How cities and nature work together

Written by Cailin Mackenzie, Globe Intern

Photographed by Jeff Marsh (Photo 1), Devan King (Photo 2 of Pascal Mittermaier), and Jessie Israel (Photo 3)

“Instead of employing patchwork fixes to our urban infrastructure woes, what if, we used natural systems to provide the means for cities to flourish?” Pascal Mittermaier, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Cities Program, shared his vision for using nature to secure the future of cities when he visited Seattle last week.

Today, 50% of the world’s population calls a city home. In just 35 years, 75% will. Nature will play a critical role in ensuring cities are livable and resilient to population growth.

Aren’t cities and nature opposite? On the contrary, nature holds many of the solutions cities need to flourish into the future. “By investing in more opportunities to create space for nature in and around cities,” says Mittermaier, “residents can gain access to cooling green spaces, improved air quality and cleaner sources of water.”

Mittermaier’s plan to use nature to benefit people, planet, and profit proved an exciting context for the Washington team’s vision for urban Puget Sound. The second largest estuary in the nation, Puget Sound comprises 82 of these expanding cities, home to almost three million people.

“A reimagined Puget Sound region will strengthen the ties that bind our urban streetscapes to our natural landscapes,” says Jessie Israel, our Director of Puget Sound Conservation. “Nature does some things better: it can make our water cleaner, air purer. But that’s not the only win.  Trees, rain gardens, and green space also make communities more livable, equitable with the potential to make our economy stronger.”

The rain that keeps Washington verdant can become pollution when it runs off dirty surfaces. The Nature Conservancy in Washington can make an impact on Puget Sound stormwater management, using natural solutions to facilitate a robust relationship between our cities and our environment.

“Our Floodplains by Design program has proven a new model for using nature’s teaching to make communities safer and habitat more resilient,” says Israel. “Here at the Washington Field Office, we are thrilled to launch our work in cities using the same approach.”