the rise of urbanization started to change the face of the planet and with that even people’s way of life¹. This trend is expected to keep rising over the next three decades with projections estimating that 66% of total world population will be living in urban centers by 2050². The influx of people into cities poses increased stress on natural resources together with the far-reaching impacts of climate change will represent one of the biggest challenges for city planners in the future. Perhaps the most suitable strategy to tackle some of these problems is to bring nature back to cities through the process of urban rewilding. Integration of wild nature into the urban landscape improves resilience in the face of challenging environmental conditions and provides free life supporting services – otherwise known as ecosystem services – to citizens, such as cleaner air, water, or temperature control.
Thankfully, cities around the world are starting to implement this strategy in local development planning more and more. Rewilding efforts are happening in a wide variety of scales, from the flowering butterfly gardens of St. Louis to the revival of historical wetland in the Chinese city of Harbin.
Let’s have a more detailed look at five great examples of urban rewilding projects worldwide.
#1 Vancouver (Canada)
Vancouver is a city with a long history of environmental protection. There are more than 220 parks across the city and neighboring areas, including one of the most beautiful urban forests in the world. Stanley Park Forest is an important haven for biodiversity with almost two century-old Douglas Firs that were protected from logging by the navy to use them as masts for ships. As a remnant of the coastal temperate rainforest, it is a living legacy of the most ecologically productive forest systems on Earth.
Meanwhile, an ambitious project to turn Vancouver into the greenest city in the world by 2020 is in motion. The Greenest City Action Plan is based around the main goal of establishing easy access to nature in daily life. This would be achieved through projects such as shared tree planting, creation of meadows for pollinators, and cooperation with artists to incorporate natural materials into their work³.
Let’s see if Vancouver will become a perfect example for other cities to follow.
#2 Wellington (New Zealand)
The urban ecosanctuary Zealandia is a great manifestation of conservation efforts in close proximity to the city. An area of 225 hectares is designed to restore the original ecosystem of the Wellington valley’s forest to its original (wild) state. Since its foundation in 1998/99, 18 species of native animals were successfully reintroduced into the area. These include endemic species on the edge of extinction such as the South Island Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri), a bird that was once officially declared extinct, or a living relic from the age of dinosaurs, 200 million years old reptile species the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)⁴.
#3 Singapore (Singapore)
62 hectares of lush green vegetation with naturally meandering river through the middle lie right in the urban center of Singapore. The Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park was established when the Beautiful and Clean Waters Programme decided to transform the old concrete channel of the Kallang river into its natural form. The river meanders its way through the area creating a perfect habitat for many interesting species that can also provide recreation and education material for urban dwellers. Visitors of the park can spend their time fishing in the pond, admiring lotus flowers with colorful dragonflies flying above them, or even stroll through the forested part which features a canopy of Khaya and Cannonball trees⁵.
#4 St. Louis (Missouri, The U.S.)
Milkweed for Monarch: The St. Louis Butterfly Project is a great initiative to foster coexistence of people with wildlife in the urban environment. The project begun in 2014 on Earth Day (April 22nd) with the goal of creating 50 gardens with specific plant composition for these beautiful Monarch butterflies. Plant species are combined to provide favorable conditions for butterflies to successfully reproduce. The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is an essential source of nutrition for caterpillar larvae. Other plants such as the Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) or Goldenrod (Solidago drummondii) provide nectar to feed the adults and put an end to the rapid population decrease seen in the past 20 years due to the widespread use of chemicals in agriculture and significant habitat loss⁶.
Luckily for the Monarchs, the initial target for 2014 was exceeded: The Mayor of St. Louis had decided to plant 200 more gardens to become a symbol of the city’s 250th anniversary. Since then the project proved to be so successful that it was further expanded to involve even local community groups and schools, which together planted a 1,500 square foot area (approx. 140 square meters) of the St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway in 2016, an important habitat not only for butterflies but also for other pollinators⁷.
#5 Harbin (Heilongjiang province, China)
The Chinese city of Harbin resolved the difficulties of stormwater management in a truly unique way. In the place of an old wetland and an area prone to seasonal flooding, a multi-functional stormwater park was designed for the city to benefit from its natural function to collect, clean and store the rain water. The park, called the Qunli National Urban Wetland, received in 2012 the award of excellence from American Society of Landscape Architects. By utilizing the natural way in which an ecosystem contributes to the functioning of the water cycle, the city solved the problem with floods and at the same created a great place for recreational activities. According to the UN, 20 different bird species were observed in the area that greet people with their singing while native silver birches (Betula pendula) formed young groves for people to stroll through in their free time⁸.