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What is the Future of Nature in Our Cities?

How can we support and protect nature in our growing and ever-changing cities?

This was the question posed at a recent event, “Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide”. The event, which was organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and the Presidio Trust, took place from January 22-24, 2015, at the Presidio’s newly-opened Officers’ Club.

The event was both instructive and entertaining. Some speakers highlighted climate change and rapid population growth, which create even more challenges as we try to preserve or support nature in cities. One presenter, Peter Del Tredici from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, provocatively argued that we should stop trying to create neat, orderly urban landscapes or even worry too much about what flora and fauna is “native” or “non-native”. Instead, he recommended embracing “messy ecology” that adapts to our changing world.

The event encouraged different voices and points of view. While the first half gave voice to experts from landscape design and park management, the second focused on those offering public programs in our parks and urban landscapes. This panel, which I had the pleasure to moderate, demonstrated that people need to be part of the solution to supporting nature in our cities. The Institute’s very own Kristin Wheeler spoke about the need to engage authentically with new audiences and communities, to listen to their needs and values, and to make our parks and other landscapes serve and welcome them. Sarah Schultz, a leading educator and curator from the museum world, spoke of the role art can play in engaging with the public in new ways. Jessica Chen and Guilder Ramirez from the Crissy Field Center told the audience how the Center has fostered a sense of empowerment and engagement with nature for young people from every neighborhood in San Francisco.

For me, the message I left the conference with was clear: if we want our city parks and cultural landscapes to thrive, we must make them as welcoming and valuable as possible to as many people as possible.

 

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