Urban ecology part one: How did we get here?

Urban ecology

Urban ecology part one: How did we get here?

Following on from her last blog, Nike has plenty more to say about the environment. One of our most passionate writers on this subject, it’s one that’s close to her heart. And it’s not hard to see why...

I’m not sure if Jay-Z and Alicia Keys invented the term ‘concrete jungle’, but there’s no denying that more and more people are becoming accustomed to life inside one. According to the UN, today, 55% of the world’s population is living in cities or urban areas. In 1950, it was just 30% of the global population, which stood at around 2.5 billion in total. The UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the global population (about 11.2 billion people), will live in cities and urban areas. That is almost the equivalent of every person in the world right now living in the world’s cities and urban areas? How will we fit them all in?

Across the world, hundreds of new cities are under construction, particularly across Asia and Africa where populations continue to boom. Even in the UK, we can see new buildings are always in construction with no signs of stopping soon. At first glance, this seems like excellent news for people looking for more modern and more affordable places to live. But, if we look deeper into the effects of endless expanses of steel and concrete, you might be surprised at the effect on not only the country’s ecology but also our physical health, mental health, wellbeing, and communities.

In this series, we’re talking about everything urban ecology, and what better place to start than at the beginning.

How did we become so detached?

Have you ever thought to yourself about why we choose to surround ourselves with grey, dirty concrete and steel rather than leafy forests and flourishing lakes? I have, and although my friends think I need to get a life, I find the question interestingly baffling. Most answers I get from people I ask are that these are the materials strong enough to create buildings that withstand the elements and keep us safe. Trees and lakes are not practical for the way we live our lives. Even if this was true, why is it that every other species in existence is more than satisfied with the natural world except us?

I’m a true believer in the phrase ‘nature provides’. Anything you could ask for, or need, nature hands over, no questions asked (although it does take a little searching sometimes). But, instead of working with nature to get what we want, humans have been fighting a battle with nature since we started living together in communities. Now we can finally see we’re losing. We act like we own the place - like the world is ours to do with what we please - and by thinking this way, we’re ultimately destroying ourselves.

Mother

A film that completely encapsulates this notion of human’s disregard and lack of respect for nature is Darren Aronofsky’s Mother starring Jennifer Lawrence.

If you haven’t seen it, beware, there are spoilers ahead!

In Mother, Jennifer Lawrence’s character represents Mother Nature, while her husband (Javier Bardem) plays God. Mother Nature spends her time caring for her beautiful house, painting it, nurturing it, and making it beautiful. Then one day, God invites some people in. People fascinate God. He loves them. He always wants them around. The only problem is, they are dirty and show no consideration for Mother Nature.

They smoke in her house; they leave their filth and dirt everywhere; they break things off the wall; and they smash everything. But still, God wants people around. When uninvited guests show up, he welcomes more and more into the house despite Mother Nature’s pleas for them to please, be careful. But no one listens to her until everything is destroyed.

Are we scared of nature?

Ultimately, Mother was Aronofsky’s way of translating the story of the Old Testament, and the story of current environmental destruction, into human emotion on screen, and it worked. No matter if you prescribe to religion or not, the story is thrilling, sad, hopeful, and infuriating all at the same time, but in real life, most of us lack these emotions when we participate in the exact same behaviour every day.

One argument for why we dominate and abuse nature instead of working with it is that, historically, it’s frightened us. We’ve seen what nature can do with hurricanes, cyclones, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, landslides, drought, or floods. To people who lacked explanations for these events and could not prepare for them, it would have been terrifying, and we operated in fear of nature instead of acknowledging all the amazing things nature can bring: medicine, beauty, food, knowledge, water, inspiration, and spirituality. Maybe this fear of nature led humans to dominate it, and by doing so, we diverged further and further from harmony with nature to end up in our grey, unsustainable concrete jungles.

But, there is hope yet. There is increasing recognition of the benefits of integrating nature into our built environments, fuelled by an array of research into the impact of urban ecology on ecosystems and people, and this is what this series is about. To keep up to date with the urban ecology series, follow the Coster Content blog by visiting our website.

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Alia Coster