ANR UNPEC – Urban National Parks in Emerging Countries and Cities (2012-2018)
Les parcs nationaux dans les métropoles des pays émergents
The ANR UNPEC project was initated in 2012 to assess in which way urban national park management methods were indicative of the level, dynamics and forms of emergence in the following cities: Cape Town, Mumbai, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to a collaboration between the Université Paris-Nanterre, IFRA Nairobi and IFAS-Recherche, the project resulted in the publication of From Urban National Parks to Natured Cities in the Global South (Springer Singapore, 2018).
The issue of national parks is generally considered from a “conservation vs. development” perspective. There is an abundant literature on this topic, which mostly emphasizes the need for participative management to include local people in developing and implementing conservation policy, thus reconciling efficiency and equity. When considering protected areas found in the megalopolises of developing countries, however, some of our usual conclusions must be set aside, even at the risk of political incorrectness.
When expanding slums, multiplying upper-class residences, and other competing land uses blur the boundaries of national parks they abut-and sometimes subsume – is it still possible to advocate joint management and participation? Some of local dwellers often have no interest in park conservation – in particular as they usually enjoy but limited access to and benefits from it, and remain largely estranged from the “environmental knowledge” which could otherwise motivate support for biodiversity conservation.
In the urban South, a similar paradigm shift is needed with regard to policies on housing for the poor. Rather than justifying slum clearance and resettlement, most scholars instead advocate in situ rehabilitation. This approach weakens, however, when confronted with slums that have set up within or beside national parks: rehabilitation in those specific places can undermine the very natural systems such protected areas exist to preserve.
These issues are all the more complex given the international context in which they are located: emerging countries (to varying degrees). “Emergence”, in socio-cultural terms, means nothing if not the juxtaposition of increasingly contrasted groups with diverging representation patterns. More rich people, but as many poor as before: broadly speaking, this is the situation in Brazil, India, South Africa and even Kenya. Well-off people adopt dominant ideas from the West, considering urban parks as a recreation areas or as places devoted to the good cause of biodiversity conservation, or as privileged places for themselves to live nearby. On the contrary, some slum dwellers tend to see the protected area as a stock of land to be potentially built on. For the herdsmen of Nairobi and farmers of Mumbai, the park remains a means of livelihood, where agriculture, grazing or collecting firewood are possible.
Lastly, the process of “emergence” in these five countries highlights new issues at stake: these parks are called “national” but, since they are located in a local dimension within urban agglomerations, they face the challenge of designing and implementing management strategies at all of these multiple scales. Parks can contribute to the global image of the city and reach the status of iconic logos (Cape Town, Rio) whereas until now, they may have been considered as a local source of income (Nairobi) or neglected by urban decision makers (Mumbai). Environmental objectives can be a rallying factor for local (Rio) even national (Cape Town) integration – at least in a narrative form – but they can also work as tools of spatial and social segmentation (Mumbai).