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Worldwide, a variety of projects are revealing how urbanization impacts biodiversity, and conversely the relative benefits of biodiversity for the urban environment and people. This book synthesizes this area of research at a level suitable for both students and professionals working in nature conservation and urban planning and management.
ICLEI’s Cities Biodiversity Center is proud to have contributed to a chapter in this book, which bridges the gap between research and management.
Read the foreword below:
We are all fascinated, attracted and inspired by nature. Even in today’s modern world—for as urbanized and digital as we are—we cannot do without keeping in touch with nature. Many of the most loved children’s cartoons are inspired by animals; we give flowers to our fiancées; we live closely with pet animals; we fill our homes with plants; our blood pressure drops when we enter an urban park from a busy city road; and to relax patients surgery theaters exhibit large pictures of forests, lakes and mountains on their walls.
We need nature. Not only because it gives us clean air, pure water, food, a stable climate amongst many other things, but because it has been our home for the vast majority of human history. The few decades of our ‘modern’ lifestyle is but a blink of an eye, compared to the over 2 million years of our existence on this planet… deeply immersed in nature. We need nature’s presence around us, fascination for nature it’s literally in our genes.
However, our modern lifestyle is separating us more and more from the wild natural world. With over half of the world population already crammed into urban areas, many of the early experiences our children have with nature and biodiversity are in a city environment. At the same time, the relatively safe environment of cities is increasingly attracting wildlife from the surrounding natural habitats, offering the potential of magnificent wild encounters in an urban context.
In winter up to two million starlings flock in stereoscopic fashion over Rome’s ancient ruins; peregrine falcons nest in Manhattan’s skyscrapers in higher numbers than in most pristine mountains; large numbers of enormous fruit bats choose to roost in the trees of Colombo’s city squares; marmoset monkeys thrive in the park at the foot of Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain; foxes and badgers settle in many European cities… not to mention the incredible leopards of Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi park. And finally add the innumerable species such as butterflies, insects and birds to these wildlife celebrities, which make cities their home… and all of a sudden the ‘wild side’ has conquered city parks, rivers, lakes and seaside promenades, making them excellent environmental education open air laboratories.
We can also easily promote the rewilding of our cities: from ‘wildlife gardening’, using the right plants to attract all sorts of butterflies; the right berries to attract birds; the right trees to create mini forest habitats perfect for owls and woodpeckers; to building the right artificial nests to attract innumerable birds, bats, insects and much more. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s incredibly fulfilling… and educational. It offers everyone the opportunity to experience wildlife, take action and feel the concrete and direct results.
It also promotes the understanding and appreciation of the incredible diversity of life around us—something so easily ignored if we don’t pay attention.
Urban biodiversity can be considered the doorway to wildlife and wild nature, and a powerful vehicle for developing the awareness and empathy we desperately need in a world where wild nature is shrinking and wildlife populations all around the globe are declining steeply.
We will never save what we do not understand and love. Yes, nature conservation today is a complex business that involves the way we produce and consume, manage markets and financial flows and how we generate our energy—all with implications on natural systems. But the bottom line is still intrinsically about the value of nature to us and the emotions it evokes.
Big journeys start with small steps…and powerful experiences. And this book is one of them. The more people are able to learn and experience nature and biodiversity, even in the simplest and most urbanized form, the more chance we have to build a community of practice that supports the change we need to build a future where people and nature are, finally, able to coexist in harmony.
Cities, designed to keep us apart from wild nature, can in fact turn out to be our greatest allies for environmental education and conservation. We need to open and foster a dialogue between research and practice to preserve urban biodiversity in humanity’s future.