ACCESS Seminar: Urban maintenance as compromise: coming to terms with the multispecies city


In the context of climate change and extinction, the movement of diverse species into cities has become a globally important issue. Drawing on ethnographic research, the paper examines the growing presence of urban seabird colonies in Northern Europe and outlines what is at stake for urban politics. At a time when global seabird populations have experienced steep declines, the paper details how kittiwake claims to urban space – and their use of window ledges, drain-pipes, streetlights, rooftops and road infrastructure – have prompted fraught debates on coexistence, urban planning, and socio-environmental futures that reveal an inherent ambivalence. More specifically, the paper explores kittiwake inhabitations of infrastructures and the notion of ‘urban maintenance as compromise’. In so doing it argues that associated maintenance works offer insights into differently imagined futures and contemporary threats; human-wildlife conflict and the myth of the sanitised city; and the transformational repairs that draw in different forms of knowledge to support the ‘unplanned’ use of buildings. In underlining the complex motivations that shape infrastructural maintenance and repair, the paper reflects on the implications for urban futures, endeavours to ‘live in the world as well as possible’, and the problems with taking such works as a sign of shifting ethical terrains.


Helen F. Wilson is an Associate Professor in Human Geography at Durham University. Her research explores the politics of lived difference, and she has published widely on the geographies of encounter, multiculture, urban life and living, and contested forms of coexistence. She is an editor of Social and Cultural Geography and a member of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie European training network ‘Solidarity in Diversity’. She is the co-editor of Encountering the City (Routledge, 2016) and Research Ethics for Human Geography (Sage, 2020). Her latest book Robin is published by Reaktion (2022).