Urban Nature

Humans need to find peace and quiet. Any parent has reached their screaming point from all the chaos that children and jobs can bring into their lives, but we all occasionally need some calming, uninterrupted time for our brain to settle down and clear out our thoughts. For some, a walk in the woods or relaxation by a stream will do it. The Japanese call it “forest bathing.” Others don’t have the luxury of the natural setting accessible to Thoreau and others. For our health and sanity, our local environments need to provide that calming place.

 Eugenia South described efforts to address problems with urban environments, “In large cities, a small number of streets account for an outsize number of violent crimes. Those streets are usually in segregated Black neighborhoods that, because of structural racism, have suffered from decades of disinvestment and physical and economic decline. Dilapidated homes with blown-out windows, blocks with no trees, barren, concrete schoolyards and vacant lots strewn with trash such as used condoms, needles, mattresses and tires often dominate the landscape.”

One resident of such an area explained, “It makes me feel not important. Like I think that your surroundings, like your environment, affects your mood, it affects your train of thought, your thought process, your emotions. And seeing vacant lots and abandoned buildings, to me that’s a sign of neglect. So I feel neglected.”

South explained, “Our team transformed run-down vacant parcels of land by planting new grass and trees, installing low wooden post-and-rail fences around the perimeter and performing regular maintenance … We found that after both the greening and trash cleanup interventions, gun violence went down significantly … This experiment provided clear evidence that changing neighborhood conditions can improve — and improved — seemingly intractable community and mental health problems.”

Many places are recognizing the need to “green up” the places where we live, and make it more attractive for both animals and humans.

Lisa Collins quotes Mr. Benepe: In New York City, “The city is experiencing a surprising return of native wildlife in numbers and diversity remarkable even to local ecologists and park officials. You are seeing miraculous occurrences of wildlife right in the middle of the city … Wildlife has been forced, by loss of habitat, to adapt. It’s as if wildlife has said: ‘You’ve taken away our habitat. OK, we’ll live in yours’ … But wildlife needs habitat, and the animals’ return … is because of the city’s forty-year effort to expand and clean up its parks, rivers, forests and wetlands.”

Reporter Phoebe Weston notes, “… across the world people are welcoming wildlife into cities, where more than half of us live.” She adds, “In Milan’s central business district, two plant-covered skyscrapers provide the same amount of vegetation as 30,000 sq. metres of woodland … Ecologists worked to make sure the plants were suitable for the location and they now attract 1,600 species of bird and butterfly.”

She goes on, “More than a dozen wildlife bridges and passages have been built in the Canadian city of Edmonton to maintain habitat connectivity and reduce human wildlife conflict … Trees on the bridge provide shelter for animals as they cross. Smaller bridges include special passes for salamanders and frogs so they can avoid the road as they move between the wetlands and forest.”

Wuhan, China has also taken a “nature-based approach to flood defences. Permeable pavements, rain gardens, artificial ponds and wetlands were created throughout the city as ecologically friendly alternatives to traditional hard flood defences.”

And more, “Campaigners have been collaborating with a local artist to create artwork at road-kill hotspots to raise awareness for protecting the rare Caracal in Cape Town … “Berlin is creating more than 50 wild gardens as part of a bigger effort to save biodiversity in Germany … More than 100 wildflower meadows have been planted across Germany’s largest cities in the past three years.”

Eugenia South avers, “The reasons that improving places prevents violent crime are not immediately clear to many. Each time we leave our homes and traverse our neighborhoods, the environment is getting under our skin to influence our physical functioning, our thoughts, our behaviors and our interactions. This often happens without our conscious awareness.”

Humans are just another species of animal and we need to learn to accept and thrive in our own place in nature, and nature’s place in ours. So, spread some nature in your neighborhood!

Additional information:

Eugenia C. South, To Combat Gun Violence, Clean Up the Neighborhood, Oct. 8, 2021, The New York Times

Phoebe Weston, 10 Great City Projects for Nature – From Vertical Forests to a ‘Gangsta Garden’, October 1 2021, The Guardian

Lisa M. Collins, Native Creatures Are Loving Life, October 31, 2021, The New York Times

A few related posts by Steve Tarlton at Writes of Nature:

Not Man Apart, 6/24/21

It’s iIn Our Nature, 2/20/20

Urban Species, 12/5/19

Harmony of Nature, 8/22/19

Balancing Nature, 1/10/19

Be Green, Not Mean, 10/18/18

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