Ur­ban Wildlife

Or at least, when it comes to con­serv­ing na­ture, that’s where you need to start

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By Matthew Church

All You Need Is Love… at least, when it comes to con­serv­ing na­ture, that’s where we need to start

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Ger­man-amer­i­can psy­cho­an­a­lyst Erich Fromm was all the rage. His best­selling book The Art of Lov­ing, pub­lished in 1956, was ev­ery­where. A work very much of its time, it re­flected a mo­ment when post­war North Amer­i­cans were wrestling with chang­ing at­ti­tudes to love, sex and mar­riage amid rum­blings of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new fo­cus on gen­der equal­ity. Fromm was a broad and am­bi­tious thinker who was prom­i­nent for a pe­riod, un­til pub­lic at­ten­tion moved on and he drifted to the pe­riph­ery of in­flu­ence.

As ex­cit­ing and eye-open­ing as some of Fromm’s ideas were when first pre­sented, most have died on the vine since. Sur­pris­ingly (it cer­tainly would have been to him), it was his later writ­ing on hu­mans’ re­la­tion­ships with na­ture that has proven to be his most en­dur­ing in­tel­lec­tual con­tri­bu­tion. In his book The Anatomy of Hu­man De­struc­tive­ness (1973), Fromm iden­ti­fied a “pas­sion­ate love of life and of all that is alive” that is la­tent in all hu­mans; he called it “bio­philia.” He ar­gued that we can main­tain a pos­i­tive and re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship with the en­vi­ron­ment only by es­tab­lish­ing a univer­sal love of all liv­ing things that op­er­ates on all lev­els: psy­cho­log­i­cal, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eth­i­cal.

E.O. Wil­son, renowned bi­ol­o­gist and one of the most in­flu­en­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal thinkers of the last cen­tury, picked up the con­cept and am­pli­fied it: he pub­lished a book called in 1984. Wil­son de­fined bio­philia as “the urge to af­fil­i­ate with other forms of life,” but he best sum­ma­rized it as the fas­ci­na­tion hu­mans ex­pe­ri­ence star­ing at a fire, watch­ing waves crash on a beach or star­ing at a night sky. He wrote too of the pos­i­tive phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of spend­ing time with and in na­ture. In the past 10 years, as eco­log­i­cal aware­ness has im­proved, so too has in­ter­est in fos­ter­ing this love of na­ture, not just for our san­ity and well-be­ing, but for the health of the planet. The ques­tion be­comes, how do we, in an in­creas­ingly ur­ban­ized world, foster that con­nec­tion amid the glass and steel and the sound and fury of the city? Sur­pris­ingly per­haps, Sin­ga­pore, the planet’s sec­ond most densely pop­u­lated sov­er­eign state, holds the an­swer. Sin­ga­pore is in the van­guard of ur­ban bio­philia. De­spite a pop­u­la­tion in­crease of nearly 100 per cent (two mil­lion res­i­dents added) be­tween 1986 and 2007, the por­tion of the tiny is­land state ded­i­cated to green space ac­tu­ally in­creased. How did they do it? Front-line in­no­va­tion, ag­gres­sive plan­ning and a com­mit­ment to in­cor­po­rat­ing na­ture into every facet of city build­ing. In­no­va­tive de­sign on a hu­man scale. Be­cause the city is so densely packed and so very ver­ti­cal, city plan­ners ac­tively en­cour­age the in­te­gra­tion of na­ture in side­walk-scapes, fund­ing green­ing con­ver­sions and com­pelling and in­cen­tiviz­ing de­vel­op­ers to in­clude nat­u­ral fea­tures (green roofs, hang­ing gar­dens and bal­cony farms) 20, 30 and more storeys in the sky.

Canada must fol­low the ex­am­ple. De­spite our ru­ral his­tory, we are a highly ur­ban­ized na­tion to­day and be­com­ing more so: 85 per cent of us live in cities, sub­urbs and towns, far re­moved from the ex­pan­sive wilder­ness that comes from be­ing the sec­ond largest coun­try on Earth. With ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship, well-de­vel­oped plan­ning poli­cies, and the com­bined ef­forts of schools, busi­nesses and govern­ment—all prod­ded by a com­mit­ted cit­i­zenry—we too can add na­ture to our cities. It will im­prove the health and hap­pi­ness of those who live there and in do­ing so will cause many more of us to treat the planet with af­fec­tion, em­pa­thy and a de­sire to pro­tect. Our home is in dire need of some care and kind­ness. All it needs is love.

Gar­dens by the Bay, Sin­ga­pore

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