Call of the wild (alive and well in the city)

I missed you last week– I was subsumed with the release of organic market research. But I was thinking of you, and the world outside that is quickly coming to life with the spring days.

A few inspiring things came my way recently, many of which you’ll hear about in upcoming posts, but one that I was particularly struck by was an article,  A Wilder Way, in the New York Times style magazine.Wilderness in the city

“The city may have become our habitat, but we are increasingly learning how we can share it with other species,” says the New York Times.

This is exciting to me because when a trend you’re noticing (and appreciating) is declared in print by one of the most influential media outlets in the world you know that this is not a trend, something substantial is happening.

In cities around the world a movement is afoot to bring nature back into our landscapes and our lives. Lawns and manicured garden beds are slowly being replaced by plantings inspired by local ecology–native plants, wildflowers and perennial plants of all kinds that work with nature and provide habitat for insects and other creatures.

NYC Highline ParkThis is where two things re-connect for mutual benefit: us humans and the wildness of nature. We’ve become a primarily urban species and their has been a price for our rapid shift to city life.

Why we need nature
If you’re reading this you probably already suspect that being in nature is good for human health–fresh air, exercise, clearing the mind. Your hunch is well supported by a varied body of scientific research. It only makes sense, on the timescale of human existence the vast amount of our human history has been spent living in close proximity with nature. Evolutionarily speaking we are not that well adapted to live without nature.

Our minds and bodies function better when nature is around us. Hospital patients even recover more quickly when they have a view of plants and greenery rather than brick or concrete. We are truly better off when we have nature in our daily lives (Green Nature/Human Nature is a fascinating read that explores this connection).

Why nature needs us
The wild things of the world are impacted by human activity, now more than ever. Back to the New York Times:

“For many a city dweller, this is as close to nature as they will ever get. For urban bees, butterflies and birds, this is nature.”

The world we create is also the word that nature exists in. The nature, however small, we can create in cities is becoming increasingly important. We don’t tend to think of cities as “habitats”, but when it comes to insect life our cities can be more hospitable habitats than some rural landscapes.

Take bees for example. Urban beekeeping is a rising trend and surprisingly the city is a great place for a honeybee to live. There is a huge diversity of plant life with varying bloom times that provide steady sources of nectar (bee food), unlike mono-cropped agricultural areas. Many cities now have cosmetic pesticide bans that protect foraging bees from exposure to harmful toxins, unlike most agricultural areas. You won’t find GMO crops in the city either. When drought hits, city dwellers still get to water their gardens keeping up the bee food supply. Now you sticklers out there might point out that honeybees are not native to North America, true. But honeybees have become a pollinator that is integral to the functioning of our food system and what’s good for the honeybee is good for many other insects.

Bringing nature closer to home
The next few posts are going to revolve around the themes of birds, butterflies and bees and simple projects that nature-supporting, city dwellers of all ages can do to help bring more nature to the places we live. We’ll be making close encounters with the wild things of this world a more frequent occurrence.

In the meantime, get inspired by visiting an ecology-inspired park. You don’t have to travel as far as New York’s High Line (pictured above), many cities are integrating native plantings into park landscapes. Vancouver’s Habitat Island deserves mention on the international list of really cool nature-inspired parks. Built as part of the Olympic Village development in Southeast False Creek the small island is home to over 200 native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses and the tideline was carefully designed to support local marine life. The design was an official success when Habitat Island was the site of the first herring spawn in False Creek for decades! Many kids and families give this little island oasis rave reviews.

Stay on the lookout this weekend for the wild things that call your neighbourhood home; feel free to post photos of what you find.

See you next week with an Earth Day special edition and a post that’s for the birds.

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