The practice of rewilding is frequently carried out in rural areas. It can be defined as restoring an area of land to its natural and uncultivated condition to enable natural processes to repair damaged ecosystems, often by reintroducing native plants or animal species that are high on the food chain.
Now, cities across the world are working to rewild their own communities to combat the global loss of nature by incorporating new elements of green and eco-friendly architecture and design.
Between 2001 and 2017, the US alone lost 24 million acres of natural area – the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks – largely due to housing sprawl, agriculture and energy development, according to Reuters. Every day, 6,000 acres of open space – parks, forests, farms, grasslands, ranches, streams and rivers – are converted for other uses.
Rewilding urban areas can incorporate both the old and the new, allowing wildness to reclaim a patch of land or using innovative architecture, building new parks on empty lots, incorporating more biophilic design or green walls – growing fauna on the facades of buildings. A major benefit is the positive impact of nature on our health and wellbeing, particularly in cities with less access to outdoor spaces.
In the UK, with the number of empty shops on high streets at the highest level in six years, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has proposed a new vision for the now-empty Broadmarsh shopping centre in the city of Nottingham to turn it into an urban oasis of woodland, wetlands and wildflower meadows, which it submitted in December. Replacing six acres of unused development could set a precedent for how such spaces are repurposed in the future.
In Barcelona, when the city emerged from its six-week lockdown last April, they found parks bursting with wildlife. In summer 2020, there were significant increases in biodiversity in the city: 28% more species per park overall, 74% more butterflies and an explosion of plant growth that supplied more insects for birds to feed on. Barcelona is now planning 49,000sq m of ‘greened’ streets as well as beehives and ‘insect hotels’ throughout the city.
In Singapore, there has been a tangible effort to increase quality of life and restore native vegetation by taking it from a ‘Garden city’ to a ‘City in a Garden’. Along Marina Bay, 18 SuperTrees have been dispersed throughout the landscape, filtering rainwater and absorbing heat.
The pandemic forced communities to take time away from their busy day-to-day work lives and offices. This period of reflection has created a new sense of purpose around sustainability and global wellbeing. I predict we will see many more exciting rewilding initiatives adopted by governments in global urban centres over the next 12 months.
Chris Dietz is executive vice-president for global operations at Leading Real Estate Companies of the World