The Benefits Provided by Urban Natural Protected Areas

Although they are key green belts for maintaining hydrological ecosystem services, they lack a relevant place on the political agenda permanently. Participatory forest restoration considers the development of integral and collective processes.

The Benefits Provided by Urban Natural Protected Areas
Conservation of natural areas, main requirement for cities. Photo by Cristina Llerena / Unsplash

Given the lack of political and social recognition of the benefits provided by urban natural protected areas, it is necessary to reach agreements and the concurrence of federal, state, and municipal governments with civil society for their adequate management and conservation, considered Gabriela de la Mora, from UNAM's Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research (CRIM).

In addition to the above and the lack of a culture of care, there are also corruption networks among decision-makers and interest groups associated with the real estate sector, which favor urban growth without planning and speculation in real estate, generating negative impacts related to insecurity, pollution, and increased social and environmental risks.

In the session dedicated to Urban forests and biodiversity in the city: governance and citizen participation, of the Permanent Seminar on Sustainable Cities in the face of Climate Change: interdisciplinary, sustainability and justice, the university professor added: These areas, in the urban context, lack a special status and in them, there is a loss of connection with other ecosystems, as the economic interest of the real estate sector is privileged.

The conservation of urban natural protected areas and the maintenance of the associated ecosystem services do not occupy a relevant place in the political agenda permanently; their inclusion is due to social pressure when it comes to green belts, key to maintaining hydrological ecosystem services and contain urban sprawl. In the last 25 years, the policy of protected areas has been considered the backbone of Mexico's ecosystem and biodiversity preservation strategy. However, these areas operate with fewer and fewer human and financial resources.

It is necessary to understand their importance and that they awaken collective action in cities. Those who collaborate directly in these spaces are trying to contribute to protecting these landscapes, which have become isolated and could lose certain ecological characteristics, such as their biodiversity, by remaining as "patches" within the metropolis.

Environmental issues in two Mexican cities

The World Health Organization has established that it is necessary to have nine square meters of green spaces per inhabitant and that these should be 15 minutes away from the area we live in; in Mexico "we do not have that privilege". Referring to the cases of the cities of Monterrey and Guadalajara, she pointed out that there are only 3.91 and 3.5 square meters, respectively.

The former has 13 protected natural areas -two federal, 10-state, and one private- located within the city or in its surrounding areas, including the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. The second has seven (one federal, one state, and five municipal). The latter are the most fragile; some lack management programs, budgets, and personnel.

Mentioning exploratory research in both localities (conducted from 2012 to 2015), where strategic social actors were interviewed such as officials from different government orders, activists, and academic and private sectors, among others, she referred that an attempt was made to address the problems when there are natural protected areas inserted in an urban context.

Among the ecological consequences is the change in land use due to urbanization and urban sprawl; in addition, irregular settlements generate fires, habitat fragmentation, and an increase in invasive species. Reduced contact with nature influences the unwillingness to participate in environmental care. It is essential to inform society about the consequences of the degradation of these environments for the sustainability of cities, human life, and ecosystems.

The role of intersectionality in participatory forest restoration

Meanwhile, Jorge Gastón Gutiérrez Rosete Hernández, from the University of Guadalajara, referred to the work carried out in this educational institution through the application of the methodology known as participatory forest restoration. Its purpose is to train forestry promoters to restore spaces and "organize ourselves collectively". It also generates and applies guidelines for the planning and implementation of socio-organizational processes and integral forest renewal.

The participatory restoration methodology foresees the development of integral, collective processes, encouraging the collaboration of the people, and the autonomy of organizations, groups, and networks, through intersectionality; that is, involving environmental, community and neighborhood groups, business volunteers, the academic sector and public agencies and organizations of the State or decentralized agencies.

The idea is not to plant trees and forget about them but to carry out medium and long-term projects to try to ensure that they succeed. The intention is to work in areas with a wooded vocation in urban environments, such as in La Hondonada, the forest of La Primavera, in Guadalajara. "We do not intend to generate parks or gardens, small squares or medians, but forest in its most complex sense," concluded Jorge Gastón Gutiérrez.