Reasons for Hope Amidst Climate Change: Nadina Galle’s Nature of Our Cities

My interest in Dr. Nadina Galle’s recent book The Nature of Our Cities was in one part owing to my Environmental Studies and Urban Planning education, and another in the way my hope for the future of nature in cities persists. Beyond pandemic declarations of it, we find ourselves in a time that is unprecedentedin its polarizing multitudes and magnitudes. The only thing accelerating in equal measure are technological advancements. Optimism is in abundant supply, though it is not without its conditions. What is the science behind optimism (no matter how cautious)? What is already happening that could help mitigate what cities will look like not because of development, but because of what the weather makes of us. Enter: The Nature of Our Cities.

Galle’s education and achievements don’t just speak to her academic insight about cities and the environment, but how much she genuinely loves the topic. You can’t help but breathe it in with each page turn, and the care with which she tells the stories of the people that power each chapter. Often, books like Galle’s find a home on the shelves of the geeks of the niche, but the way she writes turns deeper science and technology into a page-turning adventure that would resonate with everyone. It’s also a must-read for anyone looking to do a little humble bragging about some homegrown genius, as she writes about spending her childhood and the pandemic, right here in Waterloo.

There were certain things I expected from the book, given its introductory pages speaking to Nadina’s previous work on developing the concept of the Internet of Nature (IoN). She describes this in the book as such “because it draws from technological breakthroughs to support habitats for humans and all other species to benefit both” (p.11-12). In other words: very important. I expected to read about the bridges between technology and nature that are poised to make a life in a climate of extremes livable and perhaps even still enjoyable.

What I didn’t expect to read, made the book something that I hope Netflix has the good sense to make a mini-series out of: people using snails in the SnailSnap app to track the health of insects in an ecosystem, having morning coffee 130 feet in the tree she just climbed with an interviewee; people using a Text-A-Tree program in Halifax ;a robot called BurnBot, which conducts prescribed burns in at-risk areas of damaging wildfires. I was also the-month-of-June-years-old when I found out about cybertaxonomists—a job you didn’t know someone might want but has. Nature flexes like the cool kid at lunch, with Galle’s treatment, reminding us that we don’t have to ask if we can sit with them—nature is available in a hike through a forest, right down to the shade of a parking lot tree, or the grass on a small front lawn (shameless library promotion: If you didn’t know you can borrow Grand River Parks and Ontario Parks passes with your library card, now you do!).

It might be easy to dismiss the relevance of these technologies in our everyday life, and just like the old OxyClean commericals, I interject on the book’s behalf: “But wait, there’s more!” The book is brilliant because it doesn’t just talk about the technology that humans can interact with to protect and build with nature. She writes at length about how nature improves the technology that humans are. Symbiosis at its finest. I was reminded while reading that we might build things we place in nature, but nature will always be our place. Readers are introduced to forest-as-medicine, trees-as-therapy, and the mental health benefits of volunteering as citizen scientists. While reading, I was also introduced to ecotherapy (which I’d never considered a public health imperative) some of which caters to wildfire survivors working through PTSD symptoms. The Nature of Our Cities makes it very clear: as nature heals, so do we. And there is so much incredible technology working for the benefit of our future so that we don’t have to do the work of building it. We just need to read books like Galle’s and be vocal about solutions.

Most of us have heard of the Internet of Things, and my hope is that readers will meet the Internet of Nature with the epiphany-induced ease of finding a way to describe a category of technology, services, and health indicators that the world needs now more than ever. I cannot imagine a more urgent clarion call for city planners and public health experts than being able to measure the value and community benefit of the trees and greenspace in a city (saying nothing of how parks mitigate flood damage). Galle concludes the book with a look towards what a future of living with nature, rather than against its elements, might be like. If the Internet of Nature, and the Nature of Our Cities offer any predictive insight, I walked away feeling like I couldn’t wait to meet with the world Galle’s book envisions.

Charlie C.
Programmer & Library Assistant, Main Library

Charlie loves to read across genres. His favourite part of working at the library is connecting people with resources to help better their lives and experiences; knowledge is a path to empowerment. Accordingly, he is interested in reading and borrowing adult non-fiction books related to almost everything. He enjoys reading about business, self-improvement, environmental sciences and spirituality/esotericism. Books that help ask big questions and invoke equally big wonder are among his favourites. Charlie’s other hobbies include writing, hiking, photography and cooking.