Rewilding: When Cities Make Room for Nature

This inspiring concept celebrates how city folk and nature can reconnect for the benefit of both!

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Rewilding in cities is letting people enjoy nature

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It is no surprise that the need to shelter in our homes during the pandemic made so many of us appreciate the great outdoors, perhaps more than ever! Many considered the possibility of leaving the crowded cities in which they lived in search of connection, wellbeing and some much-sought-after tranquility.

But instead of abandoning urban spaces, they may well be interested in a promising alternative that’s been gaining ground worldwide in recent years: the rewilding phenomenon.

Rewilding explained
The rewilding concept emerged in the 1990s to describe the efforts behind a progressive approach to conservation.

Rewilding is about “letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes”, states Rewilding Europe, a Netherlands-based nonprofit. As the organization explains on Twitter: “Our mission is to make Europe a wilder place, with more space for wild nature, wildlife and natural processes. For the benefit of both nature and people.”

A paradigmatic case, the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone area centered in Wyoming, the US, in 1995, has demonstrated that restoring big predators can not only help keep the populations of other species in check, but it can also contribute to reducing the overgrazing of native vegetation. The result has been richer and more diverse ecosystems, according to PNAS, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by UN Food & Agriculture Org (@fao)

But how is it possible to introduce this idea into urban spaces and into people’s lives? In recent years, many initiatives have been using elements of rewilding to help nature claw back some of its lost ground in our cities. This ambitious plan is less about reintroducing predators and more about restoring some of the natural habitats within urban spaces. 

Many agree that one of the earliest urban rewilding projects dates back to 2009, when an old train track was repurposed as a public park in New York. The famous High Line is today one continuous, 1.45-mile-long greenway, featuring more than 500 species of plants and trees, as detailed on thehighline.org. It is a shining example of how abandoned spaces in cities can be totally transformed to connect people and nature.

Why is rewilding beneficial?
There are many reasons why rewilding efforts are worthwhile. First of all, rewilding is beneficial to nature since it helps restore the natural ecosystem balance, according to yesmagazine.org. The idea goes beyond just creating and expanding man-made green spaces; it aims to restore areas that were once rich and diverse natural ecosystems.  

From a human perspective, research from the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK, has shown that spending some weekly time outdoors in nature offers mental and physical benefits. Furthermore, a short awe walk outside can leave people feeling grateful, joyful, and compassionate. All these positive emotions can reduce stress, according to another study from the University of California in San Francisco. So rewilding helps nature flourish, and simultaneously positively impacts our wellbeing.  

In addition, naturally-functioning ecosystems can provide us with cleaner resources such as air and water, not to mention enhancing the capability to prevent flooding. As Rewilding Europe claims on its website, wilder nature is a true ally in facing modern socio-economic challenges like climate change. 

And last but not least, rewilding can help boost local economies by creating job opportunities for the community that are derived from tourism and nature-based ventures. 

Some recent rewilding initiatives
Currently, there are many cities making space for nature, as reported by yesmagazine.org.

In the United Kingdom, conservation charity, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is aiming to make Nottingham the country’s first “rewilded city”. The proposal aims to bring back some of its native species.

In Germany, several cities are establishing wildflower meadows in order to boost plant diversity and to attract pollinators, the amazing creatures responsible for reproducing 75 percent of flowering species and 35 percent of the world’s food, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In Barcelona, Spain, there are proposals to build nesting towers for bats and birds as well as beehives across the city. Not to mention the existing plans to plant species that attract insects and different types of pollinators.

In Miami, meanwhile, the first phase of a new Underline Park for pedestrians, located under the metro, has opened. Inspired by New York’s High Line, there are plans for it to eventually become a 10-mile linear park, transforming dead space into an urban trail with spots for public art.

Supporting rewilding programs means supporting a new way of relating to nature, one that reminds us how important it is to ensure its permanence. Acknowledging this is to contribute to the wellbeing of the environment, and therefore, to our wellbeing as well. 

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