OpEd: More scenes like this
Why the active inclusion of non-human life in the design of our homes and cities is important.
Twice a week I slide open the glass door to our outdoor patio and refill a hardware store bird feeder with bird seed. The package for the bird seed says “Attracts up to 2x more Finches” but we never see anything other than mourning doves and the occasional mocking bird. It makes no matter to me, my wife or the cat, especially the cat. The birds are beautiful nonetheless and we’re thrilled to have them visit our “urban” bird feeder.
Several weeks ago, while discussing animal architecture, and its pending transition to a non-profit organization I was asked quite bluntly, though with good intentions, to explain the benefits of a robust urban ecosystem. “Why would we want to live with non-human animals?” to paraphrase the question. At times I forget how foreign some of these thoughts must seem to someone just coming to the discussion. And I also forget the degree to which I have internalized much of the research, theory and assumptions about resilient systems and biodiversity that underpin The Expanded Environment as a project (to say nothing of the phi losophical . While it’s certainly not the first time the question has been posed to me, this time I struggled to formulate a clear answer.
There are many reasons to support and actively encourage ecological diversity in our cities. Many of these reasons are repeated on this very site. There are the benefits to simply having more animals around us. They strengthen of our immune systems, increase our innate resistance to infection and reduce our collective susceptibility to the ravages of disease within monocultural systems. There are the benefits to living within an autonomously regulating pest system. Doesn’t that sound good? Imagine if we all had just enough mice, lizards, birds, and insects around to keep them all in their own places. Additionally, imagine if we were smart enough to dissuade unwanted guests from our more private spaces, or even better, imagine if we were to design and then live in such a way where their presence wouldn’t be seen as a problem.
Living with other animals also comes with gifts — obviously. Not only can they bring you the simple joys of their presence but as we all know well, bees bring pollen necessary for plants; bats eat mosquitoes, as do Purple martins and Chimney Swifts. Falcons will maintain some of your rodent problems but only with suitable habitats. All of it brings biomass into the city that can be used and reused for crop-production and the eventual recycling of life.
But I didn’t say any of this to my friend. Instead I stared for a moment looking at a Mourning Dove visiting our feeder. The bird was hopping around pecking at seeds that had fallen to the ground. Small wispy white feathers were stuck to the ragged edges of the thyme plant beneath the feeder. Bits of bird poop were on the patio floor that I new I would be sweeping up tomorrow and the cat was hunched in the corner – tail flicking back and forth as her eyes and ears twitched with the bird’s movements. “Wouldn’t you want to see more scenes like this?” I asked.