Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation


The need for self-efficacy in times of powerlessness.

Caring for nature in the city.


At the beginning of August I was confronted with a small piece of paper at the door of my apartment building:

Dear Neighbors,

The young trees on the Johannstadt Elbwiesen still urgently need our help.

For this reason, we ask you to support us in watering every Thursday from 8:00 pm.


We are planning to organize a watering can chain from the Elbe to the trees. It would be good if everyone can bring a bucket or a watering can.

Well, that touched me quite a lot in many different ways. I walk those meadows every day multiple times when I am outside with Amos, "my" dog. The meadows are places for me to sit and observe nature, to do sport or to meet people here in the city of Dresden. Sometimes Amos and I snack some apples and other fruits which are growing there. And in 2018 some new trees were planted to enrich the already existing orchard meadow with plums, cherries, pears and apples. Those young trees, only one decade old, are naturally in need of more care since their roots are still finding their way through the earth connecting them with their environment, adapting to the conditions of the soil, the surrounding climate, the noises of the street, the air conditions, and the animals around with whom they have to share their habitat with. Experiencing once again new records of extreme heat and droughts here in Germany, but also all over Europe and the world, I have witnessed over the summer how much the trees at the Elbe meadows have suffered and presumably are still suffering. Leaves are turning brown, they curl up and the barks become brittle. I felt the high temperatures on my skin too, trying to walk as much in the shadow as possible, raising dust while dragging my feet over the heat-vibrating paths I wandered, wishing for rain to finally arrive.

Invitation to watering the young trees at the Johannstädter Elbwiesen

One day in July a weird smell woke me up in the early morning, leaving me thinking that there is burning something in the backyard or in the neighborhood only to realize that the forest in the Saxonian Switzerland at the border of Germany and Czech Republic is now also burning and that I can literally smell the trees dying here in the city. In the scientific community “[r]esearchers have argued that perceiving climate change [as a] “psychologically distant” manner decreases the likelihood of coming to terms with the reality and implications of climate change, and thus has the potential to reduce support for mitigating action and even for adaptive behavior” (McDonald et al., 2015, p. 110). That was or still is for many people in the global north a common perception of climate change I guess. However, with events such as the flooding of the Ahrtal, Germany in 2021 and now the vast amounts of forests burning sacrificing 660.000 hectare of trees and life all over Europe or the dried up rivers as the Loire in France, the year 2022 let the people really feel what climate change means. Nature and her water streams, her plants are suffering but also the animals living in those areas are robbed of their homes and I am affected by that – it touches me.

Johannstadt citizens in action

And with all this comes this big feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness. There is an urge to come into action to feel self-efficient again, to really do something and to have an impact. Correspondingly and as Hartmut Rosa describes in his theory of resonance, resonant moments can not only emerge out of being emotionally affected, there has to be a self-efficient response where we are touching and moving someone:something else, making resonance an active not passive state of being. So I very much welcomed this little neighborly invitation on my doorstep as an opportunity to do something even as it seems to be a small thing to do. The next Thursday I took two watering cans and walked towards the communicated meeting point only to be met by around 30 people who were already pulling water out of the river to nurture the little trees on the meadows. Quickly two groups were formed, the water fetchers and the water casters building a well-functioning team. People creatively arrived by cargo bikes and handcarts to transport bigger amounts of water. After just 1.5 hours we had watered all of the young trees on the orchard meadow. Despite my own feeling of self-efficacy while casting the trees and also being motivated through this group activity of like-minded people, I overheard another person saying "that makes so much sense, I could cry. With all the bad wildfires.." and another person talked to a tree saying "here you go little one, drink up!".


A young green fruit tree after the desired rain shower

The next week I went again, witnessing further resonant moments through this easy and connecting practice of watering trees in need here in the city. Next to this former described feeling of powerlessness grew a feeling of hope and community. The last two weeks rain fell again over the city of Dresden and I was extremely grateful for that. Only after two days, the green in the meadows exploded, the trees have stretched again and the soil is moist and stable. But still, the people living in the Johannstadt are looking out for the little trees, checking if there is a need for water and I think that is a beautiful act to care for nature.

Author: Mabel Killinger

If you have any comments or question on the essay, feel warmly invited to contact the author (m.killingerioer@ioer.de).



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