Urban Wilderness

In my last post I looked at a few examples of living plants connected to and interacting with architecture and the built form. Plants and people interacting both within buildings and on the street, in a ‘civilised’ manner.

Another way that cities can be given more green life is through ‘re-wilding’. Wild spaces allow for more biodiversity, a more complete and resilient ecosystem. Wild spaces within the city increase the green health benefits to humans by giving a greater sense of away-ness from life’s stressors. Our own local flora and fauna can be used in urban spaces to help to build a sense of place – locating ourselves globally, and locally, using plants native to New Zealand as a whole, and also endemic to a specific region within that. For instance while we have our New Zealand Christmas tree as something of a national icon, we identify with Pohutukawa trees in the North Island, and Southern Rata in the South Island.

Tessa Bunny of Otago is undertaking a project that explores the benefits of creating wild spaces in urban places. She states “Our current city parks fail to provide a complex experience of nature.” She is researching the possibilities of ‘re-wilding’ city spaces and parks to create and links this to Kaitiakitanga (protecting and enhancing the environment) as a New Zealand tradition. [see ref for links]

“Children’s’ exposure to what is commonly, albeit problematically, called ‘wild nature’ influences their physical and emotional development. As people live in more urbanised environments they tend to have less access to, or appreciation of, this concept. To experience wild nature first hand, there are two options; take people to nature or bring nature to people.”

This quote from Tessa refers first to the great complexity of a complete ecosystem compared to the limits of human endeavour. Ordered complexity is something humans tend to thrive on and admire, but we can’t build anything as complex as an ecosystem with steel and concrete.

Living complexity holds a special kind of pleasure for the beholder. The dance of life in ‘wild’ settings is calming and reassuring because it sets off numerous evolutional triggers in the human mind. Deciphering and discerning details in the complexity and subtle differences of living wild environments is what our brains have evolved for. Doing what you have evolved to do tends to feel good, and is reassuring on a very deep level.

Humans have not evolved much biologically in the short time that we have been living in vast sprawling cities. Not so long ago people could look or walk to the city edge relatively easily if they wanted to see some green. Now if we want to keep our lower brain happy we city dwellers need to bring the ‘wilderness’ to us. Planning for public space currently does not adequately fulfil this need. However there is a growing trend for landscape architecture to address biodiversity and natural systems, but not particularly for the sake of humans.

A recreated wetland as part of the 'daylighted' Waitangi stream.

A recreated wetland as part of the 'daylighted' Waitangi stream.

Wilderness as Turungawaewae

I am also interested in this connection between the urban and the wilderness as it seems that everyone I know who grew up near abundant green growth has an affinity for their particular piece of wilderness. This leads to a sense of ownership of the environment through an interest in the health of this ‘childhood friend’, like it is part of ones community. Growing up near wilderness fosters an environmental awareness that is personal rather than logical.

Shifting into the city means moving away from this particular green acquaintance, but there could be others to get to know. One can sense the human monoculture of a city as a lonely place – with only a single species to draw inspiration from, to maintain a greater sense of connection to life. It would be a great thing for the primal wellbeing of humans in cities and it would increase personal connection to the ongoing project of sustainability if everyone could get to know their own piece of urban wilderness.



I particularly liked this post by Tessa on native and exotic trees in our cities. http://wildthecity.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/native-verses-exotic-debate/

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