Urban rebuilding is bringing wildlife into the heart of cities


Visions of the urban future tend to revolve around miles-tall skyscrapers, flying cars and high-tech solutions to sustainability challenges.

But another vision predicts a return to the wilderness upon which cities were once built, complete with forests and wild animals long lost. This vision is beginning to materialize in major cities around the world in the form of the urban rebuilding movement.

Among the forefathers of this nascent effort is botanist Akira Miyawaki, who made a significant discovery while researching Japanese vegetation in the 1970s. He noticed that ancient indigenous forest ecosystems were surviving and thriving on uncultivated lands such as temples and tombs, while on cultivated plots they had long since disappeared.

Miyawaki has set up a program to restore Japan’s natural forests on small sites across the country, using native soil and plants. In many cases the results have been startling: the rapid growth of dense and diverse ecosystems.

The Miyawaki Method has since become a global movement, with miniature forests guided by plant world principles flourishing across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Also rooted in urban environments from Beirut to Bordeaux, they are playing a leading role in a movement to bring wild nature into the heart of cities.

One of Miyawaki’s largest projects is being led by the non-profit Institute for Environmental Education (IVN) in the Netherlands. Its Tiny Forest scheme has created more than 250 plots about the size of tennis courts in urban locations such as roadsides, business parks and schools.

says Dan Bleichrodt, IVN’s chief tree planting officer. “You can do this by looking into the past to see what used to grow.”

There is minimal intervention once the plants and trees are planted. Over time ecosystems evolve that take on a life of their own. One study on 11 forests It found more than 600 animal species and nearly 300 plant species “that appeared in the forests on their own,” says Bleichrodt.

Young forests attract animals and plants to cities.

Forests act as mini-carbon sinks, each capturing an average of 127.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, according to the same study — the equivalent of emissions from an average car driven more than 300 miles — which can double as a forest matures.

It also provides a cooling effect. The researchers found that soil temperatures were 20 degrees Celsius lower than on nearby streets.

The concept of relocation — large-scale restoration of indigenous, natural ecosystems and processes — has blossomed in rural areas, from returning wolves to Yellowstone Park to ancient forests in the Carpathian Mountains. Environmentalists believe the same principles can be applied to urban spaces.

says Natalie Petrelli, senior scientist at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and lead author of its latest report. Rebuild our cities.

The report identifies a range of possibilities for interventions, from allowing wildlife to restore golf courses and developing rail infrastructure, to enhancing private vegetation and ending the management of parks to allow natural processes to run freely. Actions could include “active replanting and targeted species restoration efforts”.

Potorelli says potential benefits of restoring urban ecosystems could include enhancing resilience to climate change, reducing pollution, reversing biodiversity loss, and the health of resident populations.

She says urban rebuilding is a “relatively new” movement, noting that only a handful of cities are taking bold steps in this direction. Singapore has installed “supertrees” and green corridors that accommodate wild ecosystems, while Three German cities She participates in a scheme to allocate spaces for wild habitats to grow freely.

radical proposal In order to rejuvenate the English city, Nottingham would have seen a rundown trading post in the center transformed into an urban oasis surrounded by wild woods and meadows. The local council goes ahead adaptive visionwith renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick, to reorient the city around an expansive “green heart” that would allow the mall to be overgrown with vegetation.

Thomas Heatherwick created designs for Nottingham, England, as seen in this view.

London is also taking ambitious steps through the Mayor’s London Rebuilding Task Force, which supports dozens of separate but complementary schemes. Local authorities and activists reintroduced beavers to the city for the first time in centuries, developed new forests, and created habitats for butterflies.

The next phase could include converting managed grasslands into wild meadows, miles of green highways for the benefit of bees, butterflies and wildflowers, and reintroducing large herds of grazing animals to shape ecosystems outside London. But the vision is bottom-up and top-down.

“As well as the large-scale (projects) that need large spaces, we also want to drive more smaller-scale measures across London on people’s doorsteps,” says Shirley Rodriguez, Deputy Mayor for the Environment. These include initiatives to record levels of wildlife in local neighborhoods and to identify which species should be prioritized for conservation.

Plans like this aren’t an indulgence, Rodrigues says, but make sense for a global city to pursue on multiple levels. “We know that resettlement can restore ecosystems and increase the abundance of different species in an area, but it also has a broader role in making cities greener, healthier and resilient to the effects of climate change, as well as improving the health and well-being of Londoners,” she says. .

urban greenery about

ZSL has identified recurring challenges facing urban reconstruction projects. Larger initiatives will require public funding that is scarce in bad times. Leaving wild plots unattended can introduce invasive species and negatively impact ecosystems.

Projects must have the support of the local population to thrive and avoid “green gentrification” that displaces people from the target areas. Harmful practices such as the use of pesticides and artificial lawns must be addressed to give reforestation a chance. “We need stronger legislation to counter the proliferation of activities that undermine efforts to restore urban nature,” says Petorelli.

But the movement is gaining momentum. Bleichrodt lists complementary schemes that work alongside the Tiny Forest project such as greening initiatives in schools, growing food in public spaces, and new experiments in sustainable water management. Tiny Forest has established a network across 10 countries from Curacao to Pakistan and focuses on building awareness for new generations by working closely with local schools.

“I feel like I’m part of a larger movement trying to restore ecosystems,” says Bleichrodt. “Movement Renewal Renewal.”

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