Humans and the environment


This Thursday 4/3 we discussed human–environment interaction and the new approach of viewing the city as an Ecosystem.

The seminar discussed Wolch’s reading and animal rights to have a space in the city. The introduction of the Copenhagen case ( led us to discuss how humans, as dominant specie, have shaped today’s environment.

Human developments have led to create a fragmented environment. On one side, there are human settlements with little space for natural space. On the other side, there exist these wild environments where other species are allowed to live. An interesting example arose that broke this fragmented scheme; for example, when coyotes irrupt in cities. In this case, what can we do? Do we have to create space for these species? Should we incorporate these animals into the urban environment?  The problem is the mismatch between human and animal environments. Along time, humans have created dense “concrete” cities which are not equivalent to natural animal environment. Considering these facts, how can we make the city suitable for animals? Should we incorporate all of them? Or should we select only a few? Related to this last question, we discussed rights among animals.  In this part of the discussion, we agreed that humans treat animals according to its existence condition. For instance, we value more species which are near to extinctions.

At the middle of our seminar, Charisma brought equity into the discussion. We were asked how to incorporate animals’ rights into Justainability. Under these circumstances the problem becomes more complicated because we already have a “human equity” problem, so how we can consider animal issues as a topic equally or more important than the human problem?

We also discussed the role of industrialization in the creation of this fragmented environment. In the past, human used to produce their own food on a small local scale. However, as a consequence of industrialization, the scheme changed. In urban areas, the spread of land use regulations curtailed the ability of households to devote land for farming.  Additionally, the economic effects of industrialization made local farming less attractive for people. At the present time, to buy food in the market is cheaper and less time consuming than to produce it at home. Consequently, the expansion of human developments have slowly pushed natural environments out of the city, exacerbating the differences between the social and the resources system. The question that arose here was, if centered and industrialized food supply chains are more sustainable than local individual farm production.

At this point the dialogue shifted to Pickett et al reading. Here, we discussed authors attempt to create a framework to incorporate humans in natural ecosystems in order to fill the existing gap between social and natural components. We finished our discussion reviewing the human ecosystem model (Pag 190), concluding that this model fails to capture the complexity of human-environment relations, but it was a good first attempt to frame the social and resources system.

Considering Thursday’s discussion:

  • How can we reduce the gap between human and natural environments?
  • How can we make our urban areas more suitable for animals?
  • Do animals have the right to be included in the equity discussion?
  • Do you know any inspiring example of animals’ inclusion in urban planning?

8 thoughts on “Humans and the environment

  1. teowickland

    It is clear that human intervention has attempted to create environmental separation between people and non-human species. However, the actuality of this separation is more imagined than real. People conceive of cities as a realm of people, and of the wilderness as a realm of wild flora and fauna. Yet as our discussion made clear, cities are full of all sorts of animals—from the ubiquitous insects, rodents and birds to the occasional coyote or deer—and numerous types of plants as well. So what is needed first and foremost is a change in mindset, from thinking of cities as spaces outside nature that can exclude non-human life, to understanding that cities, as all spaces on earth, are in fact inside nature. Following this mental evolution, we can envision new structures of urbanity that do not attempt to deny or suppress nature and that rather acknowledge and embrace the reality of their situatedness within the ecosystem that sustains us all.

  2. The concept of animal inclusion in our urban settings is an idea that is invisible even within sustainable development in comparison to energy consumption, food production, and climate change. The presence of animals within cities are visible as captive animals within zoos, as pets in people’s homes, and common animals found throughout alleyways, sewer system, and parks, such as rats, possums, raccoons, and birds. Other animals that are not typically found in cities, such as bears, coyotes, and cougars, push the boundaries that separate wildlife from urban settings on rare occasions when captured on the news. Urban sprawl has definitely breached wild habitat and in my opinion, nullifies any rights people have to claim the space as their own. However, when thinking about the idea of including wildlife into urban spaces, I think it is important to think about how is this beneficial or positive to animals. What infrastructure, safe spaces, access to food, water, and other resources are needed to be provided to animals? What kinds of danger would we pose to each other? What benefits could be generated by this inclusion?

    However, taking into account the geographical and wildlife dynamics and context, there is potential for bridging points to connect wildlife with cities. One example is provided by City Wildlife in Washington DC ( Taking into account duck migration patterns into the city, this organization has taken an active role in advocating for residents to turn off unnecessary lights at night in order to minimize collision of birds into buildings. Although a small step, it is an example of the kinds of actions that can be taken to acknowledge and protect the rights and well beings of animals.

  3. skonala254

    In 2000, the city of Anchorage, Alaska made a Wildlife Management Plan. I think Anchorage is an interesting case study because the city has a great diversity of wildlife, including species that may be a threat to humans. The city has to deal with black and brown bears, moose, sheep, goats, beavers, wolves, many small mammals, and many species of birds. The plan lists various actions and policies to manage populations of wildlife, prevent dangerous wildlife conflicts, preserve habitats, and educate residents on local wildlife. The plan can be seen at the following website.

    The creation of a Wildlife Management Plan is an important action that cities can take to ensure better coexistence between humans and animals.

    • The city of Boulder, CO also has a Wildlife Management Plan, which is meant to “minimize human-wildlife conflicts & increase public awareness about how to better coexist with these animals”.

      The educational piece of Boulder’s strategy is very important, in my opinion. The starkness of the urban-rural divide means that many (most, even?) urbanites know very little about the habits and habitats of wild animals. Boulder is combining education about wildlife with complementary regulations (e.g. an ordinance passed on March 18, 2014 that requires trash and compost to be secured from bears at all times until collected by a trash hauler) to try and mitigate human-animal conflict in the city.

  4. I think native animals that were living in the city before humans occupy it or urbanize it deserve to continue living in integration. The squirrel in Berkeley is a good example of how humans can live in peace with such an animal, but the question is: are these animals that we see now exactly the ones used to live in the city. Of course not, otherwise we would be seeing bears in Berkeley daily.

    I think with modern science and with more understanding to ecosystem services, planning for cities now a days shall take serious attempts to incorporate animal in the urban system. There is no excuse for new cities in south East Asia or north Africa or new developments in the gulf states (i.e. Dubai) not to incorporate such factor in their planning process.

    It is worth mentioning that some cities do not incorporate animals in their planning for the ecosystem out of (ignorance); but others consider maintaining quality of life for animals within the city is a luxury that is not affordable in developing countries. This takes us to the point of Justainability for animals, and I agree with the importance of this incorporation but I believe it rely on two factors:
    (i) Emphasizing the environmental framework that reinforce the importance of respecting animals in the ecosystem (i.e. deers, migratory birds,….) and (ii) raise awareness for the general public with the importance f this merge so they respect any supporting infrastructure and zoning.

    Human and animal co existence is crucial if we are serious about saving the world, and with this quick and rapid urbanization in all continent and more specifically Africa and Asia, it will be a great loss to the ecosystem if urbanization continue with this rate and without any incorporation to animal life in the built environment

  5. In terms of cities leading the way with regard to integrating animals into their design and future development, Toronto in Canada is one good example. The city has adopted bird-friendly development guidelines. The guidelines help make buildings less dangerous for migratory birds and include a list of development strategies for both new and existing buildings.

    Another example is Broward County which has a Sea Turtle Conservation Program in conjunction with NSU Oceanographic Center.

    Clearly both of these examples are for specific animals and in no way get to the idealized image of Wolch’s Zoopolis.

  6. ewolfson2014

    The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the gap between the “natural” and the “human” is the distinction between conservationists and preservationists. Conservationists argue that nature is a utility, and should be regarded with care, but the rights of the natural are in control by man. Effective policies can protect the natural, and there is not an element of total destruction in this theory. Preservationists take a different approach, and argue that nature has intrinsic value, and it is not only valuable for it’s utility. The question that I’ve always struggled with, is the preservationist theory better?

    In William Cronin’s Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, he argues that wilderness itself is a human construct that has changed over time.

    Once seen as a wasteland of terrifying mystery, early 19th century thinkers changed their views and revered wilderness as pristine and holy.

    In order for a reduction in the gap between the natural environment and the human environment we need to first recognize that humans are animals. Our very place in the system is “natural.” Therefore we have a right to belong, but we also need to recognize that the very concept of the dichotomy is culturally placed.

    • aritakatavasquez

      I come to a similar question. It’s natural for use to think of ourselves as separate from the rest of the animals but really are we that different? There are a lot of animals that are simply not able to inhabit the same environment. We can look to the great architects of the animal world–ants. They create massive structures ultimately changing their environments and on the whole they cannot / choose not to share their habitat with other insects or animals.

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