Cities and Biodiversity Outlook
Cities offer unique opportunities for learning and education about a resilient and sustainable future

Cities are a testing ground of our capacity to live together and create environments that are socially just, ecologically sustainable, economically productive, politically participatory, and culturally vibrant

Education is vital to the task of acquiring knowledge and capacity to manage our cities sustainably, but this capacity is not only acquired in formal educational establishments; it is also generated through a wide range of informal modalities of learning. Cities are themselves the sites of continuous exchanges of practical, traditional, and scientific knowledge and information through which people's thinking, understanding, and perceptions are transformed.

Over the last few decades the number of urban environmental education programs has grown significantly. Prominent examples are programs that are nested within and linked to community-based stewardship or civic ecology practices, such as community forestry, streamside restoration, and community gardening.

Incorporation of traditional knowledge and practices is critical for the success of such community-based initiatives. These and similar educational approaches are part of the UN-promoted Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which seeks to "encourage changes in behavior that will create a more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations."

AICHI TARGET 1: By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. No level of government can reach citizens for education, communication, and awareness-raising as regularly, clearly, and effectively as city officers. National governments need to help cities achieve this target.

Greening in the Red Zone
Stories are emerging from communities around the world of people who turn to greening during the most difficult of times— periods of violent conflict and collapse of the social and economic fabric of their community, and in the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters. They range from post-apartheid actions in South Africa to re-greening symbolically poignant landscapes to revisioning open space after a massive earthquake in Haiti and after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. These examples of post-catastrophe, community-based stewardship of nature serve as sources of social-ecological resilience and are referred to as "Greening in the Red Zone."

The Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University has collected such stories in a book and a related website in an effort to understand how local greening practices can become a source of resilience during difficult times. Because of the rapid growth of cities globally and their ever looming importance as sites of conflict and disaster, many of the case studies are from urban settings (e.g. the Berlin Wall, New Orleans post-Katrina, Monrovia after the Liberian civil war), although more rural examples (Korean village groves, community-based wildlife and park management in Kenya and Afghanistan) and region-wide examples (e.g. Cyprus Red Line, Korean Demilitarized Zone) also are of interest.

Biodiversity Education in Mexico City's Zoological Parks
Mexico City operates three zoological parks: Chapultepec Zoo, San Juan de Aragón Zoo, and Los Coyotes Zoo. In recent decades these parks have evolved into modern conservation centers of local, national, and exotic wildlife species. Considering education as an essential task for biodiversity conservation, the parks have developed a wide array of innovative educational programs and activities, among them rotating exhibits, interactive educational activities, and educational courses and school tours. Activities may focus on a specific species and its recovery, or they may be directed toward biodiversity-related themes such as climate change, water conservation, or habitat protection. The great majority of the 9 million people who visit these parks every year live in cities and have limited exposure to nature. Mexico City's zoological parks thus have the opportunity to heighten public awareness of the importance of conserving biodiversity for a resilient and sustainable future.

UNESCO's Education for Sustainable Development - ESD
UNESCO is the lead agency for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014. ESD aims to enhance cities' roles as places for good governance, proper planning and landscape considerations, multicultural expression, and social inclusion. It focuses on creating a quality learning and educational environment for sustainability, promoting lifelong learning opportunities, teaching tolerance and mutual understanding, enabling youth to learn to participate in urban life, and creating inclusive societies. Biodiversity education is an integral part of ESD, which promotes mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services into all forms of learning as a critical contribution to sustainable development. This includes organizing thoughtful consumption and production behaviors that are sustainable from local to global levels.

Five Million Trees in Five Years: The Harare Greening Project
The Harare Greening Project in Zimbabwe is an ambitious effort to reverse deforestation, help mitigate the effects of climate change, and beautify Harare's roadways. The project began in 2010 when a few Harare residents convened a stakeholders meeting. Among the key players they invited were NGOs working in sustainable development and climate change, government workers with responsibility for trees, tree nursery owners, and municipal representatives. The group set a target of planting 5 million trees over a 5-year period. They encouraged participation at many levels and invited supporters to plant trees on their own land or on public land, or to buy trees for others to plant. Half a million trees were reportedly planted in the first year. Although the project has encountered many challenges, it has continued to expand. What's more, the concept has been adopted on a larger scale: a partnership of companies that formed an organization called Friends of the Environment Trust is championing a nationwide effort to plant 500 million trees in Zimbabwe.

Restoring a River and Empowering Youth: New York City
Year-round, the nonprofit organization Rocking the Boat in New York City offers opportunities for disadvantaged local youth to learn about the natural and social history of the Bronx River and to help restore it. Planting Spartina grasses, mapping the riverbed's topography, building and installing bird boxes along the riverbank, taking field notes and collecting data, and learning to identify plants, birds, fish, and other wildlife are just a few of the activities students undertake. Getting out on the river in hand-built wooden boats, the students also learn about water safety, teamwork, and how to row a boat. As Rocking the Boat says on its website, this hands-on environmental education program gives urban youngsters "the chance to learn about their own community, their own river, and their own possibilities for the future."

Image source: Trey Ratcliff

Adaptive Cycle

Figure 1: Adaptive Cycle
The model of the adaptive cycle was derived from the comparative study of the dynamics of ecosystems. It is meant to be a tool for thought. It focuses attention upon processes of destruction and reorganization, which are often neglected in favour of growth and conservation. Including these processes provides a more complete view of system dynamics that links together system organization, resilience, and dynamics. An adaptive cycle that alternates between long periods of aggregation and transformation of resources and shorter periods that create opportunities for innovation, is proposed as a fundamental unit for understanding complex systems from cells to ecosystems to societies.
Source: Globaïa

Resilience and non-linearity of complex systems

Figure 2: Resilience and non-linearity of complex systems
Regime shifts are large, abrupt, persistent changes in the structure and function of a system. An external shock can trigger a completely different system behaviour, here represented by the ball moving into a new regime. But regime shifts also depend on slow changes in external drivers and internal feedbacks that change the domains of attraction of the regime: from a resilient state represented in the figure by the dotted line to a less resilient state represented by the continuous line. The resilience of a state corresponds to the width of a stability pit. The loss of system resilience changes the thresholds that push the system into a new regime.
Source: Globaïa

Environmental programs in the Bronx

Figure 3: Environmental programs in the Bronx
Environmental programs in multiple organizations in the Bronx, New York City serve as learning arenas, and are networked to have larger impact on the Bronx River watershed restoration. They involve youth and other residents in environmental stewardship, monitoring, activism, outdoor recreation, and urban agriculture.
1. Mosholu Preservation Corporation
"Students at Mosholu Preservation Corporation are taking a Citizen Pruner Tree Care course offered by Trees New York."
2. Phipps Community Development Coporation "Educators, volunteers, and youth volunteering at a farmers market organized by Drew Gardens, Phipps CDC to promote healthy eating habits and urban agriculture"
3. Arturo A. Schomburg Satellite Academy High School
"Students from the EcoLeaders program at Satellite Academy High School are doing an art project in their school garden to celebrate urban culture, memory, and environment"
4. The POINT Community Development Corporation
Activists speaking during the Fish Parade in the South Bronx to call for waterfront access, watershed restoration, and environmental justice.
5. The Bronx River Alliance
Bronx River Alliance connecting urban residents to the urban environment through paddling events.
6. Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice
Youth stewarding a green roof on top of a catholic church in the South Bronx.
7. Rocking the Boat
Students and environmental professionals at Rocking the Boat are restoring oyster reefs at the mouth of the Bronx River.
Source: Dr. Alex Kudryavtsev