Nature: The new citizen of our cities


Emily Hamilton, Associate Director of Sustainability for Grosvenor Britain & Ireland shared a blog with Estates Gazette about how the appreciation wildlife is becoming mainstream in light of the Covid-19 crisis

“Look! Look! Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything.” Albert Einstein’s famous words have never seemed more appropriate. If 2019 was the year the world woke up to the climate emergency, then 2020 is the year the world is waking up to the biodiversity crisis. Finally, appreciating wildlife is no longer only for the nature geeks, it’s becoming mainstream. About blooming time too.

Covid-19 is helping us to rediscover and connect with wildlife. It is amazing how much you crave something when it suddenly becomes rationed. With outdoor exercise allowed once a day, people across the world have taken to finding other ways to connect with nature. In cities we might think it would be hardest to find wildlife, but people are becoming creative. Botanists across Europe are chalking up the names of weeds on pavements to educate city dwellers, yet 98% of councils were reported last year to use weedkillers to clean the streets.

We need nature and yet, every day we threaten its very existence with our actions. With environmental enforcement agents sidelined by the pandemic, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is accelerating at its fastest yet. So while there are signs of nature recovery in some places, such as wild boar becoming bolder in Barcelona, we’re simultaneously destroying wildlife too. It doesn’t have to be this way. Across the world there are many initiatives that can help the built environment build back better. Below I’ve collated a few of my favourites.

What a Sweet City

Curridabat, a suburb of San Jose in Costa Rica now known as “Ciudad Dulce”, Sweet City has reimagined itself. Green spaces are treated as infrastructure. Geolocation mapping is used to target reforestation projects at the elderly and children to ensure they benefit from air pollution reduction. The widespread planting of native species means that bio corridors for the city’s pollinators are growing across the city. Curridabat has made nature a citizen of the city.

Wild West End

London already has significant pockets of green space and more trees per head of population than any other European capital, but it’s the connections between these spaces that are important for wildlife. In recent years, common species have been in decline, so a lot more work is needed to protect and support them. The West End’s largest property owners are collaborating to encourage birds, bees and bats back into this part of London and to create connections with nature for residents, visitors and workers to enjoy. These major West End landowners are creating green stepping stones between the existing parkland which surrounds the area by introducing a combination of green roofs, green walls, planters, street trees, flower boxes and pop-up spaces. In doing so they are bringing species such as black redstarts and rare flowers back into the heart of the city.

National Park City

London is officially the world’s first National Park City. The aim is to make London greener, healthier and wilder. Last Sunday, the National Park City Foundation officially launched its rangers programme, having recruited 54 individuals from across London. These rangers will work within their local communities and across the capital on projects to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. This will include scaling up green initiatives, running education programmes, improving access to green and blue space, inspiring Londoners to eat better and get outside to exercise and have fun.

A time to learn

So what can the property sector learn from these initiatives?

  1. We must prioritise nature-based solutions and a landscape-led approach in development so the landscape drives the layout of the buildings.
  2. Develop a biodiversity action plan. Work out which habitats to prioritise for key species in your area.
  3. Check if you are using a weedkiller to clean the public realm. Leave patches of wildflowers and weeds – they are great for bees and other insects.
  4. Create more bio corridors, including using sustainable urban drainage systems.
  5. Incorporate more greening into our workplace, through plants, food growing and perhaps even some birdsong.

At Grosvenor we are cultivating a conversation about how we #BounceForward from Covid-19 and accelerate the green agenda. For us, sustainability and economic recovery are intrinsically linked. If humans and nature are to thrive in our cities, we need to invest in nature-based solutions and tackle the climate and ecological crises together.

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