Nature is (not) democratic. Notes for a community-based approach to natural resources


  • Giulia Luciani University of Florence


Natural Resources, Local Communities, Urban Bioregion




Setting the scene: the eco-crisis we are dwelling in.

Sixty-two years ago, when Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring, the environment was not a matter of public and political concern, and the outbreak of environmental awareness she started at the peak of the modern economic growth narrative was fiercely opposed. Since then, one could argue, environmentalism has come a long way: the green paradigm has now become an essential requirement and often a driving force for politics and policies all over the world. Nevertheless, unprecedented ecological disruption is harming territories more seriously than ever, with limitless soil consumption, chemical pollution, alteration of hydrological cycles, annihilation of ecosystems, irreparable loss of biodiversity, and so on. It seems the strategies adopted at a global level have failed to address the problem.

Diving into a key concept: nature as a resource.

The ecological modernization framework which has emerged since the Nineties as a mainstream response to the ecological crisis promises to technologically fix the unbalances and disruptions brought up by the limitless growth paradigm by decoupling wealth production and the use of natural resources. Within this system of thought, where concepts such as the Natural Capital have been introduced, the notion of nature as a resource has even intensified the centuries-long process of objectification and de-politicization of nature. By reproducing logics of hierarchy and domination, well represented by the city-countryside power balance, the mainstream approach denies the relevance of the “forces of reproduction” (Barca, 2020), while hiding the many relations – colonial, class, gender, species relations – which are the root of the current unhealthy relation with nature.

An alternative conceptualisation may help shifting from domination to cooperation logics, exemplified through the rethinking of ecosystems as “ecocommunities” (Bookchin, 2017).

Investigating planning practices: from separation to interaction.

Planning and management of nature oscillate between two opposite poles: a dominant anthropocentric dissipative attitude, updated in its green version to a “sustainable management” model, and an ecocentric conservative attitude, rooted in radical deep ecologies which aspire to a restoration of an ideal original nature. Dominant planning practices tend to adopt a resource-based, techno-centred, and even technocratic approach that results in a radicalisation of the two polarities.

An alternative view, however, can be envisaged by focusing on the intricated coevolutionary relationship between diverse ecological subjects, including humans and non-human entities. The management of local “natural resources”, in a cooperative coevolutionary perspective, is not driven by top-down impositions of either sustainable-exploitation or conservation-without-use models but performed by self-organised communities acting within non-hierarchical networks.

Outlining research trajectories: innovative planning tools.

Considerations and reflections developed in this paper aim at outlining a frame of reference for the co-management of nature in the perspective of the urban bioregion approach (Magnaghi, 2014), by defining the conceptual basis and identifying research and practice gaps. The ultimate intention is to reframe the local communities’ role as protagonists in the management and design of nature, with a shift of meaning from resource to heritage and common good.


Barca S. (2020), Forces of reproduction. Notes for a counter-hegemonic Anthropocene, Cambridge University Press.

Bookchin M. (2017), L’ecologia della libertà, Elèuthera [Orig. ed. The ecology of freedom. The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy, 1982].

Carson R. (1962), Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin.

Magnaghi A. (2014), La biorégion urbaine, Eterotopia France.