How high do you prioritize living near wild areas? How big do they need to be?

For me it was taken into consideration, but not in the high priority. When I was living in Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to be living near a hiking trail within walking distance, but public transport is quite good anyhow so I can reach the wilderness in a relatively short time. Now living in the USA, because I don’t own a car my priority was finding a place that was close enough to campus and groceries either within walking distance or by public transport (which compared to HK is like night and day). And thus the only “wild” places I can reach within walking distance or less than an hour of public transportation commute would be urban parks, so I just try to make the most of what I can document. I honestly think if I learnt how to drive then I would be much more inclined to live somewhere more remote though, so I can at least maybe set up some light traps without raising concern from the neighbours.

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I completely understand the feeling. I grew up in the Dominican Republic and in the city there are no wild areas. We did have a little garden and a few palm trees in front of my house but other than that it is really a concrete jungle. I always loved our family trips where we would travel inland to the more rural towns and experience nature.
I now live in Lancaster County PA, in the more rural area and have absolutely loved being able to experience nature on a daily basis. I live on a duplex and take care of the garden beds and lawn and in the past 3 years have planted all native plants and have been delighted in all of different species of insects that have visited my garden. There are farms around and a park not far with a trail by the Conestoga river. It’s just enough “wild” to get our fix. Otherwise throughout the year, especially summertime, we go hiking on the many trails around the area(Mt Gretna being a favorite).

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I’ve always lived in either the suburbs or the city. I’ve also almost always been privileged enough that I can find my way to more rural areas when I want to, via bike when I was younger, via car now, via plane at times. I’m really fortunate to be in a position where I have all those options because I know that it can feel really isolating and suffocating even when you don’t have those options. I used to just ride my bike as far as I could, all the time, to see prettier views. I didn’t realize at the time that it was because nature was a form of relaxation for me but now that I am old and I know that, I make sure to get out and appreciate the little things.

iNaturalist was actually a huge eye-opener because I can go out in the suburbs or the cities and find pieces of nature now that I know what to look for. I love big mountains, vast deserts and pretty bodies of water but sometimes all I can get is a squirrel or a clover or, what a lot of people notice on my account, pigeons. I just try to find all that I can wherever I am.

I do own an isolated cabin which assures me a pretty full immersion in the wilderness but I can’t be there constantly. It’s another thing that I know I’m really privileged to have access to so I’m very grateful for that. If I didn’t have all the options that I do have, maybe I would want to move to a more rural area. I like to be alone and I like being outside. I’ve just always been able to make ends meet in the more people-centric places.

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I currently live in Philadelphia and while there are more wild places within walking distance, I’ve found that I’m really depressed living in more city/urban areas like this and I need to always be immersed in nature. If I’m being honest, I kind of hate it here and hope to someday move somewhere more natural and free when I’m an adult.

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I live on the edge of a national park near Sydney, Australia. It is an absolute privilege to live in a location with valley views and wildlife wandering into your unfenced yard. For every up-side there is a down-side. People living around plant invasive plants, have enviro-cycle run off, keep cats and dogs. The damage to the environment is immense. The creek 500m or so away is silted badly from urban run-off, water is dirty and it gets red algal blooms. People who build theoretically have their effluent pumped out and taken away but I suspect the expense may tempt other solutions. On the upslope of a valley full of Eucalyptus concern for bushfires is extreme.
Native species that visit can be an inconvenience. Until I worked out how to evict it in a way safe for it we had a Ring Tailed Possum living in the ceiling (don’t want wet patches of ceiling). If we plant anything, Brush Turkeys may decide to rip it out. Possums and Wallabies feed on our flowers, damaging the plants while doing it. They also introduce Ticks to our yard (I had to treat 8 Ticks on my ankles two days ago). When we dig, we may turn over Funnel-web Spiders. On the other hand, Kookaburras will sit almost on my shoulder waiting for something edible to be turned up (including the spiders). It is a pleasure I cannot describe to pat a Kookaburra that is accustomed to humans on the chest. We have resident Skinks, Geckos and many feathered visitors. Snakes probably pass through but we don’t have a water source for them or a compost bin or animal feed to attract rodents so they probably move straight on. Species in the area include (in order of concern) Death Adders, Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, and Red-bellied Black snakes. None are aggressive (why waste toxin on a human) but they will defend if you surprise them. In particular, Death Adders are incredibly well camouflaged and do not move if they sense your presence.
I take delight in the natural things around me including sighting snakes (but not finding Funnel-web Spiders or tiny Scorpions wandering inside). I do not understand why every household other than ours keeps cats and or dogs and dumps things into bushland. They all say they like living adjacent ‘the bush’ but their actions destroy the thing they say they like. Living adjacent a wild zone is aa responsibility. People need to be mindful of the consequences of your actions. The less care taken by people who live adjacent wild zones and the more humans invade wild space, the more damage is done.

Summing up, living adjacent wild areas or venturing into wild areas is a responsibility many fail to recognise. It can bring a mixture of problems, delight and concern for the future but being away from the artificial world in our cities (e.g.I fail to understand massive queues to buy a plastic Winter Olympics souvenir) and keeps you in touch with real life.

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Check out this thread, if you haven’t before https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/monitoring-gardens-and-spreading-the-message/26094

Thank you.

I’ve always lived right near nature areas and even now with windows looking at national park, the main thing I need is changing places, it’s impossible to see same trees over and over again with same feelings, I would like to be able to travel through different parts of the region I like (not one I live in rn) and see different places, it doesn’t have to be a constant change, but after 7 years here it’s just the most boring place to live, so wild areas near where I live don’t have to be huge to make me interested, but if I had to choose one I’d choose living as far from big city as possible, problems are in getting food and having any internet connection, if those are out of picture I’m ready, the only reason I’m still here is money and sadly in this country the capital will get you what is not comparable with other cities.

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I would really prioritize it if I would purchase a house or something like that in the future, but as a New Zealander, it is physically impossible to live in a place with no natural environment nearby because even in the middle of the city there is at least one natural environment such as a beach, park, hill, etc… Although the actual native forest is rather uncommon, those suburban habitats are good enough to enjoy observing nature.
Fortunately my current house is only about 5 km apart from the regional park which is the perfect native forest, and in these days it has been my big pleasure to explore the forest at midnight with my bicycle to observe invertebrates and post them on Inat.

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Loved the ‘snapping pictures of the siding on the house.’ Yes I do that too. Some days I’m late for work because a new moth or insect is on the side of the house when I come out the door.

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I live in a very urban part of New York City. I was interested to see that in the September issue of New Scientist there was an article explaining that 14 insect surveys were carried out in a small urban green space situated in an extremely urban part of the city of Melbourne, Australia, over four years’ time. The space was only 200 square meters in size, and it originally had only two cultivated plant species in it. Then 12 native plant species were added to the space. The number of insect species increased in one year by five times as many! In three years time there were seven times as many insect species, and almost all of them were native!

This is a very simple way to significantly boost urban wildlife without much cost or difficulty.

What @cazort says is very significant: “some of these sterile lawn+landscaping parks could be converted to wild greenspace like forest and/or wetlands that have much more ecological value.”

They did not radically transform this 200 square meter green space, and yet they greatly increased its value, ecologically speaking.

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For weeks I have driven past a new building site. Overlooking False Bay (lovely sea view). Backing onto Table Mountain National Park. They are methodically digging a hole - down thru the bedrock, from corner to corner. There is nothing of ‘urban edge’ left. Not a blade of green.

Such a waste of a magnificent opportunity. Nature has no value whatsoever to them. I wish they would chose to build their apartment in a city highrise.

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I’ve been lucky enough most of the time to live in more open space areas. The times I was not (graduate school so lived in Tucson city, when I lived close to a job in a city and my first house (like a fish bowl area) - I felt stressed and trapped. I do believe it is relative. And yay that some folks are bringing some native plants into their urban yards. I hope this awareness continues! I currently live in an area that has minimum 2 acre zoning except for a few special developments. My town has a lot of “conservation” land but again - relative - the town pays NO attention to the health of the conservation land except to mow for invasives and poison some invasives. I support eliminating invasive (non-native) plants but no one will focus on managing the good areas to maximize the health of the organisms there. Mowing 2 times a year in the growing season is KILLING so many important critters. PLUS these days - the severe fad of LED lights glaring into the abyss and INTO my windows from 5 acres away means I am seeking to move somewhere really remote, buy enough land to perhaps protect some things if I am lucky and make sure the land is donated to conservation. Lastly - population is likely our biggest issue yet no one will touch that one with any type of pole!

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I’m very fortunate to have grown up with parents who have always prioritized the yard/location more than the house – when I lived in Missouri, they chose a neighborhood where we could have a yard (about half an acre) that backed up to a creek and a ~10 acre patch of common space woodland. Honestly, this choice is a huge part of what sparked my interest in nature. I spent so much of my childhood exploring the creek and the woods. I constantly ran off for hours in the woods and my mom would have to call me back by whistling (…she used the same whistle to call our dog, lol). When we moved to San Diego, they decided to live inland away from the beach and coast in a rural area so that we could own a few acres of land. While the property was very disturbed, I still managed to see over 700 species of plants, insects, birds, etc. They have since moved back to St. Louis, to the same neighborhood we used to live in before, on a similar property backing up to the woods.

I don’t think I realized how important this was for me until I came to Kansas for university. Living in the dorms my freshman year, I had to make sure to go explore a nearby park at least once a week for my own sanity. I was shocked how most of my friends went weeks or months without leaving campus except to get food or go shopping. Even now, living in a rented duplex, I make sure to get out of the house frequently. I lost sight of how nice it was to just be able to take a 15 minute walk around our property in San Diego whenever I felt like it. In the future, whenever I end up getting my own place (outside of university; right now its whatever is cheapest!), location will definitely be a huge factor – more than the house/apartment/etc. Even if it is simply living in an apartment complex close enough to walk to an urban park.

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We need to keep cities dense (not spread out = suburban hell and urban decay) with proper public infrastructure and public transport, and have green spaces available inside cities (not built over). In addition, hard limits will need to be placed on the development of highly-sought after property in sensitive and biodiverse habitats. Have programs in place to empower people who want to garden to contribute to the green urban spaces. Have programs to expose people and children to natural areas on a regular basis.

I can see the point in encouraging people to move to cities, but I think you’re missing a key fact in that increasing the population of cities and increasing green spaces are kind of mutually exclusive. Green spaces in cities only exist because a city has decided to set aside a block for a park or community garden instead of building an apartment complex, and this means that every unit of green space a city creates comes at the cost of decreasing population density and increasing the areal footprint a city requires. Similarly, packing more and more people into a limited area means that green spaces become a luxury a city cannot afford. There’s a reason that most efforts to create green spaces in cities generally occur when large numbers of people move out and cities clean out areas of urban decay to create new parks1, as in most of the Rust Belt in the United States. There have been suggestions of vertical green space like vertical farming, but that would only benefit a small number of species (mostly birds).

Ironically I’ve seen some suburbs in certain parts of North America that balance green space a lot better than cities. Not the “perfectly manicured” suburbs where you have rows of identical houses and lawns, but some where you have houses tucked back in the forests with lots of woodlots between major developments, or among prairies and mesquite forests.

There’s a related issue in that packing large numbers of people in a small area makes the cities very, very vulnerable to logistical issues.

  • Densely packed cities have more problems with providing food and water to their population.
  • They also can be very finicky in making sure human waste gets exported. Failure of the sewer system can mean cholera outbreaks, or mass amounts of raw human waste products being dumped into the water supply.
  • Disease becomes much more of an issue. People fled cities during the Black Death.
  • Air quality becomes worse.
  • Crowding gets to be a problem, there’s mixed evidence as to how crowding affects people but there’s at least some evidence it causes significant harm in chronic conditions.2
  • Violent crime also becomes more of an issue, as you pack increasing amounts of primates into a smaller space.
  • Living in cities is expensive. It’s not as expensive as living in extremely rural areas or an island where most goods have to be shipped in, but the cost of living tends to be a lot higher. This tends to be from a variety of factors, ranging from higher taxes to goods just being more expensive due to more demand due to more people.

Humans are megafauna, and megafauna tend to need a lot of resources and space in order to function properly.

It is possible to address some of these issues (see: New York in the late 20th century), but the point is that the demands of so many people living in one place give cities a very narrow margin of tolerance for failure, and if anything goes wrong the whole system can collapse and revert back to chaos (see: New York in the last two years) and you have large numbers of people basically trapped in an environment that cannot support them. Historically speaking, most cities were a population sink that only persisted due to continual emigration to the cities from surrounding areas. Cities only became self-sustainable in the last couple of centuries due to advancements in technology, and even then they only remain as such as long as the technology keeps working. A city is much like a zoo, in that it only allows for a large number of megafauna to share a very small amount of space due to complex infrastructure and the importation of resources.

The other, other issue is that even if you could make cities shining beacons of prosperity, there would still be a lot of people who wouldn’t want to live in densely packed urban environments. There are reasons why someone would want to live in cities, such as easy socialization, a greater variety of more readily available luxury goods, career opportunities, and ready access to entertainment and culture like art galleries, museums, and zoos, but many of those things just don’t appeal to some people. Just look at the present trend in the U.S. where people are abandoning cities en masse to get away from people. Indeed, advances in technology have removed constraints on people because now with the Internet, email, and Zoom it is possible to build a career living out in the boondocks, rather than having to live in centralized locations, and people are naturally taking advantage of the release of this constraint by moving away. Many of the people living in rural areas are the ones who would still prefer to live in rural areas if given the choice.

Or, to put it another way, the vast majority of people here on iNaturalist are self-described introverts or ambiverts who like being out in nature and who dislike being around large groups of people. Some of us in this thread have even said they need to live in a low-density environment because of their social anxiety or other health issues. What could someone possibly say to them to convince them to move to a densely populated city? To these individuals, in a dense city their base environment has nothing they want and the only way to an environment that fulfills their needs is to leave their home and take a 30+ minute bus ride, and then go back to the environment they hate at the end of the day. I have relatives who live out in Montana who are environmentalist writers, and they freely admit they want everyone else to leave the state and go back to living in cities while they stay there, because the cities have nothing to offer them (they also admit they’re being hypocritical about the whole thing, which…at least they’re being self-aware).

The only way you could really get people to really densely cluster in cities would be forced relocation of populations to urban centers, and historically speaking forced resettlement is considered a really bad idea. Generally because it causes a mass human death toll and tremendous amounts of suffering whenever someone tries it.

Indeed, it seems as though agricultural land use uses up more of Earth’s habitable surface more than any amount of suburbs do.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_use#/media/File:Global-land-use-graphic.png

Cattle ranching is the one that always gets singled out, though in practice most of the environments where people ranch cattle are frequently areas that are naturally prairies and imported cattle are basically filling the same niche as bison or other native grazing megafauna. It’s obviously not ideal, but ecologically speaking I’d rather have a patch of land be a livestock ranch where there is at least some room for native birds, insects, wildflowers, etc. and some motivation to keep it semi-wild than completely plowed over and turned into yet another corn or soybean field where nothing wild can live.3

Other issues are probably more dependent on agricultural space than urban space as well. I.e., most conflict between humans and large megafauna (wolves, elephants) generally happens in farmland or places where livestock are raised, not in cities or suburbs. This is something that no amount of increasing urban population density would help, because the cities still have to be fed somehow.

What would probably be more helpful is clearing out a lot of urban decay and putting into place policies that encourage the demolition of old buildings rather than the clearing of forest. There are a lot of places where there are large amounts of abandoned buildings due to a combination of economics (e.g., the boom-bust cycle of mining in Rocky Mountain States in the U.S.) and the fact that in many places it is cheaper to build a new building than tear an old one down4. This is going to especially be the case as global population growth is expected to gradually slow in most places due to people not wanting to have huge families anymore, thus increasing the amount of abandoned buildings. As the global population peaks and hopefully contracts a bit, that may also free up agricultural land as well.

Footnotes:

  1. That, or the city just straight up clears out neighborhoods to make room for green space. This is what happened when New York created Central Park, when it just evicted an entire neighborhood (Seneca Village) of Irish immigrants and free African-Americans in the 1850s to make room for the park. Unsurprisingly, when a city wants to make green space the people expected to make room tend to be marginalized groups with little ability to say no.
  2. Specifically, one issue is that tolerance for crowding tends to be self-selecting. People are psychologically variable, and those who have a high tolerance for crowding or seek it out are more likely to want to move to high-density areas, and thus are more likely to be selected for studies on crowding. Additionally, most studies have noticed different results between crowding in public spaces and private ones: people are more willing to tolerate temporary crowding in public spaces but don’t like their personal “territory” being cramped. Finally, most crowding studies have studied acute crowding but not chronic crowding. The effects of acute crowding seem to be equivocal, but there is evidence that high levels of chronic crowding cause increased stress, anxiety, and depression in humans, even if we are more tolerant of it than most animals.
  3. Yes, I am aware of the issues with feed lots and agrarian produce going to provide winter forage for livestock.
  4. And in some cases this is driven by health and safety hazards. Old gas stations, for example, are horrendously expensive to renovate because of the additional cost of removing the underground tanks which the new buyer, not the old, often has to pay for. There are several gas stations in my own area that have been abandoned or have simply been bulldozed into a grass-covered lot for 15 years because of this.
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I was born in a small town (cue John Mellencamp here) on the PA/NY border, and I’m used to wild areas, though respectful of them as well (b/c PA isn’t desolate but you don’t want to wander off cluelessly). I think that’s why I can’t do crowds, traffic, or a lot of shared spaces. I’ve been fortunate to live in a small town about an hour east of Pittsburgh, Ithaca, NY, and now Newark, DE, which have all been towns/cities where I could easily go to parks, trails, and game lands. Access to these areas has been important to me though I’m not sure I consciously chose such access always. I agree that Newark is a great place for easy access to less tamed space, and it continues to try to increase access and add more park areas. I appreciate that. I also like to head back home and explore the more open/wilder space there. With the pandemic, my need for wild areas has grown, and I think my ability to explore those areas has helped keep me sane.

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You make good points and I don’t disagree with a lot of them.

The main point I was making with my post is that in wanting to live in the countryside, we need to be aware of our own role in 1) contributing to the urbanisation of the countryside and 2) the impact of human settlement on wildlife, especially megafauna which need their wild spaces (which is often too small, fragmented and scattered). An additional point I wanted to make is to highlight our carbon footprint in living in cities as opposed to suburbs and rural areas, which by necessity must depend on cars (not the most carbon-friendly mode of transport)

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If you read through this thread, a number of the places that people have spoken very highly of here in term of access to nature ARE large cities though. Toronto, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Washington DC are all named in this thread as examples of areas with fantastic nature access.

I live in Washington DC, and I can quite literally walk out my front door and stroll into an urban forest national park. It’s wonderful!

Not saying that everyone should or wants to live in a city. I’m just saying I think cities can be great places for naturalists to live. I have way more access to nature here than I ever had living in the suburbs where I grew up. Living in a city and having access to nature are not mutually exclusive. Also public transit is something that can make nature a lot more accessible for many people.

I’m curious where you’re getting the data on how the vast majority of iNaturalist users describe themselves? Just curious if there was a poll in the forums or something like that. (I haven’t been around the forums much!) Incidentally, I’m an introvert and I love living in the city. For me growing up in a suburb was way harder on my introverted self. And again nature is so much more accessible to me where I live now. In fact the situation you describe would have been the opposite compared to my old suburb, where I would have had to drive for a while to get to a more natural space (and public transit wouldn’t have been an option.)

Anyway appreciate the discussion in this thread!

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You can check neurodiversity topic, it’s natural that big users are more likely to be introverts to have more time for iNat.

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This is an interesting topic. I think a lot about the effect of my behaviors on the environment.

I don’t think any of this damage is inherent or inevitable. Like, an overwhelming majority of it is the result of car use, so if I’m able to live somewhere where I can walk or bike (or perhaps even take public transit) to a natural area, that eliminates that problem.

There are times when overuse of the natural area itself can cause problems, such as too much bike or foot traffic causing soil compaction and/or soil erosion, or disturbing animals in nesting sites.

However there are plenty of examples where the mere occasional presence of a human will have no negative effect, and there are even some examples of where it can have a positive effect.

For example, where I live, overpopulation of white-tailed deer is a huge problem, and there are also some areas where there is some degree of overpopulation of other herbivores such as rabbits or groundhogs.

Merely showing up in an area is a deterrent to deer overbrowsing. I have noticed that the most heavily overbrowsed areas tend to be in areas far from urban centers where there is at most occasional foot-traffic. Areas frequented by humans, not even heavy use, but just regular use, will tend to have the deer be at least somewhat wary. If they don’t stay out, they are more on guard when present, and as such they don’t eat anywhere near as much.

And this affects things like forest regeneration. Like I see this where I live. I live on a trail that connects with both small city parks, and a large state park, White Clay Creek state park. White Clay Creek has a major problem with deer overbrowsing, but there is not much of a problem with this in the smaller city parks and the parts of the trail closer to the city because the humans deter the deer.

It seems to me like nature works best, especially now that we have eliminated most other apex predators, when humans are a part of the ecosystem, just a balanced, mindful part. The two extremes of “overusing” nature, or just completely ignoring it, both seem harmful. And I also think the details of how we interact matter a lot.

Like I imagine a world where the average person engages in some degree of environmental stewardship, whether it be pulling out invasive plants, cleaning up trash, talking with others who they see engaging in environmentally damaging behaviors and encouraging them to be more mindful of the environment, examining their daily choices in their life, or lending their voice to the political process or even to decisions in their workplace, to steer things in a direction of more positive effects on the environment. I think then we could have a “best of both worlds” where instead of there being a conflict, there is a synergy between these things.

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