Cities around the world are starting to “rewild” their communities in an effort to protect and expand open spaces amidst a massive, global loss of nature. Between 2001 and 2017, the United States alone lost 24 million acres of natural area primarily due to anthropogenic factors. Every day, 6,000 acres of open space are converted for other uses, including housing sprawl, agriculture, energy development, and more.
Urban Rewilding restores an area to its original, uncultivated state, shifting away from the centuries-long practice of controlling and managing nature for human needs. The practice is often carried out in wild areas and aims to restore biodiversity in an ecosystem by reintroducing animal species high on the food chain, and stabilizing lower species.
Cities, too, have begun rewilding; however, introducing apex predators to cities might not be the best method for success. Rewilding in urban areas might instead include reintroducing native plant species, building parks on empty lots, incorporating more biophilic design when building new structures, or simply allowing nature to reclaim space. The proven positive impact of nature on human health – particularly for city-dwellers with less access to outdoor spaces – is a significant draw to rewilding in urban areas.
This article explores the increasing trend of cities around the world incorporating nature and biodiversity into their urban spaces. These urban areas are facing a range of environmental issues, from flooding to extinction threats to urbanization’s impact on natural habitats. But the efforts of cities’ initiatives towards urban biodiversity can lead to more resilient and sustainable environments. Here are a few cities that have taken on the task of rewilding.
In an effort to increase quality of life and restore native vegetation in the city, the Gardens by the Bay have transformed Singapore from a “Garden city” to a “City in a Garden.” The park incorporates 18 “Supertrees” dispersed throughout the landscape along Marina Bay, some as high as 160 feet, which are home to over 158,000 plants and mimic the functions of regular trees by providing shade, filtering rainwater, and absorbing heat.
Built on former industrial land, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is also an example of rewilding in Singapore, incorporating elements of water-sensitive urban design and reducing the urban heat island effect in the city. The park is built around the Bishan river, which now flows freely as a natural stream system, unimpeded by man-made barriers. Within the first two years after these rewilding efforts were implemented in the park, biodiversity increased by 30%, even though no wildlife was introduced. Additionally, visitors from the surrounding cities of Bishan Yushin, and Ang Mo Kio are provided a natural respite from city life.
Beyond parks, Singapore maintains more than 90 miles of Nature Ways: canopied corridors that connect green spaces, facilitating the movement of animals and butterflies from one natural area to another throughout the city. Singapore has also developed a City Biodiversity Index to examine and track the progress of biodiversity and conservation projects. Thanks in part to these rewilding efforts, Singapore is now considered Asia’s greenest city.
2. Nottingham, United Kingdom
With the number of empty storefronts on UK high streets at the highest level in six years, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has proposed a new vision for the empty Broadmarsh shopping center in the city: an urban oasis of wetlands, woodlands, and wildflowers.
These two cities have caught on to the biophilic cities movement, which brings nature and urbanites together and makes even the densest cities more “natural.” The government architect of New South Wales outlines the benefits of bringing nature into cities and has released “The Greener Places” framework. One Central Park in Chippendale, a suburb of Sydney, is known for its vertical hanging gardens, incorporating 35,200 plants of 383 different species on more than 1,120 square meters of the building’s surface. Melbourne is working towards bringing nature back into the city through green walls and roofs, and a proposed building known as the “Green Spine” will become the country’s tallest building and the world’s tallest vertical garden.
3. Hanover, Frankfurt, and Dessau, Germany
These cities have set aside plots, such as the sites of former buildings, parks, and vacant lots, where nature will be allowed to take over as part of the Städte Wagen Wildnis project. The hands-off approach to these green spaces means that minimal intervention will occur by participating cities, and wilderness will be allowed to reclaim the spaces unimpeded. The resulting wildflower gardens and untamed nature will create new habitats for plant and animal species, and thus will increase the overall biodiversity of these cities.
4. New York City, United States
The High Line gardens, created on the site of a former elevated railroad, have become a staple attraction of Manhattan with a walkway stretching 1.5 miles through Chelsea along the Hudson River. The High Line gardeners work to facilitate the natural processes occurring in this landscape, allowing plants to compete, spread out, and grow/change as they would in nature. In an environment as densely populated and developed as New York, the High Line provides a valuable habitat for native butterflies, birds, insects and the hundreds of plant species covering its surface.
These efforts toward urban rewilding aim to combat the environmental challenges that urban areas are facing, such as flooding, extinction threats, and urbanization’s impact on natural habitats. The incorporation of nature into urban spaces can create more resilient and sustainable environments while also providing a range of benefits, such as increased property values, improved human health, and more recreation opportunities.
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