Close to Home

“Cities are the 21st century’s dominant form of civilization — and they’re where humanity’s struggle for survival will take place … Half the planet’s population lives in cities. They are the world’s engines, generating four-fifths of the global GDP … As the economist Ed Glaeser puts it, ‘we are an urban species.’”

                                                ~ Robert Muggah and Benjamin Barber

“Nature has often been associated as purely a feature of rural landscapes, when in fact urban areas are home to a myriad of ecosystems and natural wealth, harbouring rich biodiversity. We are embedded in nature and yet we know very little about it … we must mobilize urban decision-makers and citizens to put nature at the heart of urban life. We have a unique opportunity to ensure that cities become true drivers of growth, resilience and well-being that operate within healthy social and planetary boundaries.”

                                                ~ Mauricio Rodas Espinel

Cities are being hit hard by climate change, and that means more and more people are being affected. People, including new immigrants, are increasingly drawn to the cities, in the hopes of finding employment and better lives, but they face air pollution and extreme heat waves.

However, according to Quito, Ecuador’s Mayor Espinel, “Most cities in the world are ill-equipped to address the threats urbanization poses to natural habitats … Conserving urban biodiversity is an important component of such efforts, as well as for ensuring people’s overall well-being. It can be achieved by conserving, creating, restoring and enhancing a diverse spectrum of ecosystems within the city and connecting them with ecological corridors.”

He describes steps that can be taken to conserve (or embellish) urban diversity:

  • “Conserving, creating, restoring and enhancing a diverse spectrum of ecosystems within the city and connecting them with ecological corridors.
  • Maintain natural reserves, urban parks and green areas that by definition contribute to supporting natural wildlife within cities’ borders as well as providing physical and mental health benefits for city dwellers.
  • Establish watersheds and restrict construction on wetlands
  • Promote sustainable urban agriculture”

“Adequately addressing biodiversity conservation and restoration in cities demands a comprehensive multistakeholder approach to align ambitions towards accountable steps and solutions. Citizens of all ages must be empowered to be stewards of nature. We must all work in synchrony towards encouraging cities to work for both people and the planet to ensure their long-term viability.”

Author Jim Morrison describes strategies for fighting extreme heat in cities that include removing or whitewashing black asphalt and roof surfaces, adding more trees for shade, requiring developers to vary the heights of new buildings to increase airflow, and opening more public air-conditioned spaces. He notes that researcher Vivek Shandas says that research “uncovered six things that affect urban heat. Three are living — the volume of the tree canopy, the height of the tree canopy, and the ground level vegetation. Three are human-built — the volume of buildings, the difference in building heights, and the coloring of the buildings.”

He goes on, “Creating cooler cities doesn’t necessarily mean building at lower densities. What matters, he says, is varying building heights, the canopy cover, and street widths. ‘It wasn’t about no buildings and all green; it was about designing our spaces more thoughtfully.’”

There’s no magic here, just thoughtful design and implementation. Protect and enhance greenways, honor natural features, and don’t think that human short-term needs are greater than long term survival.

We know that nature persists in spite of our efforts to cover it up and make it go away. The dandelion growing from a concrete wall; the ash saplings growing against the fence; the spiders in our windows; and even the rats and cockroaches in our sewers. Nature persists.

Maybe we should try a different approach. More greenery, more street trees, more ponds and waterways, more green roofs and balconies, more urban gardens, stepping buildings back from the street and staggering building heights to open up the sky.

The truth is these kinds of efforts don’t merely enhance nature, they enhance our very living experience. They make our lives better.

It’s as though we are really just a part of nature.

Additional information:

Mauricio Rodas Espinel and Lena Chan, How to Reimagine Our Cities as Hubs For Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Resilience, June 5, 2021, World Economic Forum

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Nature-Based Solutions,

Jim Morrison, Can We Turn Down the Temperature on Urban Heat Islands?, September 12, 2019, YaleEnvironment360

Robert Muggah and Benjamin Barber, Why Cities Rule The World, May 31, 2016,

One thought on “Close to Home

  1. I appreciate your topics and the quality of your writing. This is not directly pertinent to this post, but I though it interesting nonetheless.

    I read a review in a recent New Yorker of a book by Sarah Schulman, LET THE RECORD SHOW: A POLITICAL HISTORY OF ACT UP NY, 1987-1993, about the AIDS Action group from the late 80’s. Extinction Rebellion (known as XR) is a 3 year-old group acting up about climate change, as you probably know. XR is pressing world leadership to DO MORE about climate change using actions like ACT UP did, that are planned to be as attention-getting as possible. I don’t agree with property-damaging actions XR has done, but I do agree that we need to do much more than we are currently doing, and the stakes count be much higher.


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