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IFRC and its relationship to the (local) ecosystem

Brown bag discussion 2

When reflecting on the coexistence between human and non-human species, it is the French philosopher Bruno Latour who immediately comes to mind. He passed away recently, leaving behind a deep intellectual legacy that urges humanity to envision the planet as a shared place where both human and non-human species need to acknowledge each other and negotiate their respective interests. Beyond the superficial nature-culture divide, there is a need to reconnect to the here and now, to one's surroundings and to the ecosystem in which humans evolve.

Gilles Clement, French landscape architect and philosopher, is another important thinker related to this topic. He coined the concept of the ‘planetary garden’, which highlights the responsibility of the human species to take care of the earth as a finite place in which humans coexist with non-human species. He also spoke about tiers-paysage, spaces which humans have left without planning them, which often have a higher degree of biodiversity, than anthropized landscapes like forests or gardens. The tiers-paysage is not about pristine nature, but more about “forgotten” places.

Redefining the relationship between IFRC and its local ecosystem, keeping in mind the thoughts of these philosophers, became an important part of the discussion around the 2nd IFRC Park Project - Brown Bag discussion on the 24th of October 2022.

The need to make an effort.

The discussions acknowledged that the ‘familiar’ is sometimes more difficult to navigate and understand than what feels ‘distant’. This statement holds true especially for the forest of the IFRC, which most employees see everyday but where most of them have never been. It also holds regarding the relationship to the local environment : understanding it means acknowledging it and knowing it. It is a constant negotiation. For an organisation like IFRC, knowing its local ecosystem is an effort, an investment of time and resources. The process needs broad support from IFRC staff and directorate.

Through the discussion, some examples of actions towards a better understanding of the natural surroundings and the development of an IFRC specific approach were touched upon

  • Studying past relationships with the local ecosystem through the IFRC archives could help understand where exactly our perceptions come from. What species were planted? How to deal with the complex question of what species is native and those considered non-native?

  • On the question of which type of species to plant henceforth, the danger of speaking in terms of "native and non-native species" or about "invasive species" was highlighted. Such terms, when applied to human society, create very negative consequences. How do we think about landscaping principles in a more constructive, forward-thinking way in the context of the climate emergency ? For example, 100 roses were planted for the 100th anniversary of the IFRC, they were not native species. How does one frame this in a constructive way that also makes sense environmentally?

Access vs preservation

Densifying the use of spaces creates risks which have to be negotiated and which can be partly mitigated. This holds true for both, humans and non-human species.

Humans can be impacted by increased biodiversity (more bees, unleashed dogs, more allergenic pollen). Increased human use of previously hidden places is also likely to have negative consequences for wildlife (insects, birds, plants). A participant explained that the building department has to deal with a number of problematic animals, including foxes, weasels trying to get into the building, or birds nesting in the window frames.

Several paths for mitigating the negative impact of humans on non-human species were discussed:

  • Pathways could help channelize human presence in the forest in a contained way, while granting better access

  • Are there places in the forest which should be kept away from human access?

  • A participant expressed her fear about dogs being unleashed, especially because she found a sign stating dogs had to remain leashed in the park. There is a need for clarity regarding this topic.

Resource vs ornamentalism

A participant highlighted that on the field, in many places where IFRC operates, nature is a resource essential for survival. It's the basis of people’s livelihood. Here in Geneva, it has more of a leisure and ornamental character. However, with the climate crisis, there is a need to go back to the idea that nature is not simply “nice to have” but an essential resource to nurture and protect for further generations. The IFRC Park Project could be a good example of this new mentality, which can inspire other organisations.

Reinterpreting principles of the movement

The movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is built upon seven core principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. The discussion touched upon how the seven principles of the humanitarian movement can be expressed in the process and outcome of the IFRC park project.

IFRC Park - public park on private land

It was highlighted that the IFRC Park is quite unique : it is a publicly accessible park on private land owned by the IFRC. The Park and Garden service of the city of Geneva (SEVE) is aware and can provide some expertise, counselling and advice, even though they will not be directly involved in the project or its maintenance.

The discussion is to be continued on November 10th 2022.

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