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Amber – reflecting on the World Parks Congress, Sydney 2014.

‘Value’

is a word with layered meaning. Many of us are familiar with the adage ‘people can only value what they love and can only love what they know’, and in one respect I believe New Zealanders deeply value our natural areas.

We value them as places for leisure and recreation, and for some of us, for intrinsic conservation of flora and fauna. But we could do better at valuing natural areas for ‘their worth, desirability or utility’(Oxford definition #1).

Where, other than parks and protected areas, can we find a place which provides life provisioning and supporting ecosystems, places of social equality, provision of health benefits, mental wellbeing, social cohesion, childhood development, recreation and leisure, and economic benefits? The likes of Coca-Cola have figured this out and are working with US National Parks to have their share of this invaluable pie for their own brand development. Despite this, there seems still to be a tendency to only value parks as nice places have if possible, and only if they are not in the way of development – and invest in them accordingly.

Our current challenge is to ensure we are valuing our natural areas and open spaces holistically, this includes in an economic sense (for example, quality of life, businesses which depend on natural areas, property values), for their social benefits (equality and connectivity), and for their significant health benefits (particularly in preventative health, e.g. avoiding the 5 million deaths each year due to people being physically inactive). To realise these values it is not enough just to create a space and hope for the best. Programming and providing for activities in our natural areas is just as important as it is in a community or recreation centre.

How do we rise to this challenge? One way is through effective communication and marketing, engaging with youth – in particular the ‘millennials’ (18-35 year olds) for whom a meaningful life is the new currency. This is a generation with courageous and visionary traits and our role is to channel their energy and provide an environment youth want to be part of. Dr Catriona Wallace (Fifth Quadrant) spoke of the importance of clear and positive messaging and branding, where the language used should be of hope and excitement, not deficit. Good stories and good news is equally important. Humanity and story-telling have always gone hand in hand. Stories make sense of things for us, they ask and answer why we should care. If we want people to take action, then good stories are important, as these inspire positive emotions and make us act. Some suggested ingredients for a good story from this Congress session were: (1) provide a way forward, is there a way out and can people do something about it, (2) ensure the story is told by real people who actually care and to who it makes a difference (‘engaging protagonists’), and (3) create intimacy.

Natural resources are not nice-to-have but critical. Parks and natural areas protect these resources. Pacific Island countries are speaking as loudly as they can about this, not surprisingly given the vulnerability to sea level rise and the dependence on fishing. Cities though, have a way to go. Cities have historically been built as places from which nature is excluded, and as for nature, well that should happen ‘out there’ in reserves and protected areas. How wrong we have been. It is obvious that people need natural resources to survive, what has been less obvious to City-makers is that people need nature for cognitive and behavioural development, and for health and wellbeing. This concept is referred to as ‘biophilia’ described by biologist E.O. Wilson as the “innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms”.

These days, cities which are thriving are those that boast quality of life, and connectivity with nature (or ‘biophilia’) is a key part of this. We are fortunate in Wellington that we are a city with great nature connections. So, let’s start telling this as our story.

The IUCN World Parks Congress is held every decade, and with over 6000 participants from over 170 countries it is a significant event. The ultimate vision of the congress (see Promise of Sydney http://worldparkscongress.org/about/promise_of_sydney.html) was to (1) reinvigorate our efforts to ensure protected areas do not regress, but progress, (2) inspire all people, across generations and cultures, to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas, and (3) to invest in nature’s solutions to halt biodiversity loss, mitigate and respond to climate change, reduce the risk and impact of disasters, improve food and water security, and promote human health and dignity.

Amber & Tony

Author Amber & Tony

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