Day 3

2nd Untaming the Urban Symposium 2018 Proceedings

Presentation abstracts and discussion questions

(see Symposium 2018 link for full shedule)

Session 4: More-than-human

4.1. ReconceptualisingCo-Created Worlds
Tyler King (Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University Melbourne, Australia)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can the non-human contribute to reimagining the urban space?
  2. What kinds of boundaries (physical, metaphorical) does the non-human disrupt?
  3. What strategies can researchers use in “storying” more-than-human worlds?

Co-Created Worlds: pollinators contribution to reimagining urban space: Pollinators are omnipresent in the urban space. Whether through the presence of European honeybees in gardens, native bees dwelling in vacant lots or flying foxes descending on parks at night, they permeate all urban spaces throughout the city.

Much of the understandings of pollinators are focused around the ecological dimensions of their abundance, diversity and distribution. While this work is crucial in regards to conservation and promoting pollinator visibility in urban areas, recognising the relationships between humans and non-human pollinators does not always account for the multispecies, co-created worlds that emerge in these spaces.

Current discussions within more-than-human geographies can be utilised in recognising the rich and emergent lives of non-human pollinators. Acknowledging pollinators as actors within their own right – as individuals or communities constructing their own alliances with plants, humans and the urban space, pollinators can be seen as making meaning for themselves, outside of attributes or values that humans may assign to them.

Building upon feminist, more-than-human and indigenous scholarly works, this research engages with the co-created worlds between humans, pollinators and plants to reimagine the city as a caring and connected space.

Tyler King: is a first year PhD Candidate in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University. Tyler’s research is currently focused on multi-species entanglements in the urban space, and in particular those between people, pollinators and plants.


4.2. PraxisGreenWay
Alexa McAuley (McGregor Coxall)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do ‘fragile’ vs ‘resilient’ viewpoints change the practice of developing cities as complex ecologies?
  2. A renewal approach to urban ecology poses a challenge to a more conventional conservation paradigm. Is there common ground between these approaches or are they fundamentally different?
  3. What can we (across disciplines and communities) learn from the GreenWay and similar projects? What have we still got to learn about approaches to developing cities as complex ecologies?

Enhancing an urban ecological corridor along Sydney’s Cooks to Cove GreenWay: The GreenWay is envisaged as a multipurpose ecological, active transport, recreation and cultural corridor, following the route of a former goods railway in Sydney’s Inner West.  During the 1990s, bicycle groups saw an opportunity for an off-road path, and community volunteers established several bushcare sites within the rail corridor.  After twenty years of campaigning, the shared path now has funding, and a GreenWay Master Plan was prepared in 2018.  The Master Plan proposes significant revegetation, waterway naturalisation and other works to improve habitat connectivity.  However the shared path will also have some impacts on established bushcare sites, which generated strong opposition.

Stakeholder consultation during the Master Plan process revealed two very different viewpoints about urban ecology.  One emphasised conservation – minimising disturbance, protection of existing habitat, and preventing human access to sensitive sites.  The other emphasised renewal – acceptance of change, design for a complex entanglement of human, domesticated, introduced and “native” species, and improved integration between human and non-human habitat.

It proved challenging to progress meaningful dialogue between these two viewpoints.  Initial agreement on the broad notion of the GreenWay as an ecological corridor masked deep differences in understanding how it should function as such.  The conservationists saw the bushcare sites as fragile remnants in need of protection, and saw limited value in any attempts at habitat enhancement in publicly accessible land.  Meanwhile, others saw great value in encouraging human engagement with nature, and believed the GreenWay’s flora and fauna to be resilient and able to thrive despite (and even because of) ongoing human interaction.

It is hoped that a project like the GreenWay might ultimately help shape a more constructive conversation about urban ecology, by testing different approaches and providing measurable outcomes.  However it also serves as a reminder that novel approaches can be deeply challenging and it will take strong dialogue and a well-considered strategy to bring everyone on the journey.

Alexa McAuley: Alexa is an environmental engineer with 15 years’ experience in environmental consulting.  A large part of Alexa’s work has been designing green infrastructure for urban water management, such as wetlands and rain gardens, and her practice is currently expanding into broader green infrastructure projects.  Alexa often works with ecologists as well as landscape architects and urban design professionals, operating across disciplinary boundaries to lead integrated design teams.


4.3. Futures Panel – Resilience, Diversity and Urban Forestry – Cris Brack, Guerrilla Strategies – Rachel Morgain, Anthropocene and Beyond – Libby Robin

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the barriers for reimagining cities as places where we humans live as part of the natural world?
  2. What role does the human act of ‘doing’, ‘undoing’ and ‘leaving alone’ have for improving biodiversity in urban futures?
  3. Why should/could/ought more-than-humans have a part to play in transforming the shape of our urban futures?

4.3a Resilience, Diversity and urban forestry
Cris Brack (Fenner School, ANU)

Australian native forests move along a successional pathway: from an original stand initiation event where many new trees across a range of species regenerate and begin to fill the site; through a competition and stem exclusion stage where trees compete for resources; then vertical and horizontal diversification as some trees die or change their resource use and thus open up new opportunities for other plants; and finally pioneer cohort loss where the original trees die but don’t have an opportunity to regenerate because the conditions are so different from their original initiation. Many urban forests on the other hand are developed as trees are planted along streetscapes and in new parks when cities and suburbs expand into new areas. Such urban forests then often only include the stand initiation event – planting –  without the competition and diversity stages. Increasingly though, some of these forests are moving directly to the cohort loss stage at the end of the tree’s useful or safe life. In these urban forests, all the diversity of plant species, ages and structures are missing. Such a simple environmental system lack the resilience or resistance inherent in diversity. This lack also leads to a lack of diversity of habitats required by a diversity of fauna. If a native forest demonstrated such a simplicity of species, age and structure, the best thing management might do would be the introduction of fire.  This presentation will explore ways of reintroducing the diversity in an urban forest without resorting to burning the suburbs on a regular basis.

4.3b Guerrilla strategies for growing human-environment connections in North American cities
Rachel Morgain (Fenner School, ANU)

This talk draws from my work as an ethnographer among environmental and forest activists in North America whose ethos emphasises the living personhood and spirit of the more-than-human. It asks what we might learn by looking at what grass-roots communities are doing to reconfigure their cities as places of human-environment connection. Centred in the San Francisco Bay Area, my research took me physically or virtually to cities around North America, from Vancouver to New Orleans, exploring how urban environments are being made sites of intersubjective environmental connection through an interweaving of practical action and cosmological reimagination. Most of the people I interacted with in this research felt their primary emotional home to be in places they see as ‘natural’ or ‘wild’. Given this, I seek to uncover both opportunities and constraints in how cities figure for as places of emotional and spiritual connection and of listening to the more-than human. Through cases such as urban tree-sits, guerrilla permaculture and post-disaster restoration, I discuss how art, ritual and activism are interwoven within these networks as means for reimagining urban environments as sites of powerful, albeit fractured, possibility for advancing how we (humans) can live as part of the natural world.

4.3c Planetary futures: Understanding humans geologically and other-than-humans ethically
Libby Robin (Fenner School, ANU & Convenor: Australian Environmental Humanities Hub

The Anthropocene is a 21st century idea which transforms our understanding of the relations between people and nature. It is still a ‘hypothetical’ epoch of the the Earth, which stratigraphers have yet to ratify, but already is has been transformative in the humanities, design and creative arts.

The rise of cities –particularly the accelerating use of concrete –is considered one of the possible markers for the epoch of the Anthropocene. The International Commission on Stratigraphical Research has decided in July 2018 that the latest subdivision of the Holocene, beginning 4,200 years BP, is the Meghalayan (so-called because of changes in stalagmites in the Krem Mawmluh caves in Meghalaya, India). The Working Party on the Anthropocene is focusing now on a much later rupture, and agree on the ‘Great Acceleration’ as marking great changes since the 1950s. The Great Acceleration is a term introduced by historian, John McNeill in response to the many parallel curves of acceleration generated by social scientists and earth system scientists, all of which take a rapid upward turn from the 1950s.

While stratigraphers have been debating whether a new epoch is justified, the Anthropocene idea has been widely discussed well beyond arcane geological meetings. The environmental humanities focus is not so much on ‘markers’ (or golden spikes in the rock strata), but rather on what it means to live in Anthropocene times of strange planetary futures and accelerating change, including global warming and the rise of megacities.

In this talk I will consider some of the examples of where humanities scholars are leading discussions. The presentation will consider the following: 1) how to imagine our human species as a planet-changing, geological force; 2) the implications of such a species for other life forms; and, 3) what sorts of ethical considerations ought planetary-forcing-species extend to other-than-human forms of life whose ways of living have also been changed forever by the actions of humanity?

Libby Robin: is Emeritus Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society. Her most recent book is The Environment: A History of the Idea (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2018). She will draw on this book to reflect on the changing ideas about ‘the environment’ since the late 1940s when it was first mooted as a way to re-think the management of nature, up to the 21st century idea of ‘the Anthropocene’.


Workshop 2

Across Disciplines – Steve Dovers (Fenner School, ANU)

This Interdisciplinary Workshop will explore the multiple disciplinary – and sub-disciplinary – perspectives that we are all bringing to the enterprise of Untaming the Urban. Urban research is multi-disicplinary enough and it gets much more so when the non-human is taken seriously. (And, we might even find some that aren’t here and possibly should be.) With a discipline comes assumptions about knowledge, the motivations of people, and how the urban world works. Do we actually understand each other’s assumptions, which very often lurk as implicit knowledge. Within a discipline, there is often much more variation, even downright conflict, than would be apparent to some from outside that disciplinary community. This project and meeting is a unique chance to delve more into this labyrinth, and we might even say that as an explicitly interdisciplinary project, it is incumbent on us to do so. Don’t leave your epistemological, theoretical and methodological assumptions at the door, but be prepared to leave with a few new ones in your bag.