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13th Aug 2015

City nature: creating space for nature in cities

Andrew Grant, founder and director of Grant Associates, presented the case for a radical rethink about the relationship between cities and nature at an event organised by Bristol’s Architecture Centre.

During his address for the centre’s City Ideas Studio, a year-long initiative exploring solutions for creating a sustainable future, Grant suggested the creation of space for nature in urban areas had the potential to play a critical role in creating a sustainable future for cities and the wider environment.

Grant highlighted the challenges already, and increasingly, faced by the world’s communities, including global warming, population growth, mass migration and the gathering pace of species extinction.

In this context, he reminded everyone that the proper integration of green environments into the fabric of cities creates a resource for clean air, water, temperate control and even energy. In addition to these ‘free’ and vital resources, natural spaces would ‘reconnect people with nature, inspiring wonder and creative thought’.

There was no reason, argued Grant, that urban spaces could not be part of the process of ‘re-wilding’ our environment. Introducing species such as otters and beavers back into city ecosystems, as well as playing an important role in sustainability, would serve to nourish people’s imaginations – satisfying a deep placed need for humans to be in nature.

Drawing on Grant Associates’ Gardens by the Bay project in Singapore, Grant demonstrated that ‘city’ and ‘nature’ were not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. He talked about the growing concept in parts of Asia of the ‘city in nature’ rather than the city with token green spaces added as an afterthought. He suggested that, at all costs, we must avoid ‘a vegetation veneer’ approach to greening our cities and that we need more fundamental ground based approach to green infrastructure that creates space for wetlands and substantial areas of large forest trees.

The city in nature concept could be implemented anywhere, said Grant, highlighting the practice’s recent Bristol Harbourside scheme as a local example of reinjecting natural habitats into urban environments.

As well as calling on architects, planners and the wider community to question the current disconnect between cities and nature, people and wildlife, Grant threw a spotlight on the link between local, national and global environments:

“What we do, and how we design, our safe European homes has an impact on the cities and towns being created in the former jungle land of Borneo and vice versa. In our minds, we segment cities/nature; local/global environmental challenges, but it’s all part of the same picture and we need to rethink our whole approach to planning cities and wildspaces as a single entity and not as separate entities.”

“We need to think big and think bold. For example, can we make cities 50% built and 50% nature?”

(Image: Bristol Harbourside)