“Not Too Close, Not Too Far: Living with Animals”

Animals are urbanizing. We are not talking here about dogs or cats, but about wild species. And not about insects, birds or rodents, they, of course, have long been city dwellers. Rather, we are talking about wild boars, deer, weasels, snakes and even cougars, elephants, bears, monkeys and even wolves. Real wild animals. Animals that harbor as much wonder as fear that haunt the imagination like mythical stories. Their presence, as unexpected as it is surprising, makes people reconsider their confidence, descend from Mount Olympus. The city, formed by separating itself from nature, from the wild, from the animal, must learn anew to live with it. But how?

Could the city really be Noah’s Ark, as you claim in your book Zoo City? How do you see the future of the animal in the city?

The experience of confinement allowed us to see wild animals where we did not expect to find them. It was like unleashing nature in a city that we usually think of as having no right to citizenship. Hence the feeling of joyful surprise, which was strongly broadcast by the media. Marveling at the ducks roaming the Comédie-Française forecourt in Paris, while they usually row a stone’s throw from the Seine, next to the Ile Saint-Louis, is evidence of a peculiar breath in the face of a shy and arrogant standardized urban world.

As for the question of whether there will be more and more wild animals in cities, it is understandable that the massive destruction of the natural environment surrounding ever-expanding urban centers is pushing animals to take refuge there. For example, kangaroos in Australia, who struggle to find grass in the bushes, come to town to feed. But there is also the fact that humans, also driven from their natural environment, form in the urban areas where they congregate unhealthy habitats in which many animals do their business. It should be remembered that about 2.5 billion people currently live in slums. When water stagnates, waste accumulates, open dumps accumulate, rats, mosquitoes, some monkeys or seagulls integrate people into their new ecosystem and breed.

View photo gallery: Humans are limited, animals are getting bolder

Is it possible that with the ecological transition more wild animals will return to urban areas?

Yes and no. On the one hand, one can imagine a great inversion with denatured natural areas and certain “green” urban areas, ecologized, where water and food are abundant, and therefore wild animals. Clearing the urban waterway is helping to bring back many species. On the other hand, the more “green”, i.e. independent in terms of energy, materials, food, etc., cities are, the less they will impose exploitation, even colonization, on the countryside. are preserved, the more animals will be able to stay there or return.

Currently, cities produce almost nothing from what they consume and throw all their waste outside. The evolution of cities towards self-sufficiency is essential for the ecological turnaround that needs to be done today. It is in the city, rather than in the countryside, that it is wise to start: creating mixed and flexible forms of complementarity, scarcity and recycling schemes, preferring the reuse of materials, planting fruit trees and creating communal gardens where possible. , etc. This would then turn the city into a city.

What is the difference?

I proposed this vocabulary to distinguish between the historically “walled” city – like the Tower of Babel, cutting itself off from the sensual world, leaving the earth for the ascension of mankind to the sky of the purest spirituality – and the city, understood as independent and diverse. species community.

As Aristotle already explained, the city is a place of plurality, freedom of action and independence.

The city protects from enemies and bestiality, and therefore from nature and from the so-called “savages”, whose behavior will always be unpredictable and potentially terrifying. Now, if we are willing to associate “wild” with that part of the unexpected, unprogrammed, irreducible to the environment that is present in every living being, including ourselves, we understand that urban planning, designed to raise Civilization with a capital C, is accompanied by a sclerosing, standardizing and draconian effects.

As Aristotle already explained, the city, on the other hand, is a place of plurality, freedom of action and independence. It is not centered, not geometric, and not subtracted from the use of the locals, but, on the contrary, is plural and, probably, can be reclassified by this use. The city is perfectly suspended in time, while the city is dynamic, changing and steeped in history. One can think of it as multi-centric, made up of residential units that are both connected and individualized, like a set of urban villages advocated by artist and urban planner Yona Friedman.

To think not in terms of the city, but in terms of the city, is to give place both to strangers and to other living beings. As the biologist and sociologist Sir Patrick Geddes believed, the city evolves and adapts. It changes as the need arises. Thus, it is a complete ecosystem.

Therefore, when we talk about the return of nature to the city, this can also refer to the animal world.

The question specific to the city is precisely to be able to create forms of life, thanks to which people, plants and animals may not coexist or, on the contrary, fight with each other, but simply coexist.

Campaigns to exterminate the so-called harmful animals are reflected in the fact that they are becoming more and more.

This question is central and very specific. Where I live, as elsewhere, there are cockroaches, rats, seagulls, and more and more wild boars and foxes. Destroying them when they bother me is neither ethical nor effective in the field. As the history of rats and mosquitoes testifies, campaigns to exterminate the so-called pest animals lead to an increase in their numbers. So how do we do it on a case-by-case basis, locally, experimentally, so that the existence of some is compatible with the existence of others? Issues related to ecological transition force us to reconsider hierarchies, dependency relationships, the articulation between public and private, between the individual and the community, between man and nature.

But how to achieve this familiarity of closeness between people and animals? What measures to implement?

First of all, two approaches should be avoided: as I said, the destruction of animals that interfere with us, and, conversely, the feeding of those animals that we want to attract. This is the squaring of the circle in many cases because there are many conflicts. You should know that the pest control industry and the wildlife food industry are equally thriving. But in both cases, kill or feed, there is a desire for dominance that is both anti-environmental and anti-democratic.

Concretely, there are all kinds of architectural, urban planning, and also mental gestures to avoid this double trap. The city can be arranged in such a way as to ensure the peaceful coexistence of neighbors with each other. As for some animals, one could choose to cover the frame to provide shelter for all kinds of insects, babahs or reptiles, blackout the glazing so that billions of birds do not crash into it, reduce lighting, clear the waterway and place it back into the open air, depave where possible, create ecological corridors that allow animals to cross roads, railings, gardens, etc., leave useful materials at their disposal in yards or gardens, such as piles of branches or stones, water and dirt, etc. And every time, study the situation with specialists so as not to unbalance the situation even more.

The more honey bees, the less nectar is available to wild bees.

The case of urban beehive fashion is emblematic of an attitude that is both interested, dominant and misguided. The more honey bees (that is, domestic), the less nectar is available to wild bees, the number of species of which is significant and which are crucial for pollination. The situation we have created is actually quite tragic for the latter who are disappearing.

Also read: Hives in the city, false good idea

How to avoid this trap?

I propose to start with the neighborhood in order to better understand the correct gestures, so as not to fall into the trap of such feelings as resentment: a neighbor is neither a friend nor an enemy. I don’t choose my neighbors. They are simply in geographical proximity and share certain spaces with me, whether I like it or not. The issue raised by the neighborhood is the right distance: neither too close nor too far. I propose to start from there to create new values ​​and establish a life side by side and face to face, which seems to me the best basis for living together. It forms the basis on which certain practices of exchange, mutual support, solidarity can then develop.

How can all these devices be introduced democratically in the life of the city?

In the city, citizen participation is not only necessary, but necessary to adopt an ecological lifestyle and pressure elected officials to do so. Acting locally on the one hand and acting personally on the other are two sides of the same coin. Citizenship, which consists not only in watching the actions of those in power, but also in caring for the places we share with others, will be strengthened.

Responsibility is key.

Yes, responsibility in relation to the state of the world and in relation to its immediate environment, avoiding making people feel guilty. There is a punitive aspect to ecology that repels people. While it would be useful for us to appreciate the strength of the collective obligations associated with the pleasure of communication; commitment to the need to preserve forms of institutional normalization that lack flexibility and malleability. Everywhere we see a flourishing of experiments (eco-districts, cooperatives, common habitats of 3 species).and age, urban communal gardens, collective maintenance of the forest, clearing and cleaning the beach, etc.), in which the active participation of the Companions and the preservation of the environment that they identify, create and want to convey are closely related. Ecology and democracy cannot do without each other.

Read also: Live with wolves!


For further

  • Joel Zask, Zootowns. Wild animals in the city”, Premier Parallèle, 2020
  • Emily Dardenne, “Introduction to Animal Research”, Editions PUF, 2020
  • Yona Friedman, Mobile Architecture. Towards a city designed by its inhabitants themselves (1958-2020)”, new complete edition in Editions de l’Eclat, 2020.

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