Global Context

TO REVIVE A RIVER, RESTORE ITS LIVER: “A stream is a system. It includes not just the water coursing between the banks but the earth, life and water around and under it,” wrote Erica Gies (Scientific American, April 2022)

“Across North America and the world, cities have bulldozed their waterways into submission. Seattle was as guilty as any until 1999, when the U.S. Department of the Interior listed Chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That legally obligated the city to help the salmon when undertaking any new capital project that would affect the fish,” wrote Erica Gies. But restoration projects were failing because they were overlooking a little-known feature damaged by urbanization: the stream’s “gut.”

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GRANTING A RIVER ‘PERSONHOOD’ COULD HELP PROTECT IT: “Galvanized by widespread environmental degradation and rising Indigenous rights movements, Indigenous communities around the world are leading the way in upholding the rights of sacred and ancestral rivers,” wrote Justine Townsend, University of Guelph, in an opinion piece published by The Conversation Canada (June 2021)

“Extractive values — the belief that natural entities are resources that can be used for human benefit with little regard for their well-being and longevity — are deeply embedded in Canada’s legal and economic systems. These values influence the ideologies at the root of our biodiversity and climate crises. These ideologies justify the transformation of rivers, forests and the atmosphere into commodities and private property at our own peril. Enshrining their rights in law is a promising legal innovation,” stated Justine Townsend.

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ROADS TRUMP RIVERS IN AUSTRALIA: “The question is: can we not reorient the infrastructure model to protection and restoration of waterways? We need to turn urban streams back into functioning ecosystems,” wrote Bruce Lindsay, Environmental Justice Australia

“Freeways and waterways are not incompatible. But the legal privilege and financing of infrastructure is a question of priorities and perspectives and, for the sake of healthy communities and places, we need to give far greater priority to the city’s green infrastructure. The model of infrastructure laws and funding for freeways can potentially provide a model for protection, repair and restoration of urban waterways,” says Bruce Lindsay. “If it is necessary to acquire land along waterways, drive innovation in building and engineering standards, and use public finance to enable a restoration economy, then we should do it.”

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Are cities ecosystems—analogous to natural ones—of nature, infrastructure and people?

“Cities are in fact ecosystems. But one key element—the dominance of humans—makes cities different from many other ecosystems. And that changes everything: composition, processes, dynamics, functions,” wrote Marina Alberti. “By building structure and infrastructure in cities to support their needs, humans redistribute organisms and the fluxes of energy and materials leading to a distinct biogeochemistry, biotic diversity, and energy and material cycles.”

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