With the goal to empower major cities in planning for a resilient, regenerative future, that extends social equity for all, what one or two specific actions should be taken, to achieve this notable goal?

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For many in The Nature of Cities community, a key objective or goal could be stated something like this: to empower cities to plan for a positive natural future. There is a lot of unpack in such a statement. Indeed, almost every word in the phrase “to empower cities to plan for a positive natural future” could benefit from some discovery.

“Empower”? What’s the action? Empower whom to do what? What knowledge would ground and justify such empowerment?

“City”? Where? How big? Is there one thing we might call a “city”? Or do we mean “community”?

“Natural”? What elements of “nature” do we emphasize and value? Wild nature? Built nature? Nativeness or functionality?

And so on…

This roundtable is a follow up to a new report called “Nature in the Urban Century”, in which TNOC was a modest partner. You can see the whole report here. The emphasis of the report is on biodiversity conservation, its goals and strategies, and its emergent benefits for people.

The partners of this roundtable—TNOC, The Nature Conservancy, and Future Earth—wanted to cast a wider net of responses to this topic, so we asked a diversity of people in the TNOC  community to respond: architects, artists, activists, academics and practitioners, and people from the north and south. Their prompt: What is one specific action that should be taken (when? immediately?) to achieve a “positive natural future”? And who should do it? We asked them to feel free to define “natural” as it suited their argument.

No one would be surprised to hear that from such a diverse group there are a range of responses. Some threads exist, though, and three in particular. The first is “connection”, both of people to a consciousness about nature, and of connecting urban spaces to a wider geographic sense of the idea of “nature”, for example gradients spanning city centers to rural areas. Partly this is data and knowledge, but it also involves a broader awareness. There probably isn’t one “nature”, but we need to address the idea of this word directly and explicitly with a wide range of stakeholders.

A second thread is “diversity”, recognizing both its bio- and also human expressions. This emerges from recognizing cities as ecosystems of people, natural spaces (both wild and built), and infrastructure—all of these things. A key element in recognizing and honoring diversity is in truly engaging diverse stakeholders, from real participatory actions to finding new ideas from various sources, not just the usual collection of “experts”, such as professional ecologists, planners, and designers.

Third, there is a deep thread of “equity” and “justice” in these responses. That is, in our conversations about nature and cities we must always be demanding about spreading the wealth and benefits of nature so that everyone may benefit.

In other words, If there is going to be a positive natural future, we’ll only achieve it together.


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