What We DoThe mission of The Nature of Cities is to curate joined conversations about urbanism across ways of knowing and modes of action. We create transdisciplinary, publicly available, and widely disseminated programs, events, knowledge, and engagements for green city making. We strive for cities worldwide that are resilient, sustainable, livable, and just. We work to achieve this by:
- Publishing open access, web-based articles, essays, and discussion forums by writers, thinkers, creators, and activists, focusing on ideas that are transdisciplinary and at the frontiers where science, design, planning, and art meet. Creativity in all forms and from all sources.
- Creating public symposia and transdisciplinary engagements designed to increase knowledge and citizen engagement in creative cultures, urban nature, planning, design, and placemaking. Recent events include TNOC Summit in Paris (June 2019) and the Food-Water-Energy public event in Sao José dos Campos, Brazil (September 2019), and an upcoming sponsored event in Osaka. See also our FRIEC page.
- Designing outreach, educational, and research materials for urban communities, city managers, practitioners, and researchers on the subjects of urban ecosystems, green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, and biodiversity.
- Creating programs that engage arts, culture, science, and action together in joined spaces.
- Conducting place-based projects with partner organizations in Europe and on a global scale, integrating ways of knowing and modes of action.
- Stimulating, engage, and provoke citizens, artists, planners, designers, and scientists to explore new ways to envision better cities—cities that are sustainable, resilient, livable, and just.
- Conducting place-based projects with partner organizations in various countries.
- Marcus Collier, Dublin
- David Maddox, New York
- Siobhán McQuaid, Dublin
- Pippin Anderson, Cape Town
- Marcus Collier, Dublin
- Martha Fajardo, Bogotá
- Mike Houck, Portland
- David Maddox, New York
- Chantal van Ham, Brussels
- Gilles Lecuir, Paris
- David Maddox, New York
- Valerie Gwinner, Vaison-la-Romaine
In September last year, the IUCN World Conservation Congress—Planet at the Crossroads—brought together in Hawai’i more than 10,000 participants from 180 countries, including top scientists and academics, world leaders and decision makers from governments, civil society, indigenous peoples, and business. It presented a unique opportunity to discuss the unprecedented challenges facing our planet. The Congress … Continue reading Are We Truly Connected in Today’s High Frequency World?
It takes distance to gain a sense of perspective, and so I find myself sitting in a small market town in the north of England looking halfway across the world at my time living in one of the world’s great emerging megacities, Bangkok. From this market town there is a sense of history that goes … Continue reading Shaped by Urban History—Reflections on Bangkok
The first five people we spoke to in the San Anton neighborhood of the Mexican city of Cuernavaca didn’t know the location of the Salto Chico (small waterfall). The neighborhood’s larger waterfall, referred to as the Salto Grande or Salto San Anton, is known as a place to buy ceramic planters originally made from the … Continue reading The Barrancas of Cuernavaca: Rescuing Lost Landscapes Hidden by Garbage
I was looking at an infographic on Twitter recently. It was in the form of a wheel of words, listing dozens of objectives and issues relating to urban design. Hoping that soil, water, vegetation, habitat, or biodiversity would be featured, I looked for some mention of these terms. I did not find soil, water, vegetation, … Continue reading The Nature of Green
We found ourselves scrambling along the slippery, vine-entangled slope, ducking under branches and contorting ourselves around fallen trees. The air was hot and thick with humidity, causing us to sweat after just a few minutes on the trail. As we walked, the noise of the busy highway slowly subsided and the sounds of the rainforest … Continue reading Southeast Asia’s Urban Future: A Snapshot of Kuala Lumpur
I read this article by Menno Schilthuizen, a Dutch evolutionary biologist and ecologist, about the evolution of animal and plant species taking place in cities. In cities, evolution is propelled by two forces: the known laws of ecology AND the social dynamics of human society. The article concludes that we are witnessing the emergence of … Continue reading Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Evolution in the Streets
Sweden, especially its capital, Stockholm, is a very famous “green” city. Indeed, Stockholm’s green infrastructure wedges system is one of the most recognized and cited around the world because of the significant ecosystem services that it provides and because it acts as a source of natural biodiversity for an urban environment. These wedges are remnants … Continue reading How to Make Urban Green Verdant and Sustainable: Designing “Wild” Swedish Lawns
Winter is here in the north—not the slightest allusion here to any famous TV series or any recent election, of course. And in the wintertime, life goes underground in a literal sense: tubers and roots reign while most of the aboveground parts of plants are dormant; animals hibernate or at least seek shelter in holes … Continue reading Future Cities Live Underground—And That’s Not a Pile of Schist
In November 2016 there was a celebration in London: it had been 40 years since the idea of creating an Ecology Park in central London was first suggested. The event provided opportunities to share memories of those early days and to see how the concept has taken root and proliferated. We met near Tower Bridge … Continue reading Celebrating the First Ecology Parks in London
One reason we should care about biodiversity is that it might be the solution to our environmental impact: after 3.8 billion years on planet Earth, Nature certainly has some sustainability and resilience lessons to teach us—that is, before it gets driven mostly to extinction. Will we care to listen? As Janine Benyus said in the … Continue reading From Biomimicry to Ecomimicry: Reconnecting Cities—and Ourselves—to Earth’s Balances
Let’s face the facts. Despite laudable international initiatives for climate change mitigation and environmental preservation [i], major changes in Earth’s balances have been set in motion and we’re starting to experience their consequences: heat records; increased droughts; increased wildfire intensity and frequency; melting of landlocked ice; increased sea level and coastal storm damages; ocean acidification; climate … Continue reading Why Should an Urbanist Care About Biodiversity?
In the summer of 2016, the largest Soviet-era residential area of Estonia was living a new life. The district Lasnamäe, including Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, was built in the late 70s, but it has fallen into stagnation. Little has changed since its inception, and those big plans are still unfinished. A vast traffic channel to … Continue reading A Barley Field Grows on Soviet Concrete
A review of Tim Ingold‘s lecture event “The Sustainability of Everything” at the Centre for Human Ecology, Pearce Institute, Glasgow, Scotland Sustainability is an overused word. It is much diminished by its occurrence in too many documents purporting to suggest that transport, local government or this tea or those coffee beans are “sustainable”. Grant applications … Continue reading Tim Ingold’s “Sustainability of Everything”
The New Urban Agenda, being adopted at Habitat III, requires a coherent and legible global urban scientific community to provide expertise to direct and assess progress on urban sustainability transformations. As we have commented in Nature’s special section on Habitat III, the urban research community is currently institutionally marginalized and poorly prepared to interact effectively … Continue reading Building Urban Science to Achieve the New Urban Agenda
I live in Stockholm, Sweden. I enjoy talking walks in the autumn, inhaling the scent from degrading debris, kicking around dead leaves, and gazing at the vivid colors. This fall, my baby daughter has often followed me on my walks. Her name is Viola, and she is 4 years old. Viola and I often walk … Continue reading Viola Has an Acorn in Her Pocket
A review of Greening Berlin: The Co-Production of Science, Politics and Urban Nature. By Jens Lachmund. 2013. MIT Press. ISBN: 9780262018593. 320 pages. Buy the book. The overgrown train tracks of Gleisdreieck Park. The community gardens and art installations of Tempelhofer Feld. The flora and fauna of Südgelände Nature Park. Today’s Berlin is home to … Continue reading Embedding Urban Ecology into Policy: West Berlin as a Case Study
“Cities separate us from nature, do they not?” —Light, 2003 No, they don’t; or at least they don’t have to. The good news: green infrastructure is expanding and gradually softening a proportion of our planet’s increasingly urban surface. It appears we’re on the right track, as recent years have witnessed a global emergence in the … Continue reading Designing Ecologically Sensitive Green Infrastructure that Serves People and Nature
Now that urban greening is increasingly seen as a climate adaptation strategy, the question is how to best provide the necessary green space. Where, at which scale, and what type of greenery? Which design is preferred? And how can municipalities increase public support for green adaptation measures? To find answers to these questions, we need … Continue reading What Do Rotterdammers Want in Green Infrastructure? We Asked Them
From the very beginning, with the first urban settlements of Mesopotamia around 4500 BC, cities have required a clean water supply and some form of sanitation. As cities grew in size, the water supply tended to be sourced from further afield, with examples of aqueducts bringing clean water great distances from upland reservoirs or aquifers, … Continue reading Towards the Water-Sensitive City
There is an advertisement that is played with great frequency on television in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Even without the language, the imagery is powerful and vivid; the meaning seems unambiguous. In the setting of a sparklingly clean, modern kitchen, a young pregnant woman goes to drink a glass of what appears to be clean water. Immediately, … Continue reading Market-Based Solutions Cannot Forge Transformative and Inclusive Urban Futures
How do you like roller coaster rides? I love them—provided that I am sitting in the operator’s cabin and not in one of the small, shaken carts frantically moving up and down. In two of my last posts, The Nurtured Golem: A Nantes Neighborhood Transforms Environmental Bad into Good, and Is There any Type of … Continue reading Confronting the Dark Side of Urban Agriculture
“Réinventer Paris”, or “Reinventing Paris”, the architectural program initiated by Anne Hildago (the Socialist mayor of the French capital) in autumn 2014 does not lack ambition. When I first heard about it, I was surprised and couldn’t really believe it until spring 2015, when I was convoked by two teams to support them in designing … Continue reading Réinventer Paris: A Competition to Write History with Nature in Paris
Step off the street in Suzhou through a small door and you leave behind the bustling cacophony of a modern Chinese city to enter a different world of tranquility and calm, where natural features create a sense of being surrounded by nature in a tiny oasis that is a scholar’s garden. Nine of these gardens … Continue reading What Can We Learn from Chinese Classical Gardens?
Edward Lorenz’s application of chaos theory to weather forecasting is better known to the general public as “the butterfly effect”, thanks to his conference presentation, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” Lorenz’s law explains to us that there are unknown and invisible (to us) chains of … Continue reading Resilience and the Butterfly Effect: Could a Grain of Quinoa from Bolivia Influence Barcelona City Resilience?
Nature is all around us. Plants, animals, soil, air and water inhabit and animate our daily lives, whether you live in the country or in the city. We are invigorated by nature. We are inspired by its creatures, their beauty, and their existential meaning. We depend on nature’s services and what they provide. We long … Continue reading Creative Place-Making—This is The Nature of Graffiti
Jane Jacobs critiqued modernist city planning in the now classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). This book is now inspiring an urban renaissance. Jacobs proposed that a city must be understood as a system of organized complexity—in other words, as an ecosystem—and that any intervention in the urban fabric with … Continue reading Social-Ecological Urbanism and the Life of Baltic Cities
Before becoming India’s information technology hub, Bengaluru was known for its numerous lakes and green spaces. Rapid urbanization has led to the disappearance of many of these ecosystems. Those that remain face a range of challenges: residential and commercial construction, pollution and waste dumping, privatization, and so on. Today, Bengaluru’s lakes are principally seen as … Continue reading Photo Essay: Untold Stories of Change, Loss and Hope Along the Margins of Bengaluru’s Lakes
When Montréal’s Parc Oxygène was bulldozed in June 2014, a local newspaper article aptly spoke of a ‘neighborhood in mourning.’ The narration of its destruction by a neighbor is heart-wrenching (1). This small park in the midst of high rises was an urban oasis made and looked after by its neighbors for more than two … Continue reading Discounting Our Engagement and Betraying Our Affections for Urban Nature
A review of the Large Parks in Large Cities conference, Stockholm, 2-4 September 2015. The prognosis for urbanization is challenging—in the next 40 years, urban population will double. Under the growing pressure of modern urban development, large parks are valued by people more than ever. From the beginning of city development, large parks have played … Continue reading Can Large Parks be Urban Green Saviors?
Whilst urbanization has brought many benefits to society, it increasingly denies people of opportunities for the mental, spiritual and physical health benefits from nature. Over the last decade, there has been an alarming global increase in diseases such as heart diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes [Note 1]. The risk of these non-communicable diseases … Continue reading Nature: Medicine for Cities and People
A review of Bringing Conservation to Cities: Lessons from Building the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, by John H. Hartig. 2014. ISBN: 978-0-9921007-4-2. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI. Ecovision World Monograph Series. 282 pages. John Hartig is currently the refuge manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. He has 30 years of … Continue reading History, the Detroit River and Building an International Wildlife Refuge Right
A review of “Shelter,” an exhibition on view at the Architecture and Design Museum Los Angeles until Nov. 6, 2015. Although recent efforts to mitigate the characteristic poor air quality and largely suburban character of Los Angeles have been the focus of much debate and action, the city still faces a rash of issues today, … Continue reading Granny Flats and a Sponge House: Rethinking Necessities for the Future of Communities Along the Los Angeles River
“We all know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping?” says a famous Zen Koan. At first consideration, it seems impossible to conjecture about the “just city” without having already in mind what is an “unjust city,” and vice versa. But my opinion is that this is wrong: It is possible … Continue reading Ceci n’est pas une pipe: Unpacking Injustice in Paris
However complex the urban sustainability question is, the facts are clear to all. Over the next four decades, the global urban population is expected to nearly double, with the vast majority of this happening in Asian and African cities; if we do not rethink and coalesce our approaches and practices, there will be rising urban … Continue reading The Quest for Governance Modes on Sustainable Urbanization
At the end of my last post, Unintended Consequences: When Environmental “Goods” Turn Bad, I raised the idea that sometimes environmental “bads” can also turn good, and that it usually works better when nobody “looks”. I mean that this process works better when the inhabitants take ownership of their living environment and transform it outside … Continue reading The Nurtured Golem: A Nantes Neighborhood Transforms Environmental Bad into Good
Something very significant is happening in London. It’s a plan to make London the world’s first National Park City. Now that’s an idea that could catch on in a very big way. Over the past 18 months, a movement has been growing, drawing together Londoners who want to apply National Park principles to the whole … Continue reading London: A National Park City
A review of “Clyde Reflections,” an art film by Stephen Hurrel and Ruth Brennan, on exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, Scotland. The west coast of Scotland has been known to enchant, with its rough coastal edges, intricately carved islands, charming towns, and an aquatic landscape that is as often tranquil as … Continue reading Glasgow Made the Clyde and the Clyde Made Glasgow
Just before 10 am one Sunday this June, 300 people prepared for a boat ride on the River Spree, lining up in a park next to the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. The boat was a cheerful blue and yellow passenger vessel, mostly used for river tourist excursions and dinner cruises. But this … Continue reading Urban Nature as Festival: Berlin’s Long Day of Urban Nature
Seek the silent places where no jarring sound is heard and nothing breaks the stillness but the singing of a bird. Nature tells her secrets not to those who hurry by, but to those who walk with quiet heart and seeing eye. —Chinese proverb I recently discovered that the word ‘resilience’ in my native language, … Continue reading Cities, People, Business and Nature: In Search of Innovative Models of Engagement
A review of Blue Urbanism: Exploring Connections between Cities and Oceans by Timothy Beatley. 2014. ISBN 13: 978-1-61091-405-5 / ISBN 10: 1-61091-405-8. Island Press, Washington. 165 pages. Timothy Beatley, a recognized environmental urbanist and planner, has recently been working on the concept of sustainable communities and resilient cities. In particular, the author’s focus is on the possibilities … Continue reading An Urban Journey to the Bottom of the Sea
In October 2014, we had a great opportunity to explore different green areas of several Chinese cities within the project “Sustainable green infrastructure in urban-rural areas of China based on eco-civilization,” which was sponsored by the Chinese Government. It was particularly interesting to see different types of greenery that reflects the development of planning structure … Continue reading Chinese Urban Green Areas: Classic Gardens to a Globalized Landscape
Since moving from Edinburgh to London, I have greatly missed my bicycle commute along the former’s Union Canal. There are similar routes in London, but they’re unfortunately not on my way to work. I have always sought out such corridors and they have sometimes influenced my destinations. In response to the “Why are you interested … Continue reading Green Transport Routes Are Social-Cultural-Ecological Corridors
After a hectic start to 2015, I finally managed to slow down the pace. A few days ago, I attempted to catch up on some overdue readings—my way to keep in the loop. Among the many documents piling up on my computer desktop was this short podcast from TNOC: “Closing the Sustainability and Equity Gap: … Continue reading Unintended Consequences: When Environmental “Goods” Turn Bad
“Stronger than the storm.” I can’t get this phrase out of my head, nearly one week into my sabbatical move to Venice, Italy. It so happens that we arrived on a week when the moon and the winds lined up to create acqua alta (high water) for six days in a row. On day 1, … Continue reading Lessons on Post-Resilience from Venice, 2015
In reviewing the wildlife habitats of British towns and cities for my recent book Nature in Towns and Cities (Harper Collins 2014) I became acutely aware that many of the UK’s most spectacular urban wetlands resulted from industrial activities. The most extensive of these are newly created lakes that formed as a result of sand … Continue reading Unintended Consequences Can Be Opportunities for Conservation
Land really is the best art. I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want. —Andy Warhol The new year is a good time to look back before looking forward: this blog offers opportunity to take stock of 2014, which was indeed a seminal year for … Continue reading Seeing and Seeding the Potential of Urban Life
On a Friday night at the end of November 2014, nearly 200 people arrived in the departures zone of Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport for five hours of presentations, working groups and community-led exhibitions. A projection screen stood on the baggage carousel, and former glass-walled airport offices held bulletin boards and tables of sticky notes for … Continue reading Community Participation in Parks Development: Two Examples from Berlin
Every year, new scientific advances indicate life is more interwoven than we ever imagined. From recent reports that reveal the cascading effects of wolves’ reintroduction to Wyoming to current studies that track the dire impact of Washington dams on the decreasing nutrient loads in Montana forests, evidence builds of a tightly entwined biosphere. As we … Continue reading Building Ecological Services: Restoring the Ecosystem Services of the Habitats We Are Replacing with Human Development
Environmental perception by people is complex and dynamic. Individuals are active agents in their perceptions of nature—not passive receivers of information—while the environment is a global unity on which environmental processes within cities are based. Cognitive, interpretive and evaluative components are all incorporated into the perceptual processes of individuals. The world we perceive is a … Continue reading We Should Look at Urban Nature More Through the Eyes of Children
In the many current discussions about how to make cities more resilient, the potential roles of citizens and urban nature are largely overlooked. There are exceptions, including Krasny and Tidball’s work on civic ecology and that of a number of people associated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (cf. Andersson, Barthel, & Ahrné, 2007; Barthel, 2006; … Continue reading Inviting You to Collaborate with Nature to Transform Your City
Green roofs are becoming more popular around the globe and are considered to be a very progressive landscape design devise in urban areas. The green roof has started to become fashionable—it is even considered as one of the “compulsory” sustainable buildings features and an important part of urban green infrastructure. For example in Germany and … Continue reading The New Is Well Forgotten Old: Scandinavian Vernacular Experience on Biodiverse Green Roofs
The swifts have gone. They left about a week ago and the sky is silent over British towns and cities. By now they will be well on their way south, quartering marshes in the south of France and Spain, making for Gibraltar where they cross to Africa; airborne now until they return next May. They … Continue reading Swift Action Needed
In my last post, I wrote that efficient urban sustainability policy should be inclusive, in the sense that it should address sustainability in an area large enough to encompass urban centers, but suburban, periurban and dependent rural, or natural places. I called for planners to abandon the “false dichotomy between urban and rural areas,” and … Continue reading Is There Any Type of Urban Greenspace that Addresses the Urban-Rural Continuum? Urban Agriculture
Nearly 70% of the world population lives in urban areas and nearly 75% of economic activity is located therein. Urban areas concentrate not only wealth but also extreme poverty and environmental degradation. Despite the significant progress in urbanization, still a billion people live in the slums of urban areas. Thus the issue of urban transitions … Continue reading It’s Not Only City Design—We Need To Integrate Sustainability Across the Rural-Urban Continuum
Next year, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by the United Nations after the Millennium Declaration, are set to expire. The next set of global development goals, which are supposed to be even more environmentally focused — the Sustainable Development Goals — are currently under discussion at the UN and in multiple fora around the … Continue reading Why We Need an Urban Sustainable Development Goal
Today, we live in the ‘Urban Anthropocene’. This expression combines the global trend towards urbanization and the neologism ‘Anthropocene’, the term an ecologist would be forced to use these days to describe Homo sapiens as the key structuring species that could determine, alone, the fate of Earth’s life forms. For better or worse, it’s become … Continue reading The UN in the Urban Anthropocene
Hammarby sjöstad (Hammarby Lake City) is an urban development project directly south of Stockholm’s South Island. This is no doubt the most referenced and visited spot among Scandinavian examples of implemented eco-friendly urban developments. Hammarby is included in many publications, for example in the recent Ecological Design by Nancy Rottle (2011). There are 13 000 … Continue reading Hammarby Sjöstad — A New Generation of Sustainable Urban Eco-Districts
Two of the most debated and challenging concepts in urban development are sustainability and resilience. How are they related? Do they mean approximately the same thing or are they distinctly different and can misunderstandings lead to undesired outcomes? In this essay I will try to clarify the concepts, discuss two common misinterpretations and reflect on … Continue reading Urban Sustainability and Resilience—Why We Need to Focus on Scales
I was lucky to be born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the city of museums and parks. My first scientific passion was exactly historical imperial gardens. Traditionally gardens have been seen as very special places, as paradises where people can enjoy sounds of water and birds, can rest their eyes on green grass and bright flowers … Continue reading Historic Gardens – Where Nature Meets Culture – Can be Urban Biodiversity Hotspots
In 2008 the London Natural History Society celebrated its 150th anniversary with a conference on ‘London’s Natural History: past, present and future’. I was asked to consider future prospects. What changes might we expect in London’s natural history in fifty year’s time, and what are the prospects for the Society? Whilst I recognised that making … Continue reading Can Smartphones Save Urban Natural History?
The world is increasingly urban, interconnected, and changing. If current trends continue, by 2050 the global urban population is estimated to double and be around 6.5 billion. Most of future urban growth is expected to happen in small and medium-sized cities, not in megacities, and approximately 60% of the projected total urban area in 2030 … Continue reading Cities and Biodiversity Outlook—Unprecedented Opportunities Lie Ahead in Greening Urban Expansion
I started my research as a landscape architect and urban ecologist in St. Petersburg, Russia. My home town is one of the biggest European cities and it is famous for numerous historical landscapes. In that time (1990’s) investigation of urban biotopes was a novelty. Passion for the history of landscape architecture resulted in my concentration … Continue reading Let us champion “Biodiversinesque” landscape design for the 21st century
Over the past two weeks I have experienced two very different aspects of urban ecology. The first centered on a pair of peregrine falcons nesting close to where I live in the city of Bath. The second was a visit to the Olympic Parklands which have been created for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. … Continue reading Colonisation and Creativity: Two of the Drivers in Urban Ecology