Human and non-human well-being in the Anthropocene city: Guidelines for interdisciplinary research and sustainable policies

Project lead: Mariagrazia Portera (University of Florence)

Participating universities: University of Cologne, University of Florence, Linnaeus University, Nantes Université

General Overview

This project aims, theoretically and practically, at identifying and discussing the main challenges posed by the integration of culture conservation and nature conservation when they occur on the same urban territory, taking into account both human and non-human urban populations. Thanks to the synergy of researchers from the humanities and the natural sciences, the project aims at producing EUniWell interdisciplinary, “Guidelines for a bio-culturally sustainable city” to effectively inform institutional policies at the regional, national and international levels.

Purpose and Significance

In the decades to come, cities are expected to be the scenario for virtually all conservation actions – both tangible and intangible cultural conservation and natural-biological conservation actions; a city park is in many cases the only form of nature that people in cities can experience directly and the same is true for cultural traditions, folklore and historical-artistic treasures. Preservation, broadly understood, will be increasingly a matter of urban strategies in the Anthropocene. Moreover, cultural treasures and biodiversity and natural heritage are both crucial communal assets for the perceived well-being of people in the cities: the availability of green areas and facilities, on the one hand, and a well-preserved and enacted cultural heritage, on the other hand, have both a relevant impact on the quality of life of the inhabitants of urban contexts, in terms of social integration, shared cultural values, health general conditions.

Two questions, however, need to be answered: particularly in urban European contexts, in which green areas frequently coexist side by side with examples of tangible and intangible cultural heritage (buildings, monuments; traditions, oral history), conflicts might arise between these two conservation strategies (conservation of material and immaterial culture; conservation of nature). How can the former and the latter be successfully integrated and complemented, to promote a truly sustainable bio-cultural model of a city? While a well-designed urban context, both from a cultural and a natural-biological point of view, is a fundamental resource for human well-being, what is the impact of human conservation actions on the non-human (plants and animals) urban populations? In the Anthropocene city, well-being is not an exclusive matter of humans.

Implementation Method and Timeline

The project will be developed in four stages:

  • September 2023: Start of the project and formal establishment of the group work.
  • November 2023: Research workshop in Florence to consolidate the network of researchers and schedule the implementation of the project.
  • February 2024 / April 2024: Two Online meetings to consolidate the network and keep all the researchers involved in the project informed about its developments.
  • February 2024 - May 2024: A comparative survey among partner universities to map the state of the art of urban cultural and natural heritage conservation actions, and to understand the self-reported perceptions of well-being in citizens, and possible conflicts and issues.  The survey will provide the necessary information and data for the production of the final “Guidelines for a bio-culturally sustainable city.”  
  • 23-24 May 2024: Concluding workshop in Florence, where partners will:
    a) analyse and discuss three main examples of cultural heritage and natural heritage conservation issues applied to the specific case of the city of Florence
    b) present, discuss and analyse the results of the comparative online survey and draft the interdisciplinary, “Guidelines for a bio-culturally sustainable city”
    c) plan further project proposals and project applications to sustain and keep active the network of researchers in the longer term.

Expected Outcomes

  • Network of international and interdisciplinary researchers working in the field of the EH, within the framework of the EUniWell alliance, and able to attract funds from national and international sources and to promote the advancement of knowledge on nature-culture conservation issues.
  • Research report/online publication in the form of online interdisciplinary, “Guidelines for a bio-culturally sustainable city”, to circulate among the EUniWell partner Universities for feedback, assessment and future collaborative research, and to inform institutional policies on sustainability and urban well-being.
  • Joint publication on “Conserving and Preserving Nature and Culture in Urban Contexts: A New Idea of a European Sustainable City”.