Urban Biodiversity

Immersed in nature in the centre of Rome

For two years I lived on campus at the Sapienza University in Rome. It is situated a couple of minutes away from Termini station, and together with the aeronautical building, it forms a line of 1930s style architecture buildings between the popular district of San Lorenzo and Policlinico Umberto I.

When the weather’s nice, I start my day with an early walk along the quiet avenues of the university campus. Over time, I was surprised by the variety of ornithological species that I saw: not only the most common sparrows, pigeons and grey crows, but also robins, sand martins, blue tits, white ballerinas, blackbirds, starlings and swallows. A few hours later, the birds would all fly away, before they could be submerged under the hasty and distracted journey of thousands of people.

This experience was proof of how much of our life in the city is intertwined with that of a large number of animals. It represents a true heritage of biodiversity in the urban context.

Biodiversity, means the multitude of life, is a definition which we most often tend to associate strictly with protected areas in the mountains or exotic places. On the contrary, for those with a keen eye, our cities provide a habitat of many plant and animal species.

Several factors favour bird species settling in urban areas:

– the presence of nesting sites, such as in high rise apartments and monuments. For some species, these places share similar characteristics to those found in the natural environment, such as rocky crevasses in cliff faces.

– the temperature in the city is somewhat warmer than that in the countryside;

– the wide availability of food from our leftovers;

– the absence of predators;

– people’s attitude, who, for the most part, are unaware of the presence of these species and so don’t hunt the birds.

There are at least two good reasons why urban biodiversity should arouse our interest.

Firstly, learning to recognize the presence of wild animals in the city gives us another key to understanding the places where we live: even the big city, a symbol of humanity’s ability to modify the landscape for its own purposes, is a multifaceted environment and does not belong exclusively to us. Therefore, it teaches us to widen our gaze from the narrow vision of looking at our needs and interests, to being attentive and accepting plurality and life’s surprises.

Secondly, it is an exercise of gratitude towards existence. When we realize that life flourishes where we least expect it – that it can resist the coercion of spaces and even irresponsible human behavior – we also understand its value, and how there is so much variety around us. The daily exercise of paying close attention fosters in us a way of looking at the world with a loving gaze, and nourishes the joy of living life.

I am convinced that ethics, rather that being a system of abstract norms and principles, must be based on certain attitudes that are at the core of us as human beings. I believe that these basic feelings, that is, gratitude and attentiveness, are the only solid foundation for a philosophy of ethics that desires to face today’s ecological challenges.

And so, with being attentive and grateful in mind, I continue to notice the life-giving moments around me. For the past few months, I have been living in the center of Milan. A few days ago, during sunset, I saw a black redstart on our terrace, its orange tail stood out on the brown ledge as it took off and flew away. Even here, life flourishes.

Photo by Animesh Basnet

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