Online resources

These publications have been produced by or for the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group:

>> Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and best practice guidelines. IUCN, 2014. WCPA Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 22.

English edition  Français  Português  Chinese (link to unofficial edition)    

   Includes profiles of urban protected areas in 15 metropolitan areas. Sets out 30 guidelines related to urban protected areas as they relate to urban people, places, and institutions.  

>> The Urban Imperative: Urban outreach strategies for protected area agencies. InterEnvironment Institute for IUCN and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, 2004. Proceedings of a workshop at the IUCN 

2003 World Parks Congress. In 26 articles, authors from 17 countries look at challenges posed for nature conservation by an urbanizing world. 

>> Growing Together: Thinking and practice of urban nature conservators. South African National Biodiversity Institute, 2010. A contribution to the work of the Specialist Group.

>> Urban Protected Areas in 2,000 Words       >> Index of Naturalness

MORE ONLINE RESOURCES ARE LISTED AT  Links: publications & organizations 


Urban protected areas: a matter of crucial concern


[At left: In Los Angeles, California, US, the Santa Monica Mountains -- center, separating flatter urbanized areas -- are protected cooperatively by a national and two California state government agencies;* the Pacific Ocean is at lower left]

Ours has become a planet of urban dwellers in a very short time. Already, over half of humanity lives in urban areas. Two thirds will do so in the lifetimes of most people now living on Earth.

     This trend is already having profound consequences, for the environment and for people. Everywhere nature is being squeezed and people are losing contact with it. The implications are many and diverse, but they make the conservation of nature ever more urgent and often more difficult to deliver. It is this that makes urban protected areas a matter of crucial concern.

       Conservationists must take urban people and urban places much more seriously. Unless they do so, they will struggle for relevance in the years to come. 

What are urban protected areas?

Urban protected areas are protected areas situated in or at the edge of larger population centers. They meet IUCN’s definition of a protected area and can be in any of its six Management Categories. In governance terms, most of them are the responsibility of national, state or provincial, or local governments; others are managed by NGOs or businesses; and some are collaborative or community efforts. They do not include conventional urban parks with lawns, flowerbeds and sports fields.

How they are distinctive

Urban protected areas are distinctive in several ways. They:

  • Receive large numbers of visitors, including many who visit frequently, even daily. Many of these visitors lack experience of wilder forms of nature. They tend to be much more diverse ethnically and economically than visitors to more remote      protected areas.
  • Relate to numerous actors in the urban arena, including government decision-makers, communications media, opinion leaders, and key educational and cultural institutions.
  • Are threatened by urban sprawl and intensification of urban development.
  • Are disproportionately affected by crime, vandalism, littering, dumping, and light and noise pollution.
  • Are subject to such urban edge effects as more frequent and more severe fires, air and water pollution, and the introduction of invasive alien species.

Why they have a crucial role

Urban protected areas are important for all the reasons any protected area is important, such as providing ecosystem services, protecting species and supporting the local economy with income from tourism. However, they have a crucial role that sets them apart from other protected areas. They provide opportunities for large numbers of urban people to experience nature, including many people who may not be able to visit more remote protected areas. This is important for two reasons:

  • Regular contact with nature is good for people. Aside from the benefits of outdoor exercise, there is growing scientific evidence to support the idea that spending time in nature improves physical and mental health.
  • Urban people are crucial for nature conservation, nationally and globally. Towns and cities are where most people live, where wealth is concentrated, and where communications and  the media are based. Political leaders are under ever greater pressure to listen to what their electorate tells them is important. Conservation depends on support from urban voters, donors, and communicators. Yet people living in cities have less and less contact with nature. Re-connecting them with nature is important, if they are to tell their leaders that nature conservation is a priority. 

                                                     [Excerpts from Urban Protected Areas]

*Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and California State Parks.