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Context and Objectives

To coincide with the International Year of Biodiversity, the Urban Protected Areas Network is organizing an international conference on the relationship between Cities and Nature, focusing on the complexities of- and the strategies for sustainably managing protected areas in urban environments, both North and South.

Even though cities depend heavily on the goods and services provided by their immediate environment, urban pollution and consumption of natural resources place increasingly heavy burdens on these natural systems. Such urban natural spaces play an essential role, providing and maintaining ecosystem services, and more generally contributing to the wellbeing of city dwellers. Furthermore, against a backdrop of rapid urbanization, these green spaces are increasingly coveted and contested, manifesting strong socio-environmental inequalities.

By 2030, some 61% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, which in developing countries will correspond to a 93% increase in city dwellers. Accordingly, unless planning and housing can match this pace, a large proportion of these urban migrants – mainly poor – will find themselves settling at the precarious fringes of the urban fabric. Given this rate of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of cities around the world, natural protected areas are increasingly subject to the dynamic pressures of urban systems. Consequently, cities now play a growing role in global efforts to protect and manage vulnerable natural systems: the question is how to build and manage a city within nature, rather than in opposition to it.

The aim of Protected Areas is to conserve nature in situ, generally within a clearly bounded territory, where the possible uses of the land are regulated by law. In large urban areas, the restrictions inherent to Protected Areas invite various forms of social-environmental conflict, as competing demands of diverse populations interact with conservation imperatives, on questions as diverse as landuse & access, risk, representation, territoriality, social inequality, and spatial justice. These questions are at the heart of BiodiverCities, at the locus of urban and environmental politics. A further object of the conference will be to examine emerging forms of governance – and perhaps even a new paradigm of environmental management – in which protecting areas and conserving biodiversity are broadly integrated in sustainable urban practice.

In a comparative exercise, BiodiverCities will bring together protected area managers, municipal leaders and researchers, to exchange views and experiences from both South and North. The aim is to foster lively discussions, on a subject too often ignored by international organizations and scientific literature. Responding to an urgent need to bring diverse actors and experiences together in this common purpose, this conference will provide an occasion to collectively analyze participants’ diverse perspectives, with an emphasis on exploring the similarities and differences– sometimes radical – between & within sites. The conference will conclude with a field visit to explore these questions on the outskirts of Paris.

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