Biodiversity Webinar Key Insights
Discover the 7 key insights from our webinar “Deepening the conservation conversation: Exploring the connection between biodiversity, wellbeing and inclusion”. This webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces.
On November 25 Park People hosted a webinar titled “Deepening the conservation conversation: Exploring the connection between biodiversity, wellbeing and inclusion.” This webinar sparked the key insights listed below which we hope will get communities and organizations excited to explore and activate their own communities.
The webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces. The webinar featured Nadha Hassen, Ph.D. Student and Vanier Scholar, Public Health Researcher, Don Carruthers Den Hoed, Senior Fellow and Manager at Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership (CPCIL), Jennifer Rae Pierce, Partnerships and Engagement Head, Urban Biodiversity Hub Ph.D. Candidate, School of Community and Regional Planning, UBC, and Joce Two Crows Tremblay, Earth Worker with the Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle. This webinar was moderated by Jake Tobin Garrett, Manager, Policy and Planning at Park People.
The significance of urban nature
Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of life on Earth. In exploring the connection between biodiversity and nature, panellists expressed that they are one and the same.
Biodiversity is often framed as beneficial to humans, but many panellists talked about the need to decentre humans and ensure we are broadening our focus to encompass all living things, human and non-human.
Don suggested that urban biodiversity enables “nature at your doorstep,” providing mental and physical benefits to humans and other living beings, even in an artificial landscape.
Experiencing urban parks enables city-dwellers to experience the full spectrum of nature, across the seasons and at both small and large scales.
Quality over quantity
Biodiversity can thrive in spaces of any size.
From the multi-hectare conservation lands to a local pocket park, the size of the space is not the determining factor in the well-being benefits of that space. What matters is the experience of that space and, as Nadha pointed out, its quality.
Don identified the need to respect places that foster biodiversity and respect the human and non-human beings that inhabit these natural spaces. These spaces, especially wild spaces, are places where people are not in control of nature but, instead, get to experience the mystery of nature.
As he put it: “Parks are where you learn to love life.”
The (green) spaces in between
When thinking of urban parks, what comes to mind are often distinct and bounded pockets of green spaces in an urban landscape.
Jennifer suggests shifting our thinking away from this isolated approach to one that views nature as integrated into the urban matrix and not simply in what we call “parks.”
In the design and management of a biodiversity strategy, consider the whole network of spaces in a city from parks to streets to housing complexes. Small spaces, big spaces and the spaces in-between are all vital to the health of urban biodiversity.
COVID is a new lens we can’t avoid
In discussing how COVID has (and will continue to) impact their work, panellists impressed the need for action. The connection between nature, well-being and health has never been more in front of mind. This past year has illuminated the significance of nature and how it connects to what’s important, the mental, the physical, knowledge of self, the spiritual and a sense of belonging and community.
In moving forward through the next year and beyond, panellists impressed the need for action. “This is not a time to shy away from but to lean in,” Jennifer said.
Key pieces to consider:
- How can we increase access to quality green spaces? Who has the privilege of experiencing biodiversity and how can that be expanded?
- Reflect on who is a part of the decision-making process in your work. How can you better integrate diverse voices in the decision-making process?
Bring the emotion back
Biodiversity has evolved to be an expert-led domain, primarily concerned with objectivity, measurements and conservation. However, many panellists discussed the need to reframe biodiversity in terms of our emotional and spiritual connections to the land and to other living beings.
For example, Jennifer highlighted that biodiversity as a field was born from a “love of all things” and urged us to “bring the emotion back to biodiversity.”
Who gets to experience quality, biodiverse urban green spaces?
COVID has magnified the already existing racial and social inequities in access to quality green spaces in our cities. As Nadha outlined, every individual’s lived realities and lived experiences are so different. When discussing parks, we need to think about how our own lived experiences impacts how we navigate or experience public spaces. In moving forward, Nadha suggested reevaluating and reimagining our design practices, starting with empathy, fostering a sense of belonging and including diverse voices as key decision-makers.
Reflection: Who gets to experience quality, biodiverse urban green spaces and who gets to experience the privilege of these mental and physical benefits?
This brought up additional questions, including:
- How can we leverage parks and green spaces to address food insecurity?
- Who has the privilege of experiencing respite in public spaces?
- How do we design from an intersectional lens?
- Who is a part of the design and decision-making process and gets to contribute to solutions?
Whitewashed parks and Indigenous relationship to land
Nearing the end of the session, Joce focused on Toronto’s approach to Indigenous relationships to land, specifically in High Park. Joce cited the 13 documents that have been presented to the City of Toronto, including the findings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
These documents have presented findings that, as Joce pointed out, “reiterate the significance of Indigenous peoples having a connection to the land in order to preserve their cultural customs, their ceremonies and their languages. Without access to land, none of those things can move forward into futurity.”
In their 15 years of working with High Park, Joce has worked with local councillors and the City of Toronto to bring a voice to the Indigenous history and relationship to the area.
However, Joce pointed out that there is a designated space within the park for sports, dog parks, and parking, but not a designated space for Indigenous practices. High Park is an ancestral sacred land that was once the gathering place for over 50 nations and is still home to over 50 sacred mounds as well as ancestral footpaths. Joce reiterated that there is no evidence of this within High Park, it’s mapping or it’s signage.
Joce urged those who design, manage and maintain parks and natural areas to think about who is at the table or included within the circle and whose voices and experiences are missing.
Watch the full webinar
Funding for this webinar was provided by the RBC Foundation
Thank you to our generous supporters