These protocols suggest urban planning concepts that 1) are ecologically sound, 2) beneficial for humans and nature, and 3) can help facilitate communication between humans and nature.
BFP #1: Urban Forest from Mountain to River
The fact that there is a line where forest ends and the city begins, and that this line is never disputed, is disconcerting. It is not only disconcerting for the forest-dwelling birds and other animals, but for the wellness of the entire neighborhood, humans included.
A continuous and diverse forested zone within the city provides innumerable benefits that we rarely acknowledge. Some of these benefits include reduced urban flooding, temperature moderation, pollution and carbon absorption, habitat for a multitude of species, and a long list of health benefits — both physical and psychological — for humans.
Small parks and street trees are important parts of an urban ecology, however, it is important that these trees be woven into interconnected forest ecosystems. In order for cities to realize the greatest benefit then, true forests and meadows need space to weave their way through the urban landscape, from mountain to river.
If we gave some room for this to happen in our cities, if we disputed the validity of that forest-city line just a little bit, it would open the potential for tremendous positive impact on cities and people. Maybe that cute and curious little Redstart would follow me around a bit longer, too.
BFP#2: Right-of-Way for Rivers and Streams
A healthy stream with ample space to flow a natural course gives reprieve to the entire city, for it has the power to help absorb and contain flooding. A healthy stream with unmanaged wild grasses and wild trees gives home to numerous living beings, filters and cleans our water, and helps hold precious soil in place. A healthy stream with just enough amenities for humans — walking and biking trails, sitting areas, springs, foraging zones — gives us more opportunity, to connect to the nature in ourselves.
A stream is a sacred, life-giving occurrence on this Earth. When we decide to give room for small watercourses to meander through our cities, the urban world is enlivened in many ways. Plants, humans, and other animals suddenly flock to this sign of life. Something pulls them here. This is why every watershed deserves a course that is open to daylight, with riparian zones to flow alongside.
When we enable this to happen in our cities, we enable a thriving, interconnected culture. We enable foraged mugwort pancakes and fish spawning grounds. We enable dandelion necklaces and the elegant flight and slightly horrid squawking of Herons. And so too, in a wider sense, we enable a more resilient, positive, equitable environment for all beings within our cities.
BFP#3: Farming Together with Nature
If poisoned weeds, plastic-covered soil, sterile seeds, and life-killing sprays are the standards by which food is grown, humans and the earth both struggle. The earth struggles to support the farmer, let alone other lifeforms in and around the farm. The farmer struggles to fulfil their role as part of the life support system on this planet. Consumers of food suffer to live a healthy life. Such a way of farming might ensure the continuation of the chemical and seed manufacturers for some years, but it ultimately ensures the destruction of humanity.
Ways of growing food such as natural farming or regenerative agriculture support the critically important lifeforms in the soil and field, as well as the life of humans.
A diverse living ground cover of plants like clover, vetch, and dozens of other edible plants and ‘weeds’ are not enemies of your farm. These plants help protect the soil during heavy rains, they stop water from evaporating in dry weather, and they allow nitrogen and other nutrients to be deposited for the benefit of other crops.
The best pest control is not done by killing with chemicals, but by promoting such a diversity of life including trees, shrubs, and native flowering plants, that a multitude of beneficial insects — bees, wasps, spiders, mantis and others — are attracted, all of who manage pest problems naturally.
If there is enough diversity of plant and animal life in a field, and if you get into a proper relationship with this diversity of life, you can grow more than enough food while also allowing other forms of life to live. These are the real answers for sustainable, resilient, climate-change-fighting urban food. Food flourishes when your relationship to nature does. Bugs and weeds are not enemies. Seed freedom is your freedom.
Our cities deserve delicious, local, sustainable food that supports the health of people and the environment. We know how to get there. Now we just need to make the choice, to meet nature, and to grow food in ways that enhance this nature’s wellness, as it does our own.
BFP #4: Wild Grass and Meadows
When weeds and wild grasses are allowed to live their life (whether it is on a farm or in an urban landscape) we see, year after year, the miraculous the power they have to rehabilitate the health of that landscape and the humans around it.
After spending enough time with weeds in the urban landscape, we see clearly that cities benefit when the spend less human effort manicuring urban landscapes. Let nature do her job. Understand that natural meadows provide both resilience and beauty.
Sustainable cities must plan for the growth of beneficial weeds, wildflowers, wild grasses, and meadow ecosystems as part of the urban commons. Such landscapes are generally low-maintenance, can support the resurgence of traditional local cuisines, and have a regenerative effect on urban ecology.
Our cities are in dire need of the service of weeds. It is about time we embraced them.
BFP #5: Permeable Streets and Walkable Landscapes
We all know good examples of what happens when urban car infrastructure is transformed into low-speed pedestrian zones. Local businesses benefit, human lives are saved, human relationships benefit, human health and wellness increases. All of the evidence we have seen in the world’s most loved cities, points to a simple rule that can be applied to most urban neighborhoods.
When asphalt and concrete are removed, and replaced with walkable, cycle-able, life-supporting pathways that allow plants to grow and water to be absorbed, a more healthy, wealthy, resilient, social city is born.
Yet perhaps the most important ecological benefit of these pedestrian zones, and of permeable areas in general, is that of a vital natural cycle being restored. Whether it is through permiable streets or entire sponge cities, water needs the ability to filter down into aquifers. We could list the practical benefits of this—which might include reduced flooding, less erosion, and the very stability of the land on which our cities are built—but it goes beyond this.
Before our cities existed, water had a way of moving through our landscapes which contributed to the resilience and life of the land. The way we built our urban settlements severely disrupted that way of moving. Droughts, floods, fires, and heat waves are some of the symptoms of that disruption. To fix these issues, we must learn to develop an appropriate relationship between water and our cities, one which allows some plausible kind of natural cycle to ensue. For this, all of us who inhabit the landscape will benefit.
Though inspired by the forests of Bomunsan in Daejeon Korea, these protocols are broadly applicable to cities around the world. We encourage you to share them, and also to transform and adapt them to your own urban ecological conditions.