Nature in the City

Urban people need nature, and our urban wildlands need us

Earth Island News

Barbara Kobayashi volunteered regularly with the Presidio Ecological Restoration and Stewardship Program. A “naturalized” San Franciscan who left her hometown, Los Angeles, over 30 years ago, Kobayashi often worked with her fellow citizens restoring habitat in Crissy Field, San Francisco’s poster-child for community-based ecological restoration. Inspired by this experience, Kobayashi began to consider doing a bit of ecological stewardship on a neglected patch of city land near her house. She contacted key people in the local ecological restoration community to get advice on how to move forward.

The city agency that owns the site was initially slow to cooperate with Kobayashi’s plan, but she received help and advice from many people and organizations in San Francisco. She rallied her neighbors to get involved and eventually won approval from the San Francisco Department of Public Works to revegetate the site with native plants.

In January 2004, Kobayashi and her neighbors planted approximately 250 individual plants representing 50 native species that are well adapted to San Francisco’s version of a Mediterranean climate. By the spring of 2005, the site was awash in color.

After seeing the success of Kobayashi’s project, people are beginning to call her for advice on what to do with their own patch of earth. Her story, represents exactly the type of community stewardship that programs such as the Presidio’s try to foster. But most urban dwellers are not nearly so in touch with local nature as Kobayashi. We need many more citizens to take action if we are to care for all our precious local natural areas in perpetuity.

A California Native Plant Society walk on the Presidio's coastal bluffs. Photo Margo BorsPhoto: Margo BorsA California Native Plant Society walk on
the Presidio’s coastal bluffs.

In spite of the destruction of most of the wildlands of the city, a remarkable diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, endangered butterflies, and mammals endure in urban habitats of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. The city contains wonderful natural resources including rare plant and wildlife habitats, unique geologic formations, lush natural seeps, and perennial springs. Many people, however, think that wild nature can only exist and be experienced in national parks. Few people realize that we can interact positively and harmoniously with nature in the city. Small clearings of open space like Kobayashi’s need the dedicated engagement of the local community to be successful and sustainable.

A remarkable diversity of wildlife lives in San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

The story of Barbara Kobayashi contains most of the pieces to complete the puzzle of urban nature conservation: knowledge and information; ecological science; community empowerment; collaboration; advocacy to government institutions and policymakers; and inspiration.

Nature in the City is dedicated to building bridges and cultivating collaboration among government jurisdictions, communities, and social and environmental activists. We will nurture the relationship between nature and culture through education and advocacy.

During World Environment Day 2005, Nature in the City put out the message that while we want cities to co-evolve in better harmony with the regional and global natural environment, we cannot ignore our local urban nature, biodiversity, and natural processes.

By empowering communities to steward their neighborhoods’ natural lands, Nature in the City will foster understanding and respect of urban nature. Our mission is to promote the idea that urban people can have a positive connection with nature, acting as a catalyst for the evolution of a new urban cultural ecology in which people and the rest of nature mutually benefit from the restoration of a positive and sustainable relationship.

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