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Urban Greening: Implications for Human-Wildlife Relations in Philadelphia

Project: 7
Name: Christian Hunold, PhD (hunoldc@drexel.edu; 267.902.9423)
Department: Politics

Description

Projects that green urban spaces are making it possible for larger, more diverse communities of wildlife to thrive in our cities, right alongside human communities. Yet the legitimacy of the presence of wild animals in the city remains precarious, subject to debate whenever humans feel threatened or inconvenienced by them (Donaldon and Kymlicka 2011). In our postindustrial cities, however, human-wildlife boundaries are becoming increasingly indistinct, mutually entangling human worlds and animal worlds (Frank 2016; Stroud 2012). Consequently, human communities need to reconsider the meaning of wildness and renegotiate their relationship to wild animals such as red-tailed hawks or coyotes that have made a home for themselves in their backyards, sometimes quite literally (Flores 2016). This project investigates the potential of urban greening to contribute to the development of more egalitarian human-wildlife relations (Gruen 2014; Luther 2013). Under what conditions might imaginaries of city life be pushed to travel further down the road from the built environment to living cities that consider the needs of animal communities alongside those of the city's human residents (Hinchliffe and Whatmore 2006; Wolch 2002)?

I approach this question through the lens of the City of Philadelphia's green stormwater infrastructure program, Green City, Clean Waters. Installed at city scale and over several decades, green stormwater infrastructure will add up to an unprecedented expansion of urban wildlife habitat. But to what extent does anyone actively envision the city as wildlife habitat? Are the needs of wildlife accounted for in policy development and implementation? How do government agencies involved in urban greening educate the public on successful coexistence? Are city residents thinking about how to share their yards, streets, and parks with growing populations of wild animals? If so, who is doing this work, and how might urban greening policy development and implementation better reflect such efforts? Cities, I argue, will have to reinvent themselves as spaces both for people and for wildlife, if the far-reaching transformation of the urban landscape to be accomplished by green infrastructure installation is not to trigger continual moral panics about the "invasion" of unwanted wildlife. Yet while there is much talk in urban greening circles of improved ecosystem services, the communities of wildlife that inhabit these ecosystems, and their relationships with their human neighbors, remain starkly underexposed.

Wild animals' invisibility stems, in part, from how animals are discussed - or not - in urban greening projects. Proposals to green urban spaces tend to cast nonhuman nature as a benign provider of ecosystem services intended to benefit the city's human residents. Actual wild animals, however, draw decidedly mixed responses from their human neighbors, alternately loved, ignored, feared, and occasionally reviled and harassed. I propose to examine how these tensions have unfolded and continue to unfold in the context of urban greening policy development and implementation in Philadelphia. In doing so, I hope to identify ways that urban greening projects can improve the lives of both the city's human and nonhuman residents.

Associated Independent Study

I would be happy to tailor an independent study to the student's interests. One possibility would be to write a literature review on urban wildlife management and human-wildlife relations in urban settings. Alternatively, the student could develop a related research project of their own, e.g. asking similar questions about a different city.

Gained Experience

The student would develop expertise in compiling and preparing for review research studies from the literatures relevant to this project (e.g. human-animal studies; green stormwater infrastructure; urban environmental politics.) The student would also learn how to conduct qualitative fieldwork, e.g. semi-structured interviews and participant observation.

Outcome

The expected outcome of this project is a conference paper and subsequent journal article.

Tasks

The student would search and summarize relevant literature (research studies as well as municipal policy documents related to wildlife management and green infrastructure) and assist in fieldwork (interviews, site visits.)

Location

The project uses Philadelphia as a case study. In addition to library work there will be a handful of site visits to green infrastructure projects in the city.

Meetings

One or two weekly face-to-face meetings in my office, typically late morning or early afternoon.

Interview Availability

April 10, April 12