New book calls for policy to branch out to nature for healthier cities

Dr Cecily Maller’s new book challenges how we create healthy liveable cities and calls for planners and urban policymakers to integrate ways for humans to live better with nature and other life forms.

Set in the human-environment interaction space, the book Healthy Urban Environments More-than-Human Theories, is designed to help readers appreciate, understand and perceive cities as ‘more-than-human’ or as a shared habitat for people and nature.

Author Dr Cecily Maller from the Beyond Behaviour Change Program based at the RMIT Centre for Urban Research says that when thinking about making healthy cities, typical Western thinking overlooks or ignores ‘non-humans’ such as plants, animals or ecosystems.

“We know humans need nature to be healthy yet we continually place too much responsibility on individual people and have too much faith in ‘smart’ or technological solutions to health and wellbeing,” Maller said.

“Cities may appear to be all about humans, but our relationships with ‘non-humans’ are at the heart of most urban challenges.

“Look around and see what plants and animals you encounter as part of your everyday life and how they make cities good places to live.

“In this book, I argue that the concept of a ‘healthy city’ means a city designed and recognised as a habitat for more than just humans.”

While the book does not seek a definitive set of answers to create healthy cities, it challenges our comfortable familiarity with cities through recognising the more-than-human urban.

“The book has three inter-related objectives related to rethinking what healthy cities are and who they are for,” says Maller.

“First, it aims to foster a greater appreciation of the things, critters, artefacts and non-humans that make the world more-than-human and to open ways of thinking, knowing and understanding cities and urban environments as more-than-human habitats.

“It also seeks to encourage experimentation with new concepts and ideas from a more-than-human perspective and think about different solutions for change.”

In interpreting and summarising some key contributions of more-than-human thought, the book is aimed at applied researchers, scholars and students in a range of fields including health sociology, public health, human geography and urban planning and design.

It is also aimed at professionals and policymakers interested in innovative ideas and concepts, especially those willing to go beyond the status quo.

“To improve human health and the health of the planet, we need to think differently about the world and our cities,” Maller said.

“Now more than ever before, we need to understand, see and treat cities as more-than-human.”

Cecily will be launching her book at the joint conference of the New Zealand Geographical Society and the Institute of Australian Geographers at the University of Auckland, July 11-14, 2018. 

Story: Chanel Bearder