The Natural Neighbors initiative seeks to introduce greatly increased numbers of people to the natural and cultural heritage of the regions where they live, by promoting and strengthening metropolitan and regional alliances of conservation and historic preservation agencies, museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, and other organizations devoted to protecting and interpreting their regions' natural and cultural heritage. It encourages:
Natural Neighbors brings together three powerful ideas:
►Getting people out into nature. There are two main reasons: People need to spend time in nature for their own health and well-being, beginning in early childhood. And they are much more likely to support conservation everywhere when they appreciate nature and culture where they live.
►The movement to bring together efforts to preserve and interpret nature and culture. People are more likely to have a sense of belonging and of civic responsibility when they appreciate their region’s history and culture, as well as its natural environment.
►Metropolitan conservation alliances. The best-known example is Chicago Wilderness, a coalition of some 200 organizations in parts of four states. Still uncommon, such alliances promote cooperation among conservation agencies, natural history museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens.
At this stage, Natural Neighbors is a concept and a means of exchanging information and ideas, rather than a formal program. In Los Angeles, meetings and a workshop have been held with 20 agencies and institutions. Meetings have also been held in Chicago, New York City, Arizona, and Kingston, Jamaica, and there have been preliminary discussions in Brazil and Israel. In addition, Natural Neighbors was discussed at a workshop held at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawai'i.
These discussions identified a need for members of regional coalitions to formulate and agree upon common messages to the public. This, in turn, led to an ongoing project on The Positive Spirit of a Place.
Natural Neighbors is an initiative of InterEnvironment Institute, in cooperation with two components of IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature: the World Commission on Protected Areas and the Species Survival Commission. It originated in a project initiated and carried out by the Institute and sponsored by IUCN, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (part of the California Natural Resources Agency), the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and others.
A workshop in Los Angeles held in 2016 to explore the idea of organizing a Natural Neighbors project in Southern California. Those present were representatives of some 20 United States, California state, and local government agencies; natural history and science museums; botanic gardens; a zoo; a publisher of books on California history and natural history; and universities.
Mark Bouman from Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History (center front) shared the experience of Chicago Wilderness, regarded as a model for metropolitan conservation alliances.
The workshop was hosted by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy at its Los Angeles River Center and Gardens near the center of the city. The Conservancy, a California state agency, has been a leading sponsor of Natural Neighbors.