World Parks Congress, Sydney – Amber Bill

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Valuing what you love, and loving what you know – reflections on the World Parks Congress, Sydney 2014.

‘Value’ is a word with layered meaning. Many of us are familiar with the adage ‘people can only value what they love and can only love what they know’, and in one respect I believe New Zealanders deeply value our natural areas. We value them as places for leisure and recreation, and for some of us, for conservation of flora and fauna. But we could do better at valuing natural areas for ‘their worth, desirability or utility’(Oxford Dictionary definition).

Where, other than parks and protected areas, can we find a place which provides life-provisioning and supporting ecosystems; places of social equality, health benefits and mental wellbeing; areas for social cohesion, childhood development, recreation and leisure; not to mention economic benefits?

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The likes of Coca-Cola have figured this out and are working with US National Parks to have their share of this invaluable pie for their own brand development. Despite this, there is still a tendency for us to only value them just as places that are ‘nice to have’. It is not enough just to create a space and hope for the best. Ongoing investment is essential: programming and providing for activities in our natural areas is just as important as it is in a community or recreation centre.

So, our challenge is to ensure that we value our natural areas and open spaces holistically. For the quality of life they add; for the businesses which depend on natural areas; what they add to property values; for their social glue; and for their significant health benefits – particularly in preventative health and the role that outdoor recreation might play in avoiding the 5 million deaths each year due to people being physically inactive.

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How do we rise to this challenge? One way is through effective communication and engaging with youth – in particular the ‘millennials’ for whom a meaningful life is the new currency. This is a generation with courageous and visionary traits and our role is to channel their energy and provide an environment youth want to be part of.

How can we do this? At the World Parks Congress in Sydney 2014 Dr Catriona Wallace (Fifth Quadrant) spoke of the importance of clear and positive messaging and branding, where the language used should be of hope and excitement, not deficit. Good stories and good news are equally important. Humanity and story-telling have always gone hand in hand. Stories make sense of things for us. They ask and answer the question ‘Why should we care?’

If we want people to take action, then good stories are important, as these inspire positive emotions and make us act. Suggested ingredients for a good story were:

  1. Create intimacy a sense of with the audience.

  2. Ensure the story is told by real people who actually care and to whom it makes a difference.

  3. Provide a way forward. Is there a way out of the situation, and can people do something about it?

Natural resources are not just ‘nice-to-haves’ but are critical assets for any community. Parks and natural areas protect these resources. But at the moment many of our cities have a long way to go. People need nature for cognitive and behavioural development, and for health and wellbeing. These days, cities which are thriving are those that boast quality of life, and connectivity with nature is a key part of this.

We are fortunate in Wellington. We are a city with great nature connections. So, let’s start telling this as part of our story.

The IUCN World Parks Congress is held every decade, and with over 6,000 participants from over 170 countries it is a significant event. The ultimate vision of the congress (http://worldparkscongress.org/about/promise_of_sydney.html) was to:

(1) Reinvigorate our efforts to ensure protected areas do not regress, but progress.

(2) Inspire all people, across generations and cultures, to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas.

(3) Invest in nature’s solutions to halt biodiversity loss, mitigate and respond to climate change, reduce the risk and impact of disasters, improve food and water security, and promote human health and dignity.

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