Reaching New Summits

May 20, 2020

Man wearing a shirt that reads "Making Cities Better Places For Humans And Wildlife" while attending the Urban Wildlife Information Network summit

In a rapidly urbanizing world, how do you build wildlife-friendly cities? Through research, planning, and collaboration. The Urban Wildlife Information Network (UWIN) held its first summit to encourage unity between experts of all kinds.

The Urban Wildlife Information Network (UWIN), created by the Urban Wildlife Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo, combats the biodiversity crisis by making cities part of the solution. This global network of two dozen cities shares wildlife data that can ultimately reduce human-wildlife conflict in some of the most heavily populated areas on Earth. In November at the zoo, UWIN held its inaugural Urban Wildlife Information Network Summit to bridge the divide between scientists, urban planners, designers, and land managers from across the nation. Approximately 76 experts from across the U.S. and Canada were in attendance, representing 19 of the 24 active UWIN partner cities. During the four-day summit, attendees participated in interactive workshops, discussing issues of urban biodiversity, planning, and equity. Here are a few key takeaways from the historic meeting, along with next steps and updates from the Urban Wildlife Institute.

Communication and Collaboration Is Vital

One common theme that wove its way throughout workshops and discussions is that communication and collaboration are fundamental, especially between fields. From visual guides to interactive tools, communication needs to be in a form that is accessible to all involved, which helps break down the silos between the people in cities who measure, design, and implement change; govern communities; and live in these areas. The summit brought communication and collaboration to the forefront, with many attendees calling the program a “breakthrough” and “mind-opening.”

“It showed that there is hunger for this type of multi-disciplinary gathering on urban wildlife,” says Jacqueline L. Scott, founder of Black Outdoors.

Collaboration can revolutionize the ways cities are built, helping to create prosperous habitats for animals while reducing conflict between wildlife and people.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Miller.

Addressing Barriers

Barriers to successfully incorporating wildlife needs into planning and designing cities include: financial resources, public perceptions of wildlife, balancing community revitalization with gentrification, and disciplinary differences. By understanding these common barriers, experts from across fields and the country can begin to overcome them, collaborating to fuse urban ecology and urban planning.

An Ever-changing Landscape

City landscapes are complex and ever changing, housing not only humans, but also a multitude of wildlife species. Research and policy must be adaptable, and experts must plan for revision and change in order to help people and wildlife continue to coexist. One important factor influencing the city landscape is connectivity, and it’s essential to examine the ways that humans and animals move throughout the city and how research, planning, and design can align those movement patterns with one another.

A Growing Network

Created by the Urban Wildlife Institute, the Urban Wildlife Information Network launched in 2017 as a partnership between eight cities across the U.S. Currently, UWIN connects 24 cities across the U.S. and Canada, from Chicago to Austin to Edmonton, Alberta. Partners include universities, wildlife organizations, city governments, and other institutions.

The collected data primarily consists of images captured by motion-activated cameras that allow scientists to understand the ecology and behavior of urban species. By comparing data throughout the vast network, experts can identify the differences in animal behavior across regions and find patterns that remain consistent around the globe—thus, leading to coexistence between wildlife and people in an urbanizing world.

Humankind lives on an urban planet, full of unique species of different shapes, sizes, and colors. These species can inspire and fascinate, enhancing the urban experience. A growing network, UWIN is seeking partners in cities around the world to continue to build the first global network collecting urban wildlife data.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Miller.

Looking Toward the Future

UWIN is looking toward the future and implementing ways to keep fusing urban ecology and urban planning. The network currently has research and education committees, but plans to advance collaboration between experts by including urban planning and design, environmental justice, student, and social science committees and advisory roles. In order to make cities even more wildlife-friendly, it’s fundamental that insights from the summit be shared with those from all around the globe. UWIN intends to design an array of products for various stakeholders, helping to get research and insights in the hands of people who can utilize it.

With the success of the inaugural summit, Lincoln Park Zoo and partners from across the U.S. and Canada are looking toward a future full of life, diversity, and coexistence.

“It’s only just the beginning”, says Seth Magle, Ph.D., director of the Urban Wildlife Institute. “By building and collaborating with an alliance of experts, especially those from various fields, we can make cities part of the solution to the biodiversity crisis, enhancing the urban experience for humans and wildlife alike”.

This article was first published in the spring/summer 2020 issue of Lincoln Park Zoo’s magazine. Read the full issue.