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How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic?

How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic?

Background
Today, for the first time in history, most people are city-dwellers. How do cities affect humanity’s relationship with the rest of the natural world? How do we nurture urban places that foster ethical interconnections between humans and nature? Chicago is one city searching for creative answers. Chicago Wilderness, a growing alliance of conservation-minded organizations, and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the oldest of its kind in the country, are both dedicated to connecting people and nature in the urban wild. Inspired by these partners and the Forest Preserves’ centennial anniversary, the Center asks a national audience: How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic? Join our Senior Scholars and Contributors in a thought-provoking conservation about the future of cities and nature.
Additional Contributors

Brook Muller

Ecological Design as Performance of an Urban Nature

With conviction that the values of inhabitants of cities shape environmental futures, I will flip the question posed by the Senior Scholars and ask: How is an urban ethic critical to 21st century … Full Response ›
Brook Muller, Associate Professor - University of Oregon
Stephanie Pincetl

Urban Nature, Is There Anything Else?

I had never heard a lion roar…until I visited the Berlin Zoo. Inside its cage, inside a heated building, it got up, paced, roared, paced, and roared. Went to its lioness, nudged it, licked it, … Full Response ›
Stephanie Pincetl, Director - California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA
Carolyn Finney

Ode to New York: A Performance Piece

  Wild thing, you make my heart sing. You make everything groovy. Wild thing.—Chip Taylor, New York-born songwriter How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic? To answer this … Full Response ›
Carolyn Finney, Assistant Professor - University of California, Berekley
J. Baird Callicott

Bar-B-Que and a Side of Old Growth

I grew up in a Southern city—Memphis, Tennessee. Like New York, Memphis has a kind of central park, named Overton Park. Unlike New York’s Central Park, Overton Park is not situated in a … Full Response ›
J. Baird Callicott, Distinguished Research Professor - University of North Texas
Clare Butterfield

The City as Ecotone: An I-Thou Analysis

There is something about the experience of looking into the eyes of a coyote that reminds one of the I and Thou in Martin Buber’s philosophy. The coyote is so much the other that we know only … Full Response ›
Clare Butterfield, Director - Faith in Place
Doug Tallamy

Nature’s Final Mandate

After seeing the Grand Canyon in 1908, Teddy Roosevelt uttered the five words that would save it: “Leave it as it is.” Unfortunately, it is no longer an option to leave most of our country … Full Response ›
Doug Tallamy, Professor - University of Delaware
Liam Heneghan

Beyond Science Fiction: Nature in the City and Our Ethical Future

Discussions of the twenty-first century remain primarily about the future. If dystopian science fiction serves as our guide, then it is clear that the future is already here. In Yevgeny … Full Response ›
Liam Heneghan, Professor - DePaul University
Sharon Olds

Ode to Dirt

Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you, I thought you were only the background for the leading characters—the plants and animals and human animals. It’s as if I had loved only the stars and … Full Response ›
Sharon Olds, Professor - New York University
Steward Pickett

The Land Ethic without Urban Isn’t

There is a powerful ethical tradition that has emerged from conserving, restoring, and managing nature. Aldo Leopold is often thought of as the preeminent pioneer of this tradition, expressed as the … Full Response ›
Steward Pickett, Distinguished Senior Scientist - Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Caridad Svich

Memory of Trees

There was a tree there yesterday. Near the old factory that is now a retail centre. Now it is gone. It was a tall, thin tree. “Spindly” would be how someone might describe it. Not … Full Response ›
Caridad Svich, Playwright
John Wagner

The Land Ethic Evolved

When thinking about the question “How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic?” I see the obvious connections to Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” that is both … Full Response ›
John Wagner, Project Manager - Bi-State Developmemt Agency / Metro
Jarid Manos

Jail Me—Or Not

Once in the Nevada desert at night, way out in the desert alone, and once in my dreams recently, I became aware of something so terrible approaching—which I could not see—that I became … Full Response ›
Jarid Manos, Founder and CEO - Great Plains Restoration Council
Audrey Peterman

Vibrant Environmental Ethic Thrives in Urban Communities

When my husband, Frank, and I took off from our home in Fort Lauderdale in 1995 to drive around the country and see America’s great sights, I had no idea that I was literally embarking on my … Full Response ›
Audrey Peterman, President - Earthwise Productions, Inc.
John Tallmadge

Urban Nature, Land of Opportunity

As a wilderness lover, I used to hate cities. I hated the dirt, the noise, the swarming, insatiable populations, the ugly, decaying buildings, the festering inequality. I yearned for pristine forests … Full Response ›
John Tallmadge, Author
Anne Rademacher

A New Urban Reality

Our age is an urban age. Never before have humans shared a planet so dominated by cities, and never before have so many people—the majority of our earth’s human population—lived in … Full Response ›
Anne Rademacher, Associate Professor - New York University
Eric Sanderson

Cities in Nature’s Network

We live in nature. Even in cities, we live in nature. Don’t be fooled by the mass of cement or the monumentality of buildings or the plague of the automobiles on the streets: cities are places … Full Response ›
Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist - Wildlife Conservation Society
‹ Back to All Questions

Join the Conversation (38)

User Gravitar Image
Julian, I am so excited about this essay and your new book and your focus on cultural approaches to sustainability. I am a cultural anthropologist and all of my work focuses on these intersections. You may be interested in some of the research my team led about engaging Chicago communities in our ... Read More
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Hi Jennifer

Your work looks very interesting and related to mine. Let me watch your video and read more and maybe we can chat via Skype in the New Year?

Julian Read More
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The designer and ecologist Paul Kephart of Rana Creek is one of the leaders in looking at species-specific benefits of green roofs. In many of the projects he works on living roofs provide stepping stones for birds and other avian species so they can make their way through urban environments. The ... Read More
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One of the urban design ideas I've considered is how we use our roof tops. I imagine large interconnected green roofs for industrial buildings that would allow for safe habitat for many of the creatures getting displaced by expanding agriculture. The height of the building would prevent most of... Read More
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My ecologist self felt pretty good when our buckthorn "hedge" was ripped out this weekend, but I had a comeuppance when my six year old tearfully confronted me, wondering what was happening to "her friends." I knew without thinking that an "invasive species" argument ... Read More
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From my point of view, taking into account the roles of "Mother Nature & Father Time,"( not to offend anyone's spiritual beliefs ) I always like to assume that the creators or parents of our eonic environmental dynasty had a place for everything, and everything in it's place.... Read More
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With regard to Marianne Spitzform's comment below: As geographer Thomas Vale, emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison) has written, "...the older 'myth of the pristine landscape' has been replaced by a new and equally monolithic 'myth of the humanized ... Read More
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There are some wonderfully provocative ideas here, especially regarding the ethical challenges of living in urban nature. That said, I'd agree with the previous commenter that the Sacred/Profane division feels too stark. With zoos, for instance, the landscapes and exhibits seem ... Read More
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Could you cite specifically where we have "ejected humans out of ecosystems?" Is this hyperbole for drama, or an uncritical use of the myth of "pristine wilderness" that is neither accurate or helpful? I certainly support your message of interconnection, but wonder if more ... Read More
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I have to confess that in the wake of my recent trip to the Smokies your headline really grabbed me. I guess I haven't quite gotten my fill of either old-growth forests or BBQ! Overton Park sounds like a real treasure - and I like the idea of seeing it as a core of a much greater environmental ... Read More
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Very nice piece, Baird. I like the idea of extending Leopold's land ethic into the city; but I also want to press a little bit on this point and ask you to expand on this idea. It seems that the idea of humans as 'visitors' on 'the land' still separates us too much from the ... Read More
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Thank you for this reflection! One of my favorite parts:

"This may seem inapposite to the discussion on nature, but it isn’t. Human beings are animals—we are nature too. The city is our habitat. It is our beehive. We made it to accommodate our needs, our desires, ... Read More
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I appreciate this article. I agree that the pressure is on and we need to redeem ourselves and learn to appreciate all levels of the ecosystem and how we depend on them. I do have movement outside, I fight the buckthorn and welcome the milkweed...I am learning. Read More
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For anyone to believe there will be "any century" without nature, is like describing mankind, without "man". Whether one believes in a "god" or not. Just asking these questions and pondering over these issues should convince us that one thing is for sure, whenever ... Read Moreanything is left-up to us about this planet the mess we leave should make us all glad that someone somewhere was intelligent enough to make it without our help and when it suits them will kick our butts and take it back.
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A beautiful work that speaks volumes to our interaction with land. Thank you for sharing it.

The ground has memory. It is sentient not only ecologically with a biological awareness that stretches backwards into deep time but also marked by every cultural drama that as played out ... Read More
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The ode was right on. I know, because as a child I had a special relationship with dirt as it often was my first layer and then my second layer as the day proceeded. I often ponder how much of me was washed down the drain at bath-time. thank you Sharon for reminding me of my first friend. Read More
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Interesting thoughts. Murray Bookchin explored these themes throughout his opus so he would be a useful addition to the hybrid space where the social and the ecological intersect. One worry I have about where to draw 'the city line' is with the ecological footprint of cities. They now have... Read More
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Mr. Pickett:

The philosophical "mash-up" that you recommend has been going full bore since about 1995. in the arena called "local foods" -- also known as "community food security", "food democracy", "food sovereignty", ... Read More
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Thanks, Baird! These are some excellent suggestions for further reading. Read More
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There is a small literature on urban environmental ethics.

See Warwick Fox, Ethics and the Built Environment (Routledge 2000);

Andrew Light, et al. Philosophy and Geography II: The Production of Public Space. Read More
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I want to raise the possibility that the land ethic is not something that evolved, but that it was basically present for hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions, in human consciousness. Rather, perhaps, what has evolved more recently is in our intellectual life, the abstract realm of our ... Read More
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Earon – I think you are exactly right! The real land ethic is inside our very being, in each one of us. I really enjoyed reading your response to my essay; some of the more thought-provoking words I’ve read in a long while. Perhaps the title should have been “The Land Ethic ... Read More
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Beautiful and helpful thoughts, Caridad! I've been struggling against the idea of utopia and its seeming demands of perfection, while at the same time wanting a word for that better world we're reaching towards. Maybe it's simply redefining utopia for myself as a harmonious process ... Read More
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Perhaps a way for us humans to 'positively evolve', we as a community and as individuals, should learn to listen much more attentively to our landscapes and to the sentient beings and processes that make up these landscapes. And I would argue that in order to accomplish this we must go ... Read More
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Thanks for sharing these thoughts, John. I suppose we will have positively evolved when we all of us -- urban, suburban, rural, and remote -- see ourselves as part of the land, feel gratitude to it, and recognize our responsibility for it. ...When we ourselves as belonging to entire landscapes, ... Read More
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Hello Mr J,

My heart and prayers still remain consistent in support of what you are doing. I recently reconnected with Michael and Sir Marquis. They both wanted me to convey what a positive effect GPRC has had in their lives. They long for the outdoors and miss having purpose! If ... Read More
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How much do you still need to reaise for the Ft Worth land?

Read More
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Bless you, Jarid Manos, for your youth and beauty and power and grace, and passion and compassion. What a privilege to know the mind that you are. I feel like weeping while reading your piece, as I am in the same construct of "getting Americans to care about a land (we have) so violently ... Read More
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Ranae thanks for reaching out, and for that in-the-trenches work you do, touching lives.

And btw, in some places we no longer have to accept just patches..

In South Dakota, 100,000 acres of wild mixed grass prairie (and over 1,000 buffalo after Nov. 2015) are coming ... Read More
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Greetings and thanks to you from Minnesota, here where many of us tend prairie in our yards, in our neighborhood gardens, in small patches between the fields--hoping, helping, believing. I will bring your words to my class of urban, mostly land-dispossessed, community college ecofeminism students; ... Read More
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What a wonderful urban project, to address the question Georgia raises on how bioswales might manifest in different urban neighborhoods with varying cultural stories. I could envision local communities uncovering innovative ways of restoration, specifically creative ways of what a swale might look ... Read More
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Anja I really like this idea. 'Cultural' plant species and story are very powerful tools in involving multiple publics in creative ways. Please let me know if you decide to take this approach? Read More
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Hi Georgia and thanks for your response which I'm going to kick right back (in the nicest possible way of course!) and ask you "How might the neo-traditional approach to storm water management - the bioswale - look different across neighborhoods,"

I'm not dodging ... Read More
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I asked the question because it is something I am looking into as part of a project about stormwater landscapes and surge and flood risk.

I like Anja's response!

I'm still thinking...

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Great post! "Saving the rain forest is all very well, but what about the places where most of us live and work? " really hit home for me and is a point I try to make in my blog njurbanforest.com. I look forward to more of your posts! Read More
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I agree that John really crystallizes one of the conundrums of the conservation community with that statement. Thank you for sharing your blog with us. It is a wonderful resource and an example of how we can reconnect with our local lands. Read More
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I appreciate your approach to answering the question!

Reading the essay made me wonder about the "look" of restoration projects among highly urbanized and culturally diverse communities. Does the neo-traditional approach to storm water management - the bioswale - look ... Read More
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