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Coyotes and the Nature of Cities

Successfully integrating nature into urban areas is a hallmark of sustainability. Sometimes the integration happens with great care and planning. Sometimes, it just happens.
Seattle street

Seattle street Chuck Wolfe

Successful integration of nature and the city is a hallmark of sustainability. Sometimes it occurs without effort or provocation, while other times it results from projects or plans. In both instances, the natural and artificial merge, morph and redefine urban reality going forward.

One evening last month my dog and I had a spontaneous meeting with an urban coyote who, for several moments, owned my Seattle neighborhood pavement with conviction. Upon rounding a corner and coming face-to-face, the coyote cast a long stare (with those "I am not a pet" eyes I once saw in Africa), turned around, and moved on. For this feral, walkable urbanist, the city sidewalk was clearly as customary a migration route as wooded paths or the open plain.

Several recent articles call the growing presence of coyotes in urban areas an indicator of changing relationships between the city and larger, surrounding ecosystems. Whether you see them as pests or cool interlopers, coyotes are increasingly sharing (PDF) our places and spaces.

A landscape architect friend used the coyote-city integration as an example of how surrounding nature merges with urban culture and physical form, two things that need not be as distinct as we might expect. That night in Seattle I saw a spontaneous integration of nature and the city without any "urban sustainability plan" in place to allow indigenous wildlife safe passage on city streets. The sidewalk was an animal corridor, plain and simple, a mainstay of this coyote's urban transportation.

This "city in nature" is not the same as calculated insertions of "nature in the city," where artificial edifices are systematically undone and replaced with fundamental green. I recently saw a good example of this while touring the Madrid Rio Project (PDF) by bicycle. The Project, a large-scale linear park was built over the old M-30 motorway. The roadway was relocated within a submerged tunnel, which allowed for restoration of the Manzanares River.

In Madrid, I spoke with another landscape architect about what it means to reprogram places from built to natural. In particular, we discussed the former motorway ramp (shown here) that was transformed into greened pedestrian space, taking advantage of its elegant (and once auto-centric) river-hugging form and artful curve. He explained the approach: at core, there is nothing natural in the city, he said, and anything we can do that resonates with the public and creates a sustainable result, is defensible, proper and legitimate.

Through the experiences described here, and the respective views of the two landscape architects, I’ve learned more than expected about the ways urban and natural systems can merge and redefine. Whether nature embraces the city with coyotes exploiting urban infrastructure, or reclamation projects inserting natural elements into the urban core, such as in Madrid, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • The intersection of nature and the urban environment is an elemtal theme for urban ecologists and landscape architects, for whom habitat restoration often plays a key project role.
  • As championed by Harvard Professor Joan Busquets, the most sustainable cities integrate natural geography and systems into the urban fabric.
  • The first landscape architect I spoke with above is right in his observation that nature, culture and physical form, once separated, now merge more easily.
  • The second landscape architect is also right; there are many ways to introduce natural elements into built environments, and innovations — from greened ramps to restored beaches to vertical gardens — need not honor authenticity or precedent in order to resonate. They just need to be done sustainably.

In the end, watching the coyote stroll along the Seattle sidewalk also taught me that while there is arguably little that could be considered natural in our constructed cities, nature and the city will continue to realign. In fact, before too long, in our own cities, versions of Madrid’s green, re-purposed motorway ramp may atttact some non-human users too.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

I was struck by the integration of nature in a big city last weekend while staying at the St Francis in San Francisco. My son and I took a late night walk from Union Square through China Town and up Coit Tower with its beautiful trees and bushes. The moon lit our path and we could hear sea lions barking down below. Next morning I took an early drive out to the coast through the Presidio past Golden Gate Park. In the Avenues a coyote trotted surprisingly fast in front of me from one side of the street into the bushes leading back into Presidio Park. In San Francisco I always felt a walk or a trolley ride away from a nature experience.

greg_shaw

Posted Mon, Mar 11, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

I know what you mean, in Wenatchee while walking a bike trail I met a lone wolf and a neighbor while walking her dog met a cougar that was hungry, (for dog)It's pretty cool!

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Chuck,
In regard to coyotes in Seattle, it seems that if there were more of them, we would have fewer Canada geese. Might be a nice way to kill two birds with one stone, or in this case, one coyote.
Just a thought and something that has long interested me, the intersection of nature and people in the urban landscape. If you are interested, I wrote about this in my book, The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist. Another good book to check out is Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
Cheers,
David

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I feel for the plight of coyotes and other animals forced into cities by habitat destruction and other human activities.

However, they are death on small domestic pets. I volunteer at a pet adoption center, and the number or previous pets listed on adoption application as "killed by coyote" is amazingly high.

Urban coyotes aren't going away. People need to keep their small pets inside.

nordy

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 7:22 a.m. Inappropriate

The feral cat problem in Seattle is tremendous. Stray cats strut down my street incessantly, most on the prowl for precious songbirds they would like to eat.

So, for the plight of these songbirds, lets bring back coyotes to the city, lure them any way we can to rid our roads and alleys of these destructive cats.

If the coyote numbers gets out of hand, we can always import wolves or possibly mountain lions to keep them in check.

jeffro

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I could use a couple of feral cats to keep the crows and the rats in check

NotFan

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Coyotes, like raccoons and crows, are generalists. They can adapt. They don't need architects.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank You Chuck! Being born and raised in Seattle I have known about the coyotes ever since I can remember. As a mother I found it funny when the madrona moms email list started sending out many emails of concerns about the coyotes and wanting to try and figure out how to get rid of them. I emailed voicing my concern and informed everyone that coyotes are a natural part of the city and actually help keep rat populations down! Currently dealing with a similar issue in my neighborhood here on beacon hill. Cheasty greenspace, part of the Olmsted legacy, is currently being threatened by a bike park proposal. Coyotes occupy this space as well as many shy creatures. It is also being threatened by english ivy and blackberries which is an endless battle in most parks! I believe Cheasty holds intrinsic value to this neighborhood. Many volunteers have worked to rid the space of invasive species and this work will continue. However, one of the volunteer groups wants to speed things up so they jumped on this mountain bike idea which will draw more volunteers to remove the invasive species. I feel like the trade off is not a good one. The space where the mountain bike park would go is the southern space which has the potential and has fostered an interior habitat. Many species of birds nest there and then make their way down to the 3 riparian zones and wetland to feed etc.. This proposal is a sacrifice I would not feel inclined to make. As a gardner and teacher I feel all good things come with time and hard work. If I was building a new garden, for instance, I wouldn't resort to herbicides and pesticides to speed up the process! Most of the time, the easy way out is not best. I believe we need help protecting this wildlife habitat and need volunteers that won't be asking for anything in return! I know goats really like english ivy and blackberries :)
https://www.change.org/petitions/city-of-seattle-seattle-parks-and-recreation-maintain-foot-traffic-only-policy-within-cheasty-greenspace

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 12:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe we'll get lucky and a cougar will attack a mountain biker.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Mar 9, midnight Inappropriate

I wonder if Chuck will write such painfully precious, pretentious twaddle when he is attacked by a rabid coyote on that walk of his.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

There has never been a coyote attack in washington state and rabies is more of an east coast issue. Not an issue here on the west coast.

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Rabies an east coast issue? I'll remember that the next time we have a rabies epizootic among raccoons

NotFan

Posted Sun, Mar 10, 8:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Earth to zeffirelli,

http://now.msn.com/coyotes-attack-man-walking-his-dog-in-kent-wa

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 12, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Ahhh I see now. Well that is unfortunate and luckily everyone is ok, including the coyote. Unfortunately one event like this happens and it starts a chain reaction of fear. How many dog attacks have there been that you don't hear about? Really no need to be scared of the coyotes... guy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Feral cats are a problem, but blaming and killing them won't make the problem disappear. Ferals exist because of human irresponsibility--people who don't spay/neuter, let their cats roam, or abandon and abuse them.

The above post is one of many I've read that demonizes cats and suggests that the answer is simple: kill them all. But cats, feral or not, are not evil. Like other species, they must eat, and like all predators (including us)they kill other animals for food.

If we did choose felicide and somehow killed every feral, the feral population would rapidly reach its previous number, which has been estimated at as high as 90 million.

It will continue to do so until humans stop acting irresponsibly toward cats.

There should be no feral cats. Ultimately, all cats need to live indoors. Many organizations are working toward that still faraway goal. I suggest a constructive approach: stop demonizing cats and join forces with those seeking a solution.

BTW, the songbird mortality claim comes from a highly flawed Wisconsin study that never should have been published, much less bruited about as gospel.

Check it out at http://www.alleycat.org/BadScience

nordy

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

My comment was actually meant tongue-in-cheek.

One could take your comment and insert 'coyote' instead of cat which serves my exact point.

I am curious how killing feral cats raises their numbers though?

jeffro

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