Celebrating Wildness in Cities | The Nature of Cities

The James River, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Photo: Tim Beatley

The Wildness of the Nature of Cities

We know, for instance, that there is immense biological diversity in the soil, and in water at a microscopic level. E. O. Wilson has referred to this as “microwildernesses”:  “A suburban woodlot is obviously no longer a wilderness for mammals, birds, and trees. But it might be a “microwilderness” for small organisms” (2006, p. 18). We know that there is often remarkable wildness in the diverse world of the many other small things around us, from moths (there are more than 10,000 species of moths in North America, many of which are micro-moths), to lichen, to mushrooms and fungi. Larger green spaces will remain important, of course, but much of this wildness is delivered in the often small, but potent, interstitial spaces of cities.

Precisely what constitutes wildness, and what stimulates the feeling or experience of wildness, remains an open question. It is certainly a complex set of conditions, to be sure, but some mix of sense of the immensity of the scale and uncontrollability of forces at work, that it exists without much concern for the human world, and lives and thrives in ways that are,  to some considerable degree, mysterious and unknowable even. It is the sense we get from things that seem untamed, undomesticated. Perhaps it is the glimpsing ways in which we see the nature around us—and the largely hidden lives that characterize much of natural world. And it is the fierceness and force of nature often that seems to impart its wildness and demonstrate its untamedness, as with a flooding river or fast creek, or a windstorm or hurricane.

Which is all to say that these qualities of wildness, and the experiences of wildness, need not be restricted to remote “wilderness areas”, areas far away from cities. The experience of wildness, moreover, need not be a solitary experience to be meaningful or beneficial. It can happen even in the presence of many others, for instance when hundreds congregate each fall in Portland, Oregon, to watch the amazing spectacle of thousands of migrating Vaux’s Swifts as they converge on a school chimney to roost for the evening.

Beatley--What Qualities Urban Wild

We need to replace the perceptual dichotomy that many still carry in our heads between cities and nature. The evolution in our thinking should encompass the new ways in which flora and fauna are evolving and adapting to cities and urbanization, and we’re only now beginning to understand this. Bird species are changing the frequencies of their songs in response to urban and traffic noise, for instance.  And increasingly there are examples of “new” forms of nature, what ecologists sometimes call novel ecosystems, unique assemblages of native (and non-native species and habitats, that have formed in and around cities. Perhaps there is need for unplanned ecological spaces in our notions of urban wildness; making room in cities for a sort of ecological improvisation, with sometimes unexpected results. We will need to adjust our ideas about nature to include these ways in which the nature in the future will be different from what we previously have known.


+ artículo publicado en thenatureofcities.com



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