As my summer comes to a close, I think it’s an appropriate time to share and reflect on my incredible experience working for the WILD Foundation. Based in Boulder, Colorado and operating around the world, the WILD Foundation works to protect wilderness and wildlife by connecting people and cultures. The non-profit was founded in 1974 by South African game ranger and conservationist Ian Player and is now run by Vance Martin. I was lucky enough to work for this amazing organization for six weeks this summer on their WILD Cities Project.

The WILD Cities Project is a global campaign to regenerate wild nature in urban areas. The project is gathering a network of individuals, organizations, and municipalities across the globe that are seeking to increase natural spaces in cities. Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which is creating a distinct separation between humans and nature. Many people no longer interact with nature on a daily basis, or even on a weekly basis.

An important aspect of the WILD Cities Project’s mission is that it specifies wild nature – not just any nature. Wild nature means that green spaces showcase native plant species and wildlife, that are adapted to the particular climate of the city’s region, instead of showcasing cookie-cutter trees and lawns. It means that species are given the opportunity to regenerate naturally, instead of being boxed in where it’s convenient for humans. Wild nature is unique because it focuses on regeneration, instead of implantation. It’s not about people putting blocks of green in the places they want to – it’s about people allowing room for nature to be as much a part of the city as the man-made aspects.

Why is this a big deal? Isn’t it easy to just jump in your car and head to the mountains or the lake for the weekend? Here’s some reasons, many of which I learned through my internship, that show why this planet needs WILD Cities:

  1. Ecological Interconnectedness – Right now, most large cities are an inhibitor for wildlife; a concrete barrier that disrupts the flow of surrounding ecosystems. Wild species that find themselves in cities find very few resources, and more often than not, put themselves in danger. By regenerating wild nature in urban areas, wildlife can find places within cities that allow them to survive and be safely connected with the regional landscape.
  2. Human Health and Well-Being – Sure, it makes sense that being in nature makes you happy, but there’s a ton of scientific evidence to prove it. Being in nature reduces stress, increases immune function, improves distance vision and helps prevent depression, heart disease, bone issues, and diabetes. It also helps us think more creatively, increases emotional health, and helps us form closer relationships with others. Don’t believe me? Check out this and this and this and this. Nature-deficit disorder is real, and it’s practically an epidemic in our day and age.
  3. Gain Perspective – Up until about a century ago, humans were extremely reliant on nature – it told us when to go to bed, when to wake up, when to stock up for cold weather, and when to hide in our basements from an approaching tornado. Nature teaches us extremely important lessons about what it means to be human, and how we relate to other living creatures as well as vast landscapes in our world. Interaction with nature is especially crucial for childhood development.
  4. Environmental Justice – On this point, I can only speak for the United States because I am not familiar with the situation in other countries. In the U.S., the development of many cities has resulted in an aggregation of historically disadvantaged people – namely people of color and those in lower socioeconomic standing – into neighborhoods where they are disproportionately affected by environmental factors. Check out this map that shows segregation in today’s American cities. Examples of environmental justice issues are the location of a power plant in a historically black neighborhood, or a field that is sprayed with pesticides located right next to a Latino neighborhood. The same thing is happening with access to nature. Richer, whiter neighborhoods have more parks and ways to interact with nature, as well as the ability to leave town to experience nature, than these disadvantaged areas do. Increasing wild nature in urban areas will ensure that everyone has a chance to interact with nature and experience all of the benefits associated with it.
  5. Inspire Conservation – Being in nature and interacting with it in your daily life makes you want to preserve it for future generations of people to enjoy. In my personal experience, I don’t think I would be so excited about environmental issues now if my parents hadn’t taken me on hikes in nature when I was a kid and shown me wild places. It is not enough to protect vast wild landscapes in uninhabited regions – we need wild nature in cities so that people will continue to be inspired by nature and will continue to fight to protect it. If most of our kids are growing up in cities, and today’s cities have very little wild nature, where is our next generation of conservationists going to come from?

My role with the WILD Cities Project this summer was as a communications specialist. I ran the project’s social media outlets, added to our global network of organizations, interviewed people all over the world that are doing on-the-ground work to regenerate wild nature, and wrote blog posts for our new website. I had such an incredible experience working for them and I learned about what it means to work for a small non-profit and how to launch and manage a global campaign. The WILD Cities Project is doing amazing work, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for this incredibly important campaign.

The WILD Cities Project is looking for individuals and organizations that support the regeneration of wild nature in urban areas. If this sounds like you, click here to learn more about the project and to join the movement. You can also follow the WILD Cities Project on Facebook and Twitter. Questions? Email info@wildcities.org.

*The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of Emma Hutchinson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the WILD Foundation or the WILD Cities Project.

**Cover photo is by Bruno Monginoux licensed under Creative Commons. Retrieved from: http://www.landscape-photo.net/albums/userpics/10001/106/Green_Park_-12.jpg