Currently, 55% of the world population lives in cities and it is estimated that by mid-century it will reach 70%. Yet 100 years ago only 2 out of 10 people lived in a city, and before that even fewer. The trend is that there are more and more people living in the city due to economic, work or practical reasons. However, we have to think about whether or not the ever-growing cities should be designed for a single species, or if we should coexist with other animals.
Currently, this coexistence exists: there are domestic animals such as dogs and cats that walk the streets, as well as wild animals such as birds, insects, rodents and other animals.
Does this make sense?
According to experts, cities cannot be exclusively for humans, we have to live with animals for different reasons, among them, animals activate our eighth intelligence, the naturalist. In addition, neighborhoods with more pets have lower crime rates. Finally, animals contribute to having more sustainable and environmentally friendly cities, a basic aspect for the cities of the future.
If we focus on wild animals, there are more and more of them since humans are destroying their natural habitat, forcing them to settle in cities and adapt to this new habitat. Among the most popular wild animals, there are different types of birds, insects, small mammals and reptiles. In cities like Barcelona, coming face to face with a wild boar is already common, although if we were in Chicago, we could find coyotes, a macaque in Jaipur; foxes in Canada, or a puma in California. Not to mention the marsupials in Brisbane, the camels in Khartoum, elephants, cows and all kinds of monkeys in African and Asian cities, or the wide range of macro rodents, together with an infinity of birds in Latin American capitals. In their presence is our future.
The fact of housing animal life in the city implies the existence of green spaces that serve as shelter and food. The cities of the future must have green spaces for their survival. Given the current global trend of population concentration in cities, they must be self-sufficient to provide food, health and education for their citizens, always in an environmentally friendly manner in order to guarantee our survival. Green spaces and coexistence with animals will be basic for this.
In addition, wild animals provide numerous benefits:
- They are pollinating agents: birds, insects and some mammals such as bats, pollinate the plants of the cities.
- They are seed dispersers: animals such as squirrels hide seeds to eat in the future, new plants are born from the leftovers they do not eat, contributing to the green spaces of the city
- They keep cities clean: there are scavengers that feed on dead animals and decomposing remains, keeping cities clean and contributing to the cycling of matter.
- They are vector control agents: those animals that feed on insects, such as birds, lizards and more, help control the populations of insects that transmit diseases to humans.
For humans, living with animals makes us happier. Contact with nature awakens a feeling known as biophilia, or our sense of connection to nature and animals. In addition, according to a study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, it indicates that living less than 300 m from a park reduces the risk of breast cancer by 35%. At less than 100 m, the risk drops to 44%. Residing less than 500 m from a green area reduces the number of premature deaths. Surrounding yourself with animals and plants reduces ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children, who have alternative play spaces to screens, and access the mystery and physical adventure that any living being craves at their age.
In addition, the green areas that are home to wildlife are also a very positive space for domestic animals such as dogs. Although they live in homes, pets also contribute to a very positive effect in cities, for example, in neighborhoods with a higher density of pets, lower crime rates are recorded, in addition to having a very positive impact on their caretakers mental health. Cities with pets are cities with a more active population and more connected with nature.
Currently, and taking into account the needs of the future, in cities like Barcelona, a series of actions are already being carried out to facilitate a better coexistence between humans and other animals. To this end, green corridors are being established, which allow animals such as squirrels to cross the city safely without stepping on the asphalt. In addition, the way in which plants for gardens and parks are chosen, which were previously based on aesthetic criteria, is being changed, while now native plants and trees come into play, which adapt better to the territory, providing spaces with greater sustainability .
The councils are also placing feeders and drinkers at strategic points for the wildlife that inhabits the cities, as well as more modern buildings that adapt to the needs of birds or other animals. Another measure is signage on buildings to prevent birds from colliding with their windows. Cities like Valencia do not look the other way with wild cats, and for this reason they have a feline colonial plan that analyzes and takes into account all aspects to bet on maximum well-being.
To guarantee their future, we have to contemplate animal-friendly cities, and assume that we are not the only species that must live in them. These have green spaces and guarantee safe spaces for them, thus contributing to cleaner and more sustainable cities, a sine qua non condition to guarantee their viability in the future. In addition, living with them allows us humans to be more connected with nature, and therefore, more balanced and happy.