Urban Conservation

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By: Peter Kareiva

25 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities, and 75 percent lived in the country or in small towns. Now it is about the reverse—80 percent urban, 20 percent rural. Those statistics should not surprise most people; it’s old news that the world is racing toward urbanization. But it’s worth paying attention to the profound social and ecological implications of that shift.

Think, for instance, about our relationship to nature. What connection can urbanites feel to nature when the only walks they take are on sidewalks?

With the exception of fund raising, most conservationists have ignored cities, and in this regard The Nature Conservancy is typical. It is in our DNA to avoid urban areas; we are staffed with people who love wild and remote places, people who escape cities to hike and camp out. We rely on scientific assessments of habitat to decide where to work and then find that urban sites are too degraded to rise to the top of our priority lists. Our aversion to cities also has deep historical roots: Conservation icons such as John Muir had disdain for the dirty places that cities represented to him. How many nature essays have you read heralding the wonder to be found in a city block?

I say that now is the time for conservationists to evolve and re-examine our neglect of urban areas. Here’s why: Conservation is facing a crisis of irrelevance—it is an enterprise that is not urgent to most people. If conservation is to build the support it needs, it must energize young urban dwellers, who now make up most of the world. The best way to get city people to care about conservation is to do conservation where they live so that nature is seen as relevant and connected to modern life.
Source: The Nature Conservancy Magazine

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