The Parks for the Plant Forum: A Ten-Year Collaboration to Reconnect People and Nature in an Urbanized World

    December 3, 2018
    by Dominic Regester

    Our need for nature

    By 2050 over 75% of the world’s population will live in towns and cities. Urbanization has many benefits but contributes to a growing disconnect between people and nature, which affects physical, mental and spiritual health. The costs of non-communicable diseases, including depression and obesity, are soaring for governments, employers and communities. Disconnect from nature is taking a toll on people across generations and from all walks of life, especially young people and marginalized communities. Children in cities have ever-fewer options to play safely outside, discover the joy of the living world, and learn to love and care for it, while many elderly residents face growing isolation and loneliness.

    Yet opportunities are growing to put nature and natural capital at the heart of urban design, planning, and investment. The challenges targeted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which apply to all countries and all stakeholders – will have to be solved primarily by urban centers. In coming decades, billions will be spent on buildings, transport, and technologies for smart, competitive and climate-resilient cities. However, cities are not isolated islands. They are linked to broader landscapes and seascapes and are often highly dependent on surrounding protected areas and natural habitats which provide essential ecosystem services, including water supply and protection against natural disasters. Parks, protected areas and other nature-rich spaces in and around urban areas can therefore be cost-effective multipliers for achieving the SDGs, providing major nature-based solutions to challenges of public health, climate change, and urban resilience.

    There is also a powerful case for expanding urban and peri-urban conservation and access to nature-rich areas to allow people and communities to flourish. Connectedness with nature is a powerful predictor of our actions to benefit the earth and build a more sustainable future, according to a growing evidence base. Data indicate that people in cities are most likely to access, benefit from, and connect with nature if ‘green’ and ‘blue’ (water-based) areas are close to home (i.e., under ten minutes’ walk). Bringing nature into the city can revitalize social bonds and catalyze communities in landscapes. At the policy level, the multiple benefits of green and blue infrastructure are increasingly recognized as a key factor for healthy and resilient cities by international organizations such as IUCN, UN Habitat, the C40 network, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and many others.

    Forum goals and impact 

    Salzburg Global Seminar’s Parks for the Planet Forum is a ten-year collaboration to reconnect people and nature in an urbanized world. Launched in 2015 with IUCN-International Union for the Conservation of Nature, it aims to improve human and societal well-being by expanding access to nature-rich urban spaces, increasing investments in urban conservation, and creating dynamic partnerships between people, cities, and protected area systems.

    Salzburg Global Seminar’s Parks for the Planet Forum was inspired by the Promise of Sydney, adopted by 6000 participants from over 160 countries at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014. Over the decade until the next Congress in 2025, the Forum seeks to accelerate transformative leadership and action for healthy, equitable and livable cities and to encourage policies and investments that incorporate green and blue infrastructure into urban planning and management. 

    The Forum is building a coalition of cities, protected area systems, conservation and community groups, health and education practitioners, business, investors, philanthropies, cultural innovators and the media to achieve three concrete goals: 

    1. Promote awareness of the crucial role and benefits of nature for urban communities; 
    2. Enhance long-term urban conservation efforts and community connectedness with nature; and
    3. Encourage policies, investments, 
    and partnerships to mainstream nature-rich areas in and around cities as a critical component of urban health and resilience.

    In its first phase (2015-2018), the Forum’s four meetings forged a unique network of partners working for these goals around the world. In addition to IUCN, these include ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, World Urban Parks, #NatureForAll, Conservation International, 8 80 Cities, the National Parks Cities Foundation, Parks Canada, Parks Victoria, Korea National Parks, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Children and Nature Network, National League of Cities, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and PCI Media. Many creative initiatives have been sparked or incubated in Forum meetings, including ICLEI’s CitiesWithNature and the National Parks Cities movement. The report from the 2017 meeting, The Child in the City: Health Parks and Play, contains a range of other impact examples.

    In Phase 2 (2019-2025), the Parks for the Planet Forum will expand this coalition and facilitate new partnerships between cities, protected area systems, and other stakeholders to achieve these three goals. It will capture and disseminate knowledge and innovation, bridging divides between research, activism, and policy, to promote the nexus between nature, cities, education, and human health and wellbeing. Key findings and messages will be used to influence policy setting in key international fora, including the World Conservation Congress in 2020 and the post-2020 Biodiversity Agenda, culminating in the IUCN World Parks Congress 2025.

    Dominic Regester is program director for Salzburg Global Seminar. For additional information about the Parks for the Planet Forum, please contact Dominic at

    Salzburg Global Seminar is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1947 to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world. Our multi-year programs aim to bridge divides, expand collaboration and transform systems. Salzburg Global convenes outstanding talent across generations, cultures and sectors to inspire new thinking and action, and to connect local innovators with global resources. We foster lasting networks and partnerships for creative, just and sustainable change. Over 36,000 Fellows from 170 countries have come together through our work.


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