Cities are being redesigned around nature.
Our relationship with nature has been reset: 82% of people now say they value nature more than before the pandemic, according to our research. If lockdowns have taught people anything, it’s the benefit of the natural world on their happiness and health.
Contact with nature has proven benefits for wellbeing, yet many lack access to green spaces, particularly those in poorer neighborhoods. In urban areas, a correlation between income and tree cover has been documented in cities such as San Francisco, Johannesburg and Mexico City. In the United States, people of color are three times more likely to live in nature-deprived areas, according to a report led by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress.
Enter rewilding, a trend we reported on in “The Future 100: 2021.” In an urban context, it’s about bringing nature back to the city. “It’s not only about wildlife and ecosystem services,” explains Kate Hardwick, conservation partnership coordinator at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, “it’s about the mental wellbeing benefits.”
In the UK, calls for “access to nature for all” are growing, with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas leading the charge. She is calling on the government to “put people’s health and wellbeing, and a right of access to nature, at the heart of planning reform.” In the British city of Nottingham, the local Wildlife Trust has proposed transforming the partially demolished Broadmarsh shopping center into wetlands, pocket woodlands and a wildflower meadow, offering a new vision for the purposes of city centers.
On a smaller scale but no less impactful, mini urban forests are popping up on disused land around the world. Indian company Afforestt creates dense micro forests in parking lots and backyards using the Mayawaki Method. This involves planting native species of trees close together, which can make the plants grow 10 times faster than usual. The UK charity Dream for Trees, which officially launched in 2021, has begun planting native mini forests on disused city areas in London—like old parking lots or the side of a road—stating that these micro forests can absorb 30 times more carbon than traditional woodlands due to the density of the trees.
Urban farms are improving biodiversity with the added benefit of boosting food resilience. 2020 saw the opening of the world’s largest rooftop farm to date, Nature Urbaine in Paris, while in Singapore, the rooftops of multistorey car parks are being converted into urban farming sites. Atlanta has grown the biggest free food forest in the United States, with more than seven acres of edible and medicinal plants, while in Los Angeles, Ron Finley, aka “the gangsta gardener,” has been converting unused plots of land around the city into food gardens for underserved communities.
Greening our cities offers a host of benefits for physical and mental wellbeing, tackling air pollution and urban heat and, in the case of edible rooftops and gardens, improving local food resilience. Says Finley: “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.”
For more on the next era of sustainability, download our new report, “Regeneration Rising: Sustainability Futures.”
Main image courtesy of Broadmarsh