polar bear strolling through downtown Vancouver

Polar bear strolling in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (©iStockphoto.com)

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Wildlife habitat—what images come to mind when you hear those words? Sweeping vistas where windblown grasses ripple like ocean waves, steep slabs of snow and stone high up on a mountain, or perhaps the dappled shadow and light of a forest primeval?

How about glass-and-concrete skyscraper canyons, emerald green fairways shimmering with sprinkler system generated dew, or the metal halide-lit expanse of asphalt surrounding a shopping mall?

People tend to think of the places we live and work—the places architects, landscape designers, and urban planners call “the built environment”—as removed from the natural world as if it exists on a separate plane or planet. This helps to reinforce our conceit that humans are not indigenous, that we’re some kind of exotic or introduced species. But human beings are animals, mammals to be exact. Cities and suburbs are simply another kind of habitat… and not just for humanity.

True, most of the non-human species among us are not the ones who lived here before the people moved in. Once development starts, the wild creatures are either lucky (they happen to be well-suited to the newly created landscape), adaptable (they figure out a way to tolerate or exploit the new neighbors), or gone. But there’s no such thing as a vacant lot in nature. When the original residents move out it creates an opportunity for someone else. Once the construction dust settles it doesn’t take long before wildlife watching can begin.

Why plunk down a wad of bills for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to “the wilderness” when you’re living smack dab in the middle of unique and genuine wildlife habitat? Yours to enjoy every single day of your life without getting on a plane or hiring sherpas or buying a bunch of new gear (although there’s plenty to be had should you choose to indulge). Let’s call it urban ecotourism. All you need to begin this safari is a willingness to open the door, open your eyes, and look at things from another perspective.

This blog is intended to help you do just that—to become aware of an entire community hiding in plain sight, invisible only because your brain thinks you already know the place like the back of your hand. I’ll show you who’s living there and explain the reasons why so you’ll be able to make your own discoveries. Hopefully you’ll share some of those discoveries in the comments section of this blog. Have a question? It could turn into a future blog post so feel free to send me an email.

Until next time, I’m going for a walk among the wild things. Want to come along?

© 2010 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author