents, and cats.

In such circumstances, strategic management, and a culture shift among urban arborists, park managers, and landscape architects, will be essential to maintaining an indigenous/natural character through NZ’s city-scapes. Similar circumstances apply to other, old islands, such as Hawaii, Fiji, Noumea, Madagascar, Galapagos, and Sri Lanka. There are a range of indigenous species that can be used in NZ urban settings, but hitherto the palette has been limited due to lack of experience, a dearth of knowledge, and what has become habitual. It’s simply easier to use the conventional, the tried and true! Although NZ doesn’t have a lot of lawn grasses, nor large flowery herbs for borders or deciduous woodlands, we do have flat herbs with fragrant flowers suitable for mowing; divaricating shrubs that make great hedges and lizard forage; ferns, mosses, and forbs with colourful berries for our evergreen broadleaved canopies with emergent native conifers; and species for stormwater treatment trains including green roofs. There needs to be an aware, “horses for courses” approach to urban biodiversity in New Zealand.

The bigger north-south question is one of the world’s “wicked problems”. This is about the West (the Global North) sharing its wealth and power more equitably (within countries and internationally), but also about being more efficient with a smaller footprint. This is going to depend on learning to live and work with nature and being more connected to it. A greater presence of trees, green space, and functioning ecosystems (eco-parks) is critical to produce the well-known calming influences of “green”, but also for providing “living lessons” for how nature works, how we are a part of it and dependent on it—not separate and in control. In the end, we have to obey natural laws.

So, to address the questions posed—yes, there are differences between the Global North and South, in many senses: inequity and competition for land in poorer or developing countries, a biogeographic difference between the land and water hemispheres, and a broader distinction between continental and oceanic land masses and their biota. NZ is a bit of an outlier. It is one of the affluent first world countries, but has been colonised both by creatures and a culture that are not conducive to protection of our natural heritage. All three issues need to be addressed and managed according to their historic and material circumstances; urban environments are both the battle and learning grounds.

Sue Parnell

About the Writer:
Sue Parnell

Professor Sue Parnell is an urban geographer in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town and is a founding member of the African Centre for Cities there.

Susan Parnell

Harrowing and destructive experiences of nature in cities of the south undoubtedly emerge from the pervasive poverty and elevated exposure to disease and climate change—this cannot be denied and should be urgently addressed. But, nature-based urban “risk” is a simplistic and overly negative entry point for understanding the distinctive ecology of African cities and towns. Whether as a scholar, policymaker, resident, or traveller between African cities, it is striking how dominant and inspiring nature is and how much it defines the lived experience of the city in positive ways.

In African cities, the greatest threat to the resilience of urban nature is the lack of adequate local government power to curtail the unsustainable lifestyles of the elite.
The rich biodiversity of Africa almost always encroaches on the porous urban edge. Even in big cities such as Kampala, Kinshasa, or Kigali, a nature-based “sense of place” prevails. Because so many African capital cities were first established as colonial ports from which to extract primary goods to the metropolis, river mouths and coastlines dominate the urban form and function—presenting challenges, but also defining local culture and enriching the interface of social, economic, and ecological urban processes.

If you live in an African city that is located in the tropics or south of the Capricorn, your active and direct engagement with nature is rarely entirely mediated by infrastructure designed to insulate people from the vicissitudes of nature, as it is in wealthier northern cities. Unless you are super rich, there won’t be any central heating or air conditioning, but you can open the window and the night stars will be visible in the absence of streetlights. It is possible to clamber down riverbanks to play, wash clothes, or even defecate. Irregular pavements make your shoes dusty and the rainstorms leave puddles and potholes on un-tarred roads—even while they invigorate your senses. Under-spec cheap concrete makes for bumpy surfaces that are tricky for prams or wheelchairs to navigate, but the weakness of the material also allows plants, insects, and small animals to reclaim territory that was once all theirs.

Nature and people do not always compete in the city. The symbiosis that urban greening has reintroduced in northern cities through the post-destruction restoration of nature is often still intact in African cities, leaving the less arduous task of protection and enhancement. Especially in the smaller African towns, embraced by birdsong, it is common to find informal traders or the unemployed sitting under a tree. While far from all produce is locally produced, it is impossible not to notice food being grown along roadsides and in gardens. It is normal for settlement to extend unchecked into a peri-urban fringe where subsistence agriculture provides a precarious livelihood, at least for a few and for some seasons. One characteristic of the southern city, then, is that built and natural systems have not been entirely severed and that nature works for the city dweller.

Nature, despite its power and resilience, cannot escape the realities of weak southern urban governance, which undermine its integrity and may ultimately destroy it. Cocooned in lush, well-tended compound gardens (probably inappropriately planted with water-greedy or invasive alien plants), it is easy to miss the destructive impact of weak government on the apparently nature-loving African urban elite. Excessive consumption (especially of water and power), unchecked sprawl, and pollution are the obvious eco-crimes of the rich across the world, including in the Global South where government is unable or unwilling to curtail excess. In African cities, moreover, there is little effort to mitigate natural damage. Elite resistance to paying city taxes that could improve overall urban ecosystem management, either though basic water and air quality or through more specialized eco measures, such as greening of public spaces or land protection for parks and biodiversity corridors, is widespread across the continent. Possibly the greatest threat to the resilience of urban nature in Africa is the lack of adequate local government power to reign in aspirations of the rich or curtail the unsustainable lifestyles of the elite.

While the disregard of the public good by the rich may be the biggest threat to the integrity of urban ecosystems, nowhere is the impact of the absence of a strong state on natural assets more immediately obvious than in low-income neighborhoods. In the so-called slums or informal areas, such as Phillipi in Cape Town or the infamous Kibera in Nairobi, landlord greed, state neglect, and householder efforts at rodent and insect control have created dystopian urban landscapes that are effectively ecological deserts. Beyond the home, lack of public security and widespread gender-based violence detracts residents from valuing the open spaces on which citywide natural systems depend. Second only to lack of capacity, the southern city lacks public education about the value of nature in the city.

Steward Pickett

About the Writer:
Steward Pickett

Steward Pickett is a Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. His research focuses on the ecological structure of urban areas and the temporal dynamics of vegetation.

Steward Pickett

The ecological science of cities and urban regions is still young. As a science, it seeks to both generalize and to apply to specific places and times. This bifurcated aspiration can lead to problems, since much of the urban ecological insight so far has been generated by accumulating empirical examples. Many of the empirical examples come from the Global North, and there is no guarantee that they will hold outside of the situations that produced them.

Thoughtlessly transporting empirical generalizations or even specific ecological models from North to South won’t help either the science or design.
In fact, the very nature of “the urban” may be tacitly shaped by the history, economies, cultures, and parochiality of experience in the Global North. For example, the very idea that industries and cities develop is a framing that originated in the Global North, but which has been transported across the world. Does it fit? Is it a useful or a constraining background for urban ecology?

To the extent that this framing hides assumptions about the link of industrial and urban development, and that it suggests a deterministic succession of cities, it almost certainly fails. The empirical generalizations of urban ecology must rest on more fundamental understanding of the nature of urban processes and structures. When urban ecological science rises to this goal, it will find its roots to be as deep in the Global South as in its Global North birthplace. The science of urban ecology as an approach, as a theoretical structure whose assumptions must be stated and evaluated, and as a body of generalization that is anchored in the diversity of urban processes, should be as much a Southern as a Northern thing.

“Modifying principles” is a tricky phrase. The most general principles we would hope would be invariant. But the models that explain structure and dynamics in particular regions, or even in different parts of a single urban megaregion, will likely differ. Here’s an example. The concept of the urban heat island is one of the most familiar general principles of urban ecology. It posits that urban cores will be warmer than their surroundings due to the thermal mass of such areas, and to additional effects such as atmospheric boundary layers and reduced evapotranspiration. But when this idea was investigated in Phoenix, AZ, a desert metropolis, researchers found that the city was actually cooler than expected relative to the desert. This was because of the massive subsidy of irrigation water in town, which was available for evapotranspiration during the daylight hours when plants were active. At night, when the plants ceased their photosynthesis and transpiration, the city became much hotter than its surroundings, as the empirical generalization of heat island suggests. So the explanation—the locally relevant model—used the same ideas (or equation) that apply to all urban energy budgets, but recognized that the magnitudes of the different processes differed based on the irrigation subsidy and the associated planted vegetation. The deep principle is universal, while the model is particularized.

If ecologists and practitioners don’t separate the principle from the specific model, we are in danger of transferring empirical generalizations from a place where they work to places where they don’t work. So it is crucial to recognize the deep, process-based differences among cities and urban regions—whether in or between the Global North or South. Science can illuminate how urban social-ecological systems operate and change under any circumstances. But the diversity of circumstances must be better and more consciously incorporated in our models and into our framing of urban taxonomies and trajectories. With such increased subtlety, I would expect urban ecological science to become a trustworthy partner to urban design in the Global South. Thoughtlessly transporting empirical generalizations or even specific ecological models from North to South won’t help either the science or design.

Luis Sandoval

About the Writer:
Luis Sandoval

Luis Sandoval is a researcher and professor at Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica. His research focuses on urban ecology, animal communication, and behavior and natural history of birds.

Luis Sandoval

When I was invited to join in this roundtable, I start thinking about the possible causes that make countries in the Global North and South different in terms of urban ecology. First, as a tropical investigator, I remembered that the diversity in our region is higher than in the North, that the majority of Southern countries are developing countries and were colonies in the past, and that work and study opportunities are limited in the majority of Southern countries.

Countries in the Global South need to generate information about the importance of urban green areas and distribute that information between city residents and governments.
Then, I started to think about how Costa Rica, despite its recognition as a “green” country (because more than 25 percent of natural habitats are preserved under several protection categories, including national parks, wildlife reserves, or private reserves), has cities that are not growing in-keeping with the pattern that makes the country famous for being ecologically friendly.

The dichotomy between the development of natural areas and urban areas is probably one of the common unifying elements of urban ecology in the majority of countries in the Global South. This may be driven by the land use change that all the developing countries previously experienced, when the natural forest was changed into agricultural lands (plantations and grasslands) next to or in between the main towns. Several generations of city dwellers’ lack of contact with large tracts of forest has made people more open to changing the agricultural lands and the remains of natural habitats into urban developments, especially if the changes contribute to increasing their quality of life. For example, inhabiting a part of the city with limited streetlight and a lot of vegetation makes me insecure and is synonymous with poor development for the majority of people that live in the cities. Consequently, in cities, the lack of green areas (natural or artificial) is not perceived either as a problem or a benefit because people have lost appreciation for those land uses.

Recently, however, the wave of incorporating nature inside cities, with more friendly developments to increase people’s wellness, which started in Northern countries, has permeated Southern countries. This permeability changes country to country and city to city, in relationship to government laws and government interests. Therefore, it is vital that urban ecologists in Southern countries start to generate information on how the lack of green areas (and native species) in cities affects people’s wellness and begin to publicize their findings in a language style that non-scientists understand. This step is essential because if studies show that animal and plant species may be used as indicators of urban ecosystem health, and people know this, they are likely to want to contribute (e.g., change small things) to protect the area. If studies demonstrate that green spaces have cooler temperatures and this saves money in temperature control for houses and buildings, they will plant more trees or avoid cutting the trees that are present in the first place. Additionally, it is key for studies to incorporate citizen science; in this way, people feel more related to habitat and start to create and increase awareness about the importance of one species or remnant habitats.

Countries in the Global South need to start to generate information about the importance of natural and green areas around cities and distribute that information between city residents and governments. Additionally, we must educate the younger generation, as they will influence how countries and cities change to be “greener” in the future.

Seth Schindler

About the Writer:
Seth Schindler

Seth Schindler is an urban geographer interested in the transformation of cities in the so-called "Global South."

Seth Schindler

Discontinuous metabolic configurations and ungovernable ecologies

Cities are complex metabolic systems sustained by energy and materials that come from elsewhere and whose consumption generates waste. The configuration of cities’ metabolisms is contingent on local politics, resources, technology, and know-how. The configuration of metabolic systems determines what materials and energy are used (e.g. coal, renewable energy, nuclear power), who has access to services and resources, and who is exposed to waste.

Formal infrastructure systems in Southern cities are incomplete and exclusive compared to those of Northern cities.
Furthermore, a city’s metabolic configuration structures its relationship with its hinterland and shapes the localized ecology within the city. For example, a city that runs on coal and cars is less able to relocate environmental hazards (i.e. air pollution) beyond its borders than a city that uses nuclear energy to power public transportation. The former is likely to exhibit poorer ambient air quality with higher levels of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, with concomitant impacts on the city’s ecology.

Cities in the South tend to have metabolisms that differ in quantitative and qualitative ways from cities in the North. Gray infrastructure tends to extend throughout Northern cities and most residents enjoy access. In addition to being inclusive, there is typically a singular way in which urban residents are connected to urban systems. This does not necessarily mean that every Northern city offers universal access to high-quality resources and services, but access does tend to be uniform (although people of color are disproportionately exposed to waste). For example, residents of Flint, Michigan, were uniformly exposed to lead-contaminated water from an inclusive and extensive public water system.

In contrast, formal infrastructure systems in Southern cities tend to be incomplete and limited to central business districts and historically privileged neighborhoods. These limited systems exclude a significant number of city residents, and people are forced to access resources and dispose of waste in a range of creative ways. For example, people living beyond the limited reach of piped water systems must dig borewells, purchase water from formal- or informal-sector entrepreneurs, harvest rainwater, or fetch it from nearby bodies of water. Similarly, many municipal governments in the South have a poor track record when it comes to solid waste management. While only a fraction of solid waste is collected, the remainder is dumped illegally, recycled informally, or burned openly. My point here is not that there is an ideal-type metabolic configuration of Southern cities—on the contrary, there is tremendous diversity with regard to the ways in which material and energy course through Southern cities.

The diversity exhibited by the metabolic configurations of Southern cities inhibits interventions favored by technocrats and city planners in Northern cities (e.g. initiatives that make cities “smart”). Given the limited reach of formal infrastructure, the technological fixes meant to make metabolic systems more efficient or reduce the throughput of energy or resources can only affect a small fraction of a city’s metabolism. Energy and materials that do not move through formal channels escape regulation, and the diversity of ways in which people obtain resources and dispose of waste produce a kaleidoscopic patchwork of localized ecologies.

This cityscape of localized ecologies is not a mirror image of the socio-spatial inequality that characterizes most Southern cities because ecologies will not respond to the disciplinary repertoire used by states to produce populations and maintain their separation (e.g. Apartheid). In spite of efforts to produce particular ecologies, diverse localized ecologies will affect and “contaminate” one another in unpredictable ways. Take, for example, Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, which happens to be the site of a number of events in the 2016 Olympics as well as the destination of immeasurable amounts of pollutants. A number of rivers traverse neighborhoods that lack sewerage infrastructure, picking up excrement and waste along the way, which ultimately flows into the bay. The point is that while authorities focus on policing and the “pacification” of favelas, they have yet to devise an effective strategy to govern the city’s ecologies. Indeed, the dream of controlling “nature” is nowhere as inconceivable as in the cities that are representative of our urban future.

Tan Puay Yok

About the Writer:
Tan Puay Yok

Dr. Tan Puay Yok is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture in the School of Design and Environment of the National University of Singapore. His research, teaching, and professional activities focus on the policies, science, and practices of urban greening and ecology of the built environment.

Tan Puay Yok

My immediate reaction to this question is that urban ecological principles about how cities function in relation to sustainability, resilience, and liveability, and how cities respond to socio-ecological drivers, should be the key means to unifying our understanding of the urban ecology of and in the Global South and geographic south, and, for that matter, of the north.

Science cannot fully tell us what we ought to do; governance decisions need to also be guided by values such as ethics, equity, and respect.
But though principles can guide urban development, actual outcomes are tempered by complementary or conflicting socio-cultural, socio-political, and socio-economic factors within a framework of city governance. As we seek to apply urban ecological science to the betterment of urban conditions, it is also useful to remember that there is a limit to the application of science. Science cannot fully tell us what we ought to do; governance decisions need to also be guided by values such as ethics, equity, and a respect for the rights of other living things to co-exist with humans.

Pippin Anderson

Pippin Anderson

Department of Environmental and Geographical Science and
The African Centre for Cities
University of Cape Town, South Africa

Pippin Anderson works at the University of Cape Town in South Africa where she is lecturer and director of graduate studies in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science and urban ecology researcher at the African Centre for Cities. With a Masters degree in Conservation Biology and a PhD in Plant Ecology, Pippin has always had an interest in peopled-landscapes. In the last few years she has turned her interests to urban ecosystems and this informs her current teaching and research. Pippin lives in a dense suburb close to the city centre in Cape Town, yet from her roof (she goes up there for purposes of sanity) she can see Table Mountain National Park. She loves this dichotomy where city and nature must coexist, with their different temporal and spatial scales, and each so variably imagined by the population of the City. She enjoys grappling with the messiness of the ecology of human dominated landscapes.

28 thoughts on “What are the unifying elements of an urban ecology of the Global South and geographic south? Are they different than those in the north?

  1. Just a note that the Global North also has its roots in reverence and connection with Nature. This is was explored in the Nature-based religion Paganism, which is described as “a group of religions and spiritual traditions based on a reverence for nature.” This was a dominant “religion” across Europe at one time (think of Druids, etc.) – but was supplanted over time with other religions and of course development and modern culture. By the way – Paganism is still practiced in many northern countries. I do not think there was much difference in reverence and connection to Mother Earth from North to South (at one time in the past, I mean in terms of numbers of people). The lessons learned from this transition from connected to disconnected should be highlighted and brought to the general consciousness of Global South countries. How can the inevitable march to “development” still maintain connections to Nature in southern countries? Which policies and initiatives kept “Paganism” around in certain areas and cultures of the North? Such knowledge may help to develop strategies to keep southern countries connected to Nature.

  2. Dr. Bharat Dahiya has provoked thought amongst many readers here and I could not stop from commenting

    The impact culture has on urban planning is often lost in the one- or two-dimensional thinking about development.

    His piece notes how global south once flourished with these ideas. As a geographic entity, going through a ‘historic recession’, its resurgence would indeed be shaped by both the absorption of modern techniques and a renaissance of its age-old shared values. Only then would it be sustainable.

    Good luck with the round-table outcomes!

  3. It has taken me awhile to read the entire roundtable (plus comments). This has been a fantastic roundtable – thanks David for organsing it! The discussion covered so many embedded scales of ecology – from the larger global influences and national policies on urbanization to the everyday productions of ecologies in houses and communities – and how they all need to be connected and work together to change the ways we think about, create, and experience urban ecologies. Moreover, it was spread out geographically. The next time I teach my grad seminar on cities and nature, this discussion will be required reading (I printed it as a pdf!). Thank you!!

  4. This has been a great roundtable comments discussion! Language and how we understand the world is so intertwined. One academic editorial board that I am a member on has tried to get funds from the publisher (Taylor and Francis) to pay for editorial services for articles submitted by non-native English speakers (especially from the global south). The publishers make so much money off subscriptions they should be able to offer this service. Of course, they said not to our request. So now we have to find it somewhere in our budget, but it is an important issue.

  5. I really got fascinated by Dr. Bharat Dahiya’s article “The difference isn’t ecological, it’s cultural. As I being a resident of Nepal, I can connect with the examples that he has presented in this very effort. I can relate the example of Ganges with the Holy river in my county , The Bagmati. Government here does various afforestation program and there is a provision of burning the deceased human bodies through incinerator to avoid air pollution through burning.

    I would really want you to enlighten us with something regarding the challenges that are posed to Ganges river.

    It was really a delightful read! Much thanks!

  6. In response to Dr. Dahiya’s comment I think that there are certainly cultural differences between countries and also the equalizing forces of globalization to consider, but in my opinion social economic and class concerns are equally if not more powerful. It is a sad fact but wealthier urban residents are likely not going to use parks that are regarded as those frequented by the poor, preferring private recreational clubs, malls, or other forms of segregated recreation. As such you don’t have a shared sense of public space, and the public ‘ecological’ realm suffers. This translates into there simply being fewer powerful advocates for parks and natural environments in the city, and the wealthy retreat behind their own gated communities. On top of that there are socio-cultural issues that many in Asia have regarding exposure to the sun whereby the rich are reluctant to even be outside.
    This phenomenon reproduces itself because if children of the elites don’t play in nature then they’re much less likely to advocate for it as a public good when they get older. So we have diminishing interest in public spaces, nature, and ecology, from those who retain the power to influence the way cities are shaped.

  7. I agree with the points made by Dr.Bharat Dhahiya on the reference to the culture. From a Sri Lankan perspective, culture has played a key essence in the path of development for over 2 millenniums. Ancient towns and cities were developed based on the concept of “lake and Stupa, village and temple”, which resonates the importance of cultural teachings in the local community level.

    Many Buddhist scripts provide guidance for social well being, including equity, inclusion and peace that are being threatened in the today’s world. It also provide direction to proper financial management, town and country planning and good governance.

    In my point of view, i think we need to learn more from the ancient manuscripts in order to set the best path for development, the rich experience garnered in the history will enable us to set the right path to achieve the SDGs. And also it provides great opportunity to translate Development agenda to the local context thus providing the capacity to advance in leaving no one behind agenda.

  8. Dr Bharat Dahiya has rightly pointed out the need to consider a different perspective of urbanism today. The urban characteristics of the ‘North’ are a manifestation of the paradigm of development based on rapid industrialization and mechanisation. Industrial processes depend on use of natural resources to convert to finished goods. Rapid industrialisation has led to exploitation of natural resources.

    The prevailing geo-political situation of the ‘North’ following Industrial Revolution ensured, through colonization, a steady supply of raw materials to industries, without suffering from adverse ecological consequences.Therefore, conservation never became a part of the spatio-economic development. This paradigm of resource utilization , without concurrent conservation practices, manifested in a spatio-economic globalization process that has little avenues for equitable distribution of resources.

    Culture and development have always been considered in isolation and compartmentalized as antithesis to one another. The symbiotic relationship between nature, society and development is rarely acknowledged.This disconnect has resulted in urban expansion in disaster prone areas, leading to aggravated risks among large sections of the population.

    In the context of anthropogenic risks to human sustainability, a new approach integrating the traditional value systems within the modern development paradigm is the need of the hour. Our ‘ekatatma ‘ with the universe will be manifested through a symbiotic relationship with the environment.
    – Chandrani Bandyopadhyay, National Institute of Disaster Management, India

  9. Sounds like a great idea. I would certainly benefit. I do think no matter what one does around writing, it needs to include a space for constructive reflection around power, voice etc, and how this ties to language. There is a nice paper by Gopen and Swan (1990) on the English language and scientific writing which I have used in teaching in this space. It gives food for thought.

  10. Interesting conversation on language – it’s well recognised that early exposure to multiple languages is beneficial to learning and overall development. I’m afraid i’m not a great practitioner having grown up in an essentially mono-lingual envt, but in recent decades there has been a resurgence of te reo (New Zealand Maori language) in schools and across the wider national culture. I can however vouch for how much botanical names have enriched my knowledge and understanding of language generally – both from botanical latin, as one of roots of english, and in the common names of many NZ plants – often with both english and older Maori versions – which can provide insights into plant characteristics, their ecology, uses, and cultural meanings.

  11. At TNOC we spend a fair amount of editorial time, and that’s OK with us. Because, as you say, the most important thing is the ideas. (As a small thing you may have noticed, at TNOC everyone gets to write in their own version of English—British, American, color vs colour…as I say, a small thing, but a nod to diversity.)

    We have been contemplating offering some writing workshops. It’s just an notion so far, the idea would be to offer workshops in better popular science writing—how to convert complicated ideas into presentations that are easier to digest by smart/imformed laypeople. I have thought of these as science to laypeople conversations, but perhaps there is a version that could be meant to help the technical writing of English as a Second Language (ESL) people. Not sure how it would work, but we been thinking about it.

  12. I love this idea, and think it is worth exploring more. While pretty much all our academic endeavours in South Africa are in English, we do occasionally think about language in the teaching realm where I believe there is research that suggests concepts grasped in one’s mother tongue tend to be better understood. I think the matter of language, and how it relates to ones sense of belonging and ownership is under estimated. Food for thought.

  13. I agree with the points underlined by Dr. Bharat Dahiya. I particularly believe that we as humanity have built the idea of development in expenses of our environment and nature, both in the “North” and the “South”. The dichotomy between “develop” or “preserve” has marked our efforts towards fighting poverty in developing economies. As a Nicaraguan development practitioner and urban planner I have observed several similarities within the “global south”, especially between Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and Asia-Pacific, particularly with South-East Asia. I agree that our urban ecology exhibit similar -if not the same- characteristics around the world. For instance, Ulaanbaatar presents so many similar characteristics to Managua in the way the streets are used by the citizens, yet the Mongolian and Nicaraguan societies have less cultural and historical resemblances. Similar ecological conditions are found between Vietnamese and Central American cities as well, where urban communities from Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Managua and Estelí practice similar adaptation methods to cope with climate change related impacts.

    The native communities in the Americas had a strong link with nature, and our current surviving indigenous populations still do. From the “Northern” perspective this dependence to nature is maybe seen as under-development and their lack of material possessions is seem as poverty, while the over exploitation of environmental goods is seen as development and economic growth. However, many of our indigenous populations struggle to overcome many challenges, and “development” (from the economic perspective) seems the only way out. Additionally, it is important to notice that not all countries and societies from the “South” have always been promoting harmony between economic development and the environment. Some of our developing and emerging societies are still posing serious harm to the planet and our natural resources. Therefore, as Dr. Dahiya cites: grow first, clean up later is no longer an option. We are the generation that will do a cleaner development that the one that developed the “North” first. With less resources available and increasing environmental threats, our development opportunities will only come with our ancient and almost-forgotten practice: our love to mother Earth.

  14. I agree with this difficulty of translating and/or learning several languages. Time and budget are usual limiting factors. So meanwhile we don´t have a solution, we better keep going if not, we will still be in the same situation that we are discussion here…..global north and global south.
    However there is room for improvement….scientific journals should have a fund or more consideration with the fact that we nono native english speakers usually get negative comments about our english and therefore need to pay editorial services that native english speaker don´t need to.
    We should all be more tolerant with this kind of imperfections, specially given that the highest priority here is to communicate as effectively as possible, throughout a variety of languages and cultures.

  15. The metabolic analogy of Seth Schindler is articulate, and leaves the reader with wanting to read more on this analysis approach. It would be very interesting to see if, and how, urban governance and urban risk governance can be integrated in this way of thinking.

  16. I fully agree and support the views of Dr. Bharat Dahiya. Its all about human culture and values that a race or a community has been practicing since generations. A case in point here is the holy city of Banaras in north India where Death is a way of life and big business defying all environmental odds, culture and heritage still reigns supreme. Global North is as much interested in Banaras as is Global South.

    Banaras which has created an entire industry around the dead. For centuries people from all across the subcontinent come to Benaras to die and dispose the physical remains, in order to attain nirvana, moksha or salvation. The idea is to release themselves from the cycle of life, death and reincarnation by dying in Banaras or having their remains cremated on the ghats, alongside the Ganges. Local priests are the guardians of ‘death rituals’ with network of small guesthouses or hospices where people ‘check-in’ to die. The two main hospices are Mukti Bavan and Moksha Bhavan with a weird check-out policy: if you don’t die within two weeks, the manager will politely ask you to leave. People who do not die in those two weeks have to leave with their heart full of grief. There are experts in Banaras, who will tell you exactly when the person will die. People as far as Nepal and South India come here to die. Famous cremation ghats like ‘Manikarnika’ (main sacred burning Ghat) run 24×7 even in acute floods. Right from the type of wood required for cremation to the priest (Dome) lighting the pyre (from 1000 years old constantly burning wood blocks), there is money involved (demanded and given, no choice !) for every ritual, based on the status of the person. The death business runs into millions of rupees every month and is controlled by the ‘Dome community’, who are unofficial owners of Cremation Ghats and can only provide ‘fire to the pyre’ and are culturally revered to be the inevitable part of the cremation process. Long live the dead !

  17. My name is Uchral. I am from Mongolia. I study at National University of Mongolia in field of journalism. I’ve carefully and pleasantly read an urbanist Bharat Dahiya’s article about economic and culture. According to the article, the main points about Buddism, interconnectedness, dependent origination and Mother Nature felt som familiar to me. Because, in Mongolia, majority of people are Buddists and culturally, we consider our living environment as a Mother Nature. This perspective and Buddism have been being the biggest culture or tradition for thousand of years. Even though religiously or culturally, we consider the environment as Mother Nature and showing respect to the nature of Earth, recently, this respect is being replaced by the interest of benefit. I totally agree with the idea that Money, after all, mattets a lot. In my point of view, even in my community, cultural or traditional aspect have been being very important, but now, culturally and economically, its becoming different. I want to suggest researchers and scholars to come to Mongolia to study the relationship between religion, nature, and even influence of economy and globalization on them.

  18. Bharat Dahiya’s perspective “The difference isn’t ecological, it’s cultural” puts finger on the heart of Truth. Much of the biosphere we came into being and evolved in is now ‘redesigned’ in the epoch of anthropocene. Urbanization is increasingly assuming phenomenal dimensions to turn the whole planet into what we can call an anthropogenic ecosystem. Urban ecology issues Bharat Dahiya discusses so stupendously are the real ones that need to be resolved. Eliciting beautiful elements from ecological, anthropological, geographical, cultural, theosophical and neo-liberal realities of the past and of our present, Dahiya concludes so philosophically: “Looking forward, the culture of respect and care for nature will have to be brought back if the cities of the South, as well as those of the North—and, for that matter, humanity and all forms of life—have a chance of survival on planet Earth.

    With my experience of the Himalayas, I often realise that when we honestly pursue and apply ecological approach to the transformation of landscape, the outcome is very promising. A sound ecosystem and ecologically sound models of transformation, including urbanization, arrest the devastating changes, such as mass wastage, rampant soil erosion, catastrophic landslides, etc. which arise due to inherent characteristics of fragility. While in fragile areas there is no alternative to go ecologically sound to combat fragility, ecological models in the plains also pay sustainably in terms of micro-climate building, temperature regulation, pollution check, groundwater recharge, etc.

    Life closest to photosynthesis is a sustainable life. It is the photosynthesis that transforms light into living energy and all life on Earth is directly and indirectly fed by photosynthesis. Only a system that helps fortify photosynthesis is life-enhancing and happiness-sustaining. The ecologically-oriented systems and lifestyles are really the photosynthesis-fortifying ones. This can clearly be elicited from Dahiya’s viewpoint, that would help us to live amidst a vibrant and sustainable culture.

    Ecological sanctity, which underlies Dahiya’s conclusion, is the core of the philosophy we need to pursue in the transformation processes leading to our dwelling systems and other life-styles. Eco-philosophical approach to life embraces ideas that Bharat Dahiya beautifully weaves in his piece.

  19. By discussing the Global South’s perspective vis-à-vis Northern perspective on urban ecology, Dr. Dahiya goes, in my opinion, to the root of problems of the present humanity at the larger scale, not only the urban ecological one. His emphasis on the “cultural” dimension is a missing point of the academic reflection of our times in which spiritual approach is ignored and dumped into the category of unworthy relics of the past.

    In the era of economic globalization, the courage and strength to recognize spiritual and cultural wisdom as an important element is often considered as a sign of old-fashioned way of thinking, and is not a part of so-called “modernization”. The dogmatic hegemony of the Western/Northern perspective, manifested by all forms of neoliberalism, is successfully applied in the majority of Asian countries. This ideological colonization imposes, by both legal and illegal mechanisms, habitual patterns proper to Western/Northern way of thinking, ignoring the local wisdom of the South.

    Nevertheless, as argued and proved by Dr. Dahiya, the traditional, local wisdom is a powerful learning platform, which should be seriously taken into consideration in the creation of national policies as important, local complement to the Western/Northern ideas, or as a persuasive evidence of the necessity of eradication of erroneous assumptions promoted by Western hegemony. There is no doubt that a holistic approach to urban ecological problems which embrace internal and external knowledge based on best practices from both sides seems to be the most effective solution. Imitation of external patterns is problematic. That is why the renaissance of traditional as well as indigenous wisdom of local heritage needs a deep and large-scale academic research. Dr. Dahiya is one of the best exponents of this, and I am glad that he is spreading this awareness also through this roundtable at “The Nature of Cities”.

    Pawel Kazimierz Bartosik, College of Europe, Warsaw, Poland

  20. I agree with Dr. Bharat Dahiya as he very well explained that cultural history of global south has always promoted the harmony between economic development and the mother nature. But due to the increasing globalisation, the cities of global south are competing with the northern cities for reaping the benefits of economic integration and achieving higher economic growth and they often neglect the ecology of the cities in this process. Global south is trying to imitate the development path of north but due to the complexity and diversity of the cities along with the lack of infrastructure and governance, they are not able to experience the similar type of development. The large cities in the south are turning into concrete jungles leaving a little space for urban ecology. It is also important to be noticed that, after achieving higher levels of development, western cities are now focusing on environmental sustainability and green growth. On the other hand, existence of large informal economy and growing slum population are the major characteristics of cities in the south. Therefore, instead of imitating the development approaches proposed by north, they should be indigenised according to cultural and environmental conditions of the cities in the south.
    — Rupinder Kaur, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

  21. The article of Dr. Dahiya serves a good foundation for the discussion of culture and urban ecology. I personally believe that culture can serve as a communication tool for urban planners in Asia. In his article, he posits that if culture of respect and care for nature is brought back in cities in the South, then we will have a greater chance of survival. This is very true, particularly in this side of the world where culture is one of the dominant driving forces to every action. To further elaborate on the example given by Dr. Bharat on how Thai people refer to their rivers as “mother river”, every year, they have a traditional festival called Loy Kratong. During this event, Thai people make a conscious effort of showing their respects to the water spirits. With this tradition and belief, they give high regards to taking good care of their rivers because for them, it’s more than just a body of water, it is something spiritual.

    Taking this concept a little further, I think it is then the duty of urban planners in the south to integrate cultural landscape into making plans. If culture becomes a foundation for urban development plans, development of environmentally friendly cities becomes more participative and inclusive. The first task at hand though is to identify the cultural meanings of ecology and the environments to each society, and then capitalize them to drive positive action.

    Guill Marc D. Mariano
    ASEAN Studies Center, New Era University
    Metro Manila, Philippines

  22. I agree with Dr. Bharat Dahiya as he very well explained that cultural history of global south has always promoted the harmony between economic development and the mother nature. But due to the increasing globalisation, the cities of global south are competing with the northern cities for reaping the benefits of economic integration and achieving higher economic growth and they often neglect the ecology of the cities in this process. Global south is trying to imitate the development path of north but due to the complexity and diversity of the cities along with the lack of infrastructure and governance, they are not able to experience the similar type of development. The large cities in the south are turning into concrete jungles leaving a little space for urban ecology. It is also important to be noticed that, after achieving higher levels of development, western cities are now focusing on environmental sustainability and green growth. On the other hand, existence of large informal economy and growing slum population are the major characteristics of cities in the south. Therefore, instead of imitating the development approaches proposed by north, they should be indigenised according to cultural and environmental conditions of the cities in the south.
    — Rupinder Kaur, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

  23. I agree with Dr. Bharat Dahiya as he very well explained that cultural history of global south has always promoted the harmony between economic development and the mother nature. But due to the increasing globalisation, the cities of global south are competing with the northern cities for reaping the benefits of economic integration and achieving higher economic growth and they often neglect the ecology of the cities in this process. Global south is trying to imitate the development path of north but due to the complexity and diversity of the cities along with the lack of infrastructure and governance, they are not able to experience the similar type of development. The large cities in the south are turning into concrete jungles and there is little space for urban ecology. It is also important to be noticed that, after achieving higher levels of development, western cities are now focusing on environmental sustainability and green growth. Therefore, instead of imitating the development approaches proposed by north, they should be indigenised according to cultural and environmental conditions of the cities in the south.

  24. I agree with Dr. Bharat Dahiya as he very well explained that cultural history of global south has always promoted the harmony between economic development and the mother nature. But due to the increasing globalisation, the cities of global south are competing with the northern cities for reaping the benefits of economic integration and achieving higher economic growth and they often neglect the ecology of the cities in this process. Global south is trying to imitate the development path of north but due to the complexity and diversity of the cities along with the lack of infrastructure and governance, they are not able to experience the similar type of development. The large cities in the south are turning into concrete jungles and there is little space for urban ecology. It is also important to be noticed that, after achieving higher levels of development, western cities are now focusing on environmental sustainability and green growth. Therefore, instead of imitating the development approaches proposed by north, they should be indigenised according to cultural and environmental conditions of the cities in the south.

  25. I agree with David. In a global world and at least in the academia , people should make the effort to read at least in 2 or 3 languages!

  26. The question of language is a difficult one, and really important. Obviously English has increasingly become the common language in international contexts, for better (its common) and worse (it privileges English speakers and tends to blur cultural nuance). Yet lots of important material is published in languages other than English. Small publications usually can’t afford to translate to English. Bigger publications often choose not to. Most scholars can’t (or don’t) learn more than a couple world languages—which is why many default to their Native and local languages plus English. It’s not ideal, but what is the realistic alternative? Graduate schools (English speaking ones at least) seem to have progressively eroded requirements for multiple languages.

    TNOC struggles with this. We publish in English and although I WISH we could translate into multiple languages, we don’t have the budget. There is Google Translate embedded in the site—not so good, but I think better than nothing. The best we have been able to do is offer to publish, for any piece, both the English version and a different language version provided by the author. Only a few of our authors have done this—we’ve done a bunch in Spanish and a couple in Portuguese.

    So, I am sympathetic to Ana’s call to engage with languages other than English. Maybe the future is in a World Translator ear phone—everyone gets to speak in the Native languages, and everyone hears it in their ear in their own language. But how will we address this issue in the meantime, and still propel a broad engagement in the world community?

  27. Very interesting opinions! I was struck by the concern of Pippin of Cape Town. I wonder perhaps her students should be confronted with literature in languages other than English. Finally a large proportion in the South writes in Spanish and Portuguese as urban ecology themes are locally relevant !

  28. I agree with Olga B., from Chile. The Latin American South needs more data and information that can be used to management. In addition cities need decision makers that understand the complexities of urban dynamics and are ready to apply ecological knowledge to projects and programs. A responsive community is also necessary.

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