What do we want our cities to be and how do we get there? Carolyn Deby

A statement by Carolyn Deby - sirenscrossing


Cities. Some say monstrous conurbations of concrete, traffic, and pollution; desperate places for the lonely to become lost, for the rich to get richer. But what else are cities already becoming? In their cracks and quiet corners, what other potentials are there to be noticed and multiplied?

Cities. In fact, not places of human control and extraction, but rather landscapes exuberant with wild or self-willed life, though humans might seek to stamp that out or pave it over. A parking lot seems as dead as a devastated post-glacial landscape, scraped down to the bedrock, but, to a lichen, a moss, or a weed, it’s an opportunity. Life is always lurking, looking for chances to recolonise, to break through, to make new soil, to become a forest. We need cities to be places where humans daily feel their inherent, entangled kinship with the vibrant more-than-human world. The ‘environment’ or ‘nature’ is misunderstood as a mere backdrop to human concerns, yet how can this be when we are, nature ourselves. We could make cities the vanguard of a return to being in profound relation with the planet that sustains us.

The potential is ripe for cities as places of kinship with the more-than-human, as places for noticing, and increasing the possibility of noticing, our entangled, reciprocal reality as part of an urbanwild that we could consciously choose to shift towards even greater wilding.

This revolution will build on what we already know. Bring humans daily into deep noticing through embodied practices like walking/cycling/resting – bring people out of their machines and away from screens, into the real. It is said that addiction can be caused by feeling a lack of connection. Being in relation with places that have less pavement, more and varied life, more opportunities for living encounters knitted through the everyday, so that individuals feel profoundly part of a larger web of human and nonhuman lives – these will build a sense of belonging to a more-than-human family in which we have a direct stake.

Can we fall in love with our cities? Not for their shiny monuments or ability to turn a profit, but for their radical openness to becoming an ever more vibrant, cacophonous network of life? What local expertise can you nurture and grow in your city? Who is already practicing deep relations with the urbanwilds? Allotment holders, ramblers, bird watchers, young children, tree wardens, guerrilla gardeners, forest schools, kinship trainers, foragers, artists, and elders… Rewilding and understanding the living world as more than a resource to be extracted from will take a shift in mindset and a slowing into deep sensing. Many Indigenous peoples across the world have been living this wisdom for tens of thousands of years. We could learn. We could transform our priorities and make space for connection. Learn how to grow food. Notice when the birds begin to nest and when their babies start to fledge. Remove more paving and welcome in an abundance of our green, oxygen-producing plant kin. Let rain penetrate the ground in far more places, to soak away the floods that threaten our homes. Watch the glorious return of pollinators and butterflies, of foxes and squirrels, of beetles and hedgehogs, of songbirds and birds of prey. These life-worlds already coexist with us, but we can make more room for them and get rid of the poisons, plastics, and fumes that are killing them and us. Cities can be models for the direction that the Earth urgently needs humanity to travel. There is no time to lose. But everything, to be lost.