Snakes in the city: understanding urban residents' responses to greening interventions for biodiversity
As cities are recognised as hotspots for biodiversity, urban greening interventions are becoming more important. Such initiatives are promoted as having multiple benefits for nonhumans and humans alike, infused with narratives of climate change adaptation and positive health outcomes. Yet little research has critically examined how residents of cities respond to urban greening or rewilding interventions and the potentially increasing numbers, or changing types, of diverse plants and animals in urban neighbourhoods. This paper critically engages with the social dimensions of urban greening for biodiversity by drawing on a case study of Upper Stony Creek, an urban waterway restoration in Melbourne’s West. Upper Stony Creek is being transformed from a concrete channel separated from the residential area into an accessible urban wetland and park. Data from interviews with residents living in close proximity to the Creek before the transformation show that while being generally supportive of increased greenspace and vegetation in their local area, perceptions of higher biodiversity of native animals are mixed. For example, while birds and lizards are viewed neutrally or favourably, there are fears about the return of snakes. Turning to concepts of biophilia and biophobia, the paper discusses how urban residents’ perceptions of and relations to native animals in urban areas could be problematic for urban greening and other initiatives designed to encourage biodiversity. It concludes by arguing that greater understanding of residents’ diverse relationships with urban wildlife is needed if cities are to continue to be transformed into shared habitats.