Wild Cities

Making Wild Cities — Notes on Participatory Urban (Re)Wilding

For the last few months I’ve been working as creative director on a new urban rewilding project. I’m not going to write about that project here (it’s still in development) but instead I’ll discuss some of the research I’ve come across and how I’ve started organising my thinking.

Participatory urban (re)wilding combines three distinct phenomena that have their own complexities and characteristics. Participation and cities, I know a thing or two about; rewilding less so. I’m interested in how to combine the three — in my view, doing so is one of the fundamental tactics we have for surviving the 21st century. But that gets pretty complicated. And messy, in a delightfully difficult way. Although I’ve dabbled in tangentially related themes several times over the last 15 years (including Flightpath Toronto, the GROW Observatory and the Huey-Dewey-Louie Climate Clock) this has been my first opportunity to get much deeper into the topic, and perhaps eventually to have some useful impact.

Wracławek, Poland

Rewilding → Urban Rewilding → Urban Wilding

There are dozens of definitions of ‘rewilding’ and I’m hesitant to present any single one, because it is through the multiplicity of its meanings that we understand just how complex the field is. But, broadly, rewilding refers to a range of processes through which humans ensure that non-human species and natural processes are re-introduced into a landscape in a way that they can become self-sustaining once more. With its macroscopic and long-term perspective on human-nature relationships it’s usually differentiated from ecological restoration. In Rewilding, the editors suggest that while rewilding is rooted in ecology, it is done by and for humans, and explicitly requires a multi-disciplinary approach.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Urban Wilding → Participatory Urban Wilding

The current pandemic has demonstrated how intimately entwined we are with each other and with our natural and environmental systems. The way that different cultures and populations have handled this raises the question of how we will collectively respond to planetary-scale environmental crises. One thing that has been clear is how vastly different people’s responses have been to both top-down and bottom-up coordination in managing the pandemic. There has been no universally-adopted solution to the situation. Entire PhDs will be written on this topic. Connecting increasingly urban populations to the natural world is essential for humankind’s successful response to the environmental, social and economic challenges of the 21st century.

Swale by Mary Mattingly, a ‘floating edible landscape on a reclaimed barge’

Wild Cities and the Climate Emergency

The brutal fact is that either we change the way we live, or the local and geo-scale effects of the climate emergency will change our lives for us — we’ve already seen its effects resculpting the physical fabric of our cities, disrupting infrastructures we rely on, and substantially altering the social fabric of our cities as effects are felt to vastly different degrees by rich and poor. Wild cities are coming, one way or another.

House mice eat the same food and breathe the same air that we do.

Founding partner/creative director @Umbrellium • @Thingful • working on engaging cities • haque.co.uk