Contents of this website


                         RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC


Contents / Our own strategy / About the Specialist Group / Urban people and wild nature depend on each other / Initiatives / Timeline / InterEnvironment Institute / Caveats


Defining an urban role for IUCN / IUCN Resolution 


Online resources / Urban protected areas: A matter of critical concern


Long-distance trails as conservation tools / Examples of long-distance trails / Steering committee and objectives


Dark skies / Natural sounds


Focal cities / Global Beacons of Hope / Spirit of place as a practical conservation tool


Photo gallery / Membership / Leadership                             


Online resources / The virus, natural areas, and urban people / Closing and reopening urban protected areas / Emerging infectious diseases and protected areas



Our own strategy

The IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group works to strengthen the ability of conservationists to serve urban people, urban places, and urban institutions. Protected natural areas are a central theme.

This is a major challenge, and a critical one. It has to do with protecting remote wilderness as well as nature in and around cities and making nature accessible to urban people. 


Strategies are about looking at the big picture over the long term and deciding on priorities. Urban dimensions of conservation are numerous and complex. We looked at who was doing what and decided to focus on things that have been overlooked or neglected. This has meant going in some new and unexpected directions. 

Keep on reading and you'll see what we mean. 


About the Specialist Group


The IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group originated in discussions starting in 2000 among several people long active in IUCN who were concerned about the near absence of urban dimensions on the global conservation agenda. [Timeline]

We took the opportunity of IUCN’s Fifth World Parks Congress, held in 2003 in Durban, South Africa, to organize a three-day workshop we called THE URBAN IMPERATIVE. Discussions at the workshop concluded that conservationists would be a lot more effective if they took cities and the people who live in them a lot more seriously. The following year IUCN published the workshop proceedings, and the Specialist Group was launched as part of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.  

We've adopted THE URBAN IMPERATIVE as the name of the Specialist Group’s new website because it reminds us of our origins -- and that our task has become even more imperative. Our purpose is now stated as “strengthening the ability of the protected areas community to serve urban people, urban places, and urban institutions." The rationale for this, and what needs to be done by the broader conservation community, are set out in an IUCN Resolution we drafted that was adopted by the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai'i.   

                                               >> CONTINUED AT BOTTOM OF PAGE . . .

Urban people and wild nature depend on each other

Urban people need nature

Nature needs urban people

Nature needs urban people


"Access to nature plays a vital role in human health, well-being, and development ... Humans depend on nature for psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs that are difficult to satisfy by any other means."  

[Photo: Schoolchildren visiting the edge of a wilder part of the Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden in Cape Town, South Africa] 

Nature needs urban people

Nature needs urban people

Nature needs urban people


"The wildest and remotest places on Earth, the most

imperiled species on Earth, the chain of life sustaining

human life on Earth will be protected only if urban people

care about nature."

Urban Protected Areas (IUCN, 2014)

[Photo: Polar bear, Alaska]






IUCN & Urban Dimensions of Conservation

Since we started, the first priority of the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group has been to encourage IUCN and the global conservation movement as a whole to take urban people, urban places, and urban institutions much more seriously.  More . . .





Urban Protected Areas

Urban protected areas are a distinctive type of protected area that provide opportunities for large numbers of urban people to experience nature, including many who may not be able to visit more remote protected areas. We promote and provide information and guidance about these special places.  More . . .  [Photo: A Hong Kong Country Park]





IUCN Advisory Group

on Long-distance Trails

This group promotes a holistic vision of long-distance trails, not only as recreational infrastructure but as conservation tools that link urban, rural, and wild; shape new conservationists; and serve as connectors to places representing cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, and moral values. More . . .  [Photo: Pacific Crest Trail, California] 





IUCN Dark Skies Advisory Group


IUCN Natural Sounds Advisory Group


These groups work to advance understanding of the importance of natural darkness and natural sound, respectively, and means of addressing impacts of artificial light and excessive noise. 

     More . . .





Natural Neighbors

Natural Neighbors seeks to introduce greatly increased numbers of people to the natural and cultural heritage of the regions where they live, by promoting and strengthening metropolitan and regional alliances of conservation and historic preservation agencies, museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, and similar organizations. More . . .

     [Photo: Natural Neighbors roundtable at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, Hawai'i]





Global Beacons of Hope

Global Beacons of Hope are tangible symbols of the kind of imagination, exploration, and moral behavior needed to move the world toward greater justice and sustainability. More . . .

     This independent project grew out of the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group; IUCN endorsement is pending. 

     [Photo: Gustav Mahler's composing hut in Austria.]

About the Specialist Group (continued)

We set out with two ambitious goals and have made good progress toward both of them. Our first goal was to define an urban role for IUCN and encourage the international conservation community generally to give more attention to urban matters. 

Our second goal was to define and promote urban protected areas as a distinctive type of protected area. Most urban conservation efforts concentrate on the role of local governments and on urban greening in the sense of creating conventional city parks and planting trees. Since global networks already existed around those themes, we decided to stay close to IUCN's heartland and focus on wilder places in and near cities and how they relate to urban people and institutions. 

This led to an ongoing project called Natural Neighbors, which promotes cooperation within metropolitan areas among conservation and historic preservation agencies and urban institutions such as museums, zoos, and botanic gardens.  

This work, along with convening meetings, visiting sites, and taking part in numerous conferences in many parts of the world [see timeline], has helped us look at the problems and opportunities of urban conservation from various perspectives and in unconventional ways, and we have become a sort of incubator. 

The Natural Neighbors project made us realize that places associated with extraordinary people, events, and ideas can serve as tangible symbols of the kind of imagination, exploration, and moral behavior that is needed to move the world toward greater justice and sustainability. This led to an initiative called Global Beacons of Hope. An independent project still in formation, it is not yet endorsed by IUCN and is linked to the Specialist Group only temporarily. 

Along the way we agreed to take on the important themes of dark skies (making the case for dark-sky protected areas and other means of protecting nature from artificial light) and natural sounds (protecting natural and cultural soundscapes in protected areas). More recently we agreed to form an advisory group on long-distance trails as conservation tools. We believe such trails have much potential for linking urban, rural, and wild; shaping new conservationists, young and old; and as connectors to places representing cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, and moral values.

While these initiatives are not exclusively urban in their orientation, we believe that, within IUCN, ours is the community of interests best placed to develop them.   

Our members are an extraordinary group of people [photo gallery] from diverse places, backgrounds, and professions. Many of them have been with us from the beginning.   

This endeavor has been made possible by financial and in-kind contributions from numerous individuals and organizations. I especially want to thank the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy of the California Natural Resources Agency and its partner, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, for early and continuing support for projects related to our respective missions. I am also grateful for major support from the  Republic of Korea National Park Service, which made possible our publication Urban Protected Areas, as well as from WCPA and its parent organization, IUCN. 

InterEnvironment Institute, the California-based public policy research center I co-founded and direct, an IUCN Member since 1980, has served as the Specialist Group’s secretariat from the start. I much appreciate the help I've received from members of the Institute's Board of Trustees and Senior Fellows, all of whom have been involved personally in the Specialist Group's activities.

Ted Trzyna, Chair

IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group

January 2020




[Photo: The late John Davidson with Ted Trzyna at a conference in around 2005. John is amused by something Ted is telling the participants]

What is now called the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group came out of discussions that started in 2000 among several people long active in IUCN who were concerned about the near absence of urban dimensions on the global conservation agenda. They were, with their IUCN roles: 

· John Davidson (1939-2012), former Deputy Chair of the then IUCN Environmental Planning Commission

· Jeff McNeely, former IUCN Chief Scientist

· Adrian Phillips, former WCPA Chair 

· Ted Trzyna, former Chair of the then IUCN Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning

We were soon joined by George Rabb (1930-2017), a former Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, and Joe Edmiston, Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a unit of the California State Government. 


2003. The Urban Imperative workshop, Durban. The informal group holds a three-day workshop, The Urban Imperative, at the IUCN World Parks Congress held in Durban, South Africa. The workshop was organized by InterEnvironment Institute, with support from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. 

2004. Specialist Group is established with Ted Trzyna as Chair.

2004. Malibu workshop. Holds its first event, a workshop in Malibu, California, to plan its overall program. Hosted by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

2004. Bangkok IUCN World Conservation Congress. Holds events on coastal cities, cities in Mediterranean-type regions, and the importance of urban places and people for the conservation movement.

2004. IUCN "Cities and Conservation" Resolution passes. Drafted this Resolution, which called for IUCN's quadrennial program to take into account the connections between cities and larger environments. Although the measure was not implemented, seeds were planted.     

2004. The Urban Imperative. The proceedings of the Durban workshop are published. In 26 articles, 34 authors from 17 countries look at challenges and opportunities posed for nature conservation by a rapidly urbanizing world.

2006. Urban Nature 2006, Cape Town, South Africa. Cosponsors this workshop as a side-event to the General Assembly of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

2006. ICLEI Local Action for Biodiversity initiative, Rome. Helps to organize and participates in a meeting in Rome, Italy, to plan this initiative. Hosted by RomaNatura.

2006. Nairobi workshop. Along with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Kenya Wildlife Service, organizes and contributes to the African Regional Workshop on Cities, Ecosystems, and Biodiversity. 

2008. Barcelona IUCN World Conservation Congress. Organizes a workshop on climate change and new conservation alliances in cooperation with InterClimate Network. 

2010. Urban Protected Areas Network. Becomes an active partner in the Network, based at the University of Paris West, which conducted social science research on management of four key urban protected areas in Brazil, India, Kenya, and South Africa. 

2009. Dark Skies Advisory Group. Creates this group, IUCN's first effort to deal with the effects of light pollution on natural ecosystems.

2010. Growing Together: Thinking and practice of urban nature conservators is  issued by the South African National Biodiversity Institute; it was "inspired in part by the specialist group and is seen as a contribution to its work."

2010. World List of Dark-Sky Parks. The Dark Skies Advisory Group starts a world list of protected areas which have specific rules about light pollution.

2010. The biosphere reserve concept and urban areas. Explores the potential of this connection at several international meetings. 

2011. "Urban dimensions of conservation: Why IUCN must take them much more seriously." At the request of the IUCN President and Director General, submits detailed recommendations on incorporating urban dimensions into IUCN's work. Action was deferred.

2012. IUCN World Conservation Congress, Jeju, Republic of Korea. Holds a workshop, Urban Dimensions of Nature Conservation: Roles for IUCN. Sponsors a motion on Dark Skies and Nature Conservation; it passes almost unanimously.

2014. Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and best practice guidelines. Drawing on a decade of experience, produces this illustrated volume, number 22 in IUCN's Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series.

2014. IUCN World Parks Congress, Sydney, Australia. Organizes several events on urban protected areas.

2015. Natural Neighbors. Becomes a co-sponsor of this project, aimed at creating alliances of conservation agencies, museums, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens within metropolitan areas to introduce urban people to their regions' natural and cultural heritage.

2016. French-language edition of Urban Protected Areas is published.

2016. IUCN World Conservation Congress, Hawai'i. An IUCN Resolution, "Incorporating urban dimensions of conservation into the work of IUCN," is approved. It was drafted and sponsored by InterEnvironment Institute; co-sponsors included the Specialist Group. Held a workshop, "How Urban Partnerships Tackle Global Crises," and co-sponsored several other events.

2017. Portuguese-language edition of Urban Protected Areas is published.

2017. Spirit of place as a conservation tool. Work starts on this initiative, which leads to Global Beacons of Hope.

2019. Global Beacons of Hope. This independent project starts with consultations in the US and the UK, and at several international conferences.

2019. Long-distance Trails Advisory Group is created and contributes to the Third Latin American and Caribbean Congress on Protected Areas in Lima, Peru.

InterEnvironment Institute, an IUCN Member since 1980, provides the secretariat for the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group.

This is not an official IUCN website. Views expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of IUCN or the persons or other organizations mentioned. Designation of geographical entities does not imply any opinion concerning the legal status of any country, territory, or area, or of  its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of frontiers or boundaries.