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Reimagining the "urban nature" concept: Ecological restoration through a new process of urbanization

Authors: Stephen Leitheiser, Anne Poggenpohl, Ella Schabram, Louis Schreel, Maria José de Villafranca

Abstract: The modern city is littered with contradiction. Humanity has developed a system of urbanization, which has the ability to create awe-inspiring structures and networks. Vast urban expanses stem from mountain-like centers of social and economic power where society’s remarkable ingenuity and problem-solving adeptness are on full display. The contradiction lies on the fringe of these urban centers—spaces, which are commonly plagued by structural decay, poverty and pollution. The current process of urbanization is arguably the largest overall contributor to ecological degradation (mass extinctions, climate change, etc.). The proposed solutions revolve mainly around protection (as in legally protected areas). These solutions rest on a conception of nature as an object, in the etymological sense of the original objectus: something that is exterior and independent of humans, and which now should be protected from them so as to survive. We present, therefore a seemingly strange proposal: Urban Wilderness (URWI). By connecting two seemingly opposite realms, the concept challenges the premise of urbanization by reframing it around the reinstitution of nature. Our process is grounded on the main idea that humans are not separate from nature, but that we are of it. To put this idea into practice, we propose a process which democratically lends a voice to nature itself and is based around the following principles of Accessibility, Unity, Diversity and Cyclicity. We have produced a plan for how this process could begin to be put into motion locally, on a brownfield site in the Ruhrgebiet.