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March 2008 Issue

Can Parks Promote International Peace?
Yes, they can, to judge from the success of 188 “peace parks” worldwide.

By Susan Hines

Can Parks Promote International Peace?

All over the world, peace parks, also called transboundary protected areas (TBPAs) or transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), are increasing in number. Since 1988, the number of these conservation areas has grown from 59 to more than 188. TBPAs have been developed to promote cooperation between countries, particularly in the area of ecotourism. They have also been extensively used in Africa to support nature-based tourism and conservation across political boundaries through cooperation and joint management of parks. In Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution, Saleem H. Ali, a professor of environmental planning at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Natural Resources, says that international parks are not just groovy sanctuaries grounded on idealistic notions but rather serious endeavors that promote international peace.

Last November, Ali and several other scholars spoke about peace parks at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He cited 17 essays in his book from 30 contributors that represent a variety of perspectives on the phenomena of peace parks and the problems they can address. By gathering articles from scholars including mathematicians and social scientists as well as practitioners in fields such as forestry and land management, Ali hopes to disabuse readers of the idea that “peace parks are pie in the sky.” In fact, the book is so interdisciplinary that The MIT Press passed the manuscript through peer reviewers from five different fields.

The idea that ecological conservation and peace are reinforcing concepts is growing in acceptance even as it is resisted by mainstream diplomats, policy makers, and theorists. Ali notes that when the 2004 Nobel Peace prize was awarded to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, Honorary ASLA, many, including Economist magazine, criticized the choice maintaining that the connection between environmental issues and peacemaking was tenuous at best. A few months ago, Al Gore, Honorary ASLA, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were recognized with the peace prize, prompting The New York Times to state that the committee was sending a purely political signal.

“The environment, instead of causing conflict, can also resolve conflict—even if the conflict has nothing to do with the environment,” Ali told Landscape Architecture. As the basis for this contention, Ali notes, “First, there is the biophilia argument—that human beings have a natural proclivity toward nature. I do agree with that, but the genetic part needs more testing. However, enough observational data exists to suggest a connection.”

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