10 great urban projects for nature – from vertical forests to “gangster garden” | Biodiversity

Mall readers have noticed that wildflowers thrive in urban areas as city councils decide to let the grass grow in the wild. These colorful little spots may seem like a facade in the face of vast decline, but across the world people welcome wildlife in cities, where more than half of us live. Here is a look at 10 of the most exciting and innovative urban biodiversity projects.

1. Vertical forests in Milan

Vegetation shoots from Bosco Verticale in Milan. Photograph: Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images

In Milan’s central business district, two green skyscrapers offer the same amount of vegetation as 30,000 m² of wood, according to architect Stefano Boeri. The Bosco Verticale complex includes two towers 80 and 112 meters (260 and 367 feet) high, 800 trees, 15,000 ground cover plants and 5,000 shrubs, which rest in large tubs on large overhanging balconies. Environmentalists worked to make sure the plants were suitable for the location and they now attract 1,600 species of birds and butterflies, according to Boeri. The towers opened in 2014 and the vegetation is trimmed so as not to obstruct the view for residents. The architect has since created designs to build the first Forest town in Liuzhou, China.

2. Wildlife bridges in Edmonton

Edmonton Forest Fire Bridge
One of a series of bridges and underpasses created in Edmonton, Canada to help wildlife travel safely. Photography: courtesy of Michael Morsillo

Over a dozen bridges and wildlife crossings have been built in the Canadian city of Edmonton to maintain habitat connectivity and reduce conflicts between humans and wildlife. One of the largest is a 30-meter bridge near Big Lake in the northwest of the city, designed to be a corridor for moose and other ungulates. The trees on the bridge provide shelter for the animals as they cross. The smaller bridges include special passes for salamanders and frogs so they can avoid the road as they move between wetlands and forest. Similar crossings have since been built all over the world, including Los Angeles, where the world’s largest wildlife bridge will span the 10-lane 101 Freeway in an effort to protect cougar habitat.

3. Wuhan the “sponge city”

Xinyuexie Park, Wuhan
Xinyuexie Park, Wuhan. Photography: Obermeyer

The now famous city of Wuhan was declared China’s first “sponge city” because of its nature-based approach to flood defenses. Permeable sidewalks, rain gardens, man-made ponds and wetlands have been created throughout the city as environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional flood defenses. The initiative, which included 390 separate projects, began after more than a dozen people died from flooding in Wuhan in 2016. It is believed to have been costly. $ 600million (£ 435million) less than modernizing the city’s drainage system. Wuhan was once known as “the city of a hundred lakes,” but most have been paved as the population grew. There are now more than 30 “sponge cities” in China.

4. Living with wild cats in Cape Town

A caracal prowls over the Cape.
A caracal prowls over the Cape. Photograph: courtesy of Hilton Davies / Urban Caracal Project

Caracals – also known as the desert lynx – are solitary and elusive creatures that are rarely seen but found in many nature reserves in Cape Town, as well as in estates and vineyards. They are the last large predator remaining on the Cape Peninsula. Being hit by a car is believed to be the leading cause of death, causing up to 70% of deaths. Researchers working on the Caracal Urban Project capture, tag and paste individuals to better understand how cats move around the cityscape. Activists collaborated with a local artist to create artwork in hotspots along the road to raise awareness. Caracal road signs have also attracted a lot of attention around Cape Town, although it is not known if this has helped reduce mortality.

5. Citizenship for bees San jose

Curridabat has been transformed from an unremarkable suburb of Costa Rica's capital, San José, into a pioneering refuge for urban wildlife.
Curridabat has been transformed from an unremarkable suburb of Costa Rica’s capital, San José, into a pioneering refuge for urban wildlife. Photograph: courtesy of the Municipality of Curridabat

A suburb of Costa Rica’s capital, San José, granted citizenship to pollinators and native plants in an attempt to create a pioneering refuge for wildlife. The district of Curridabat is now known as “Ciudad Dulce” (sweet town), where widespread planting of native species ensures the prosperity of pollinators. Green spaces are treated as infrastructure and integrated into urban planning. In 2016, Sweet City became public policy, and since then authorities have focused on initiatives such as improving soil health, planting native species, better water management, ease of walking and access to healthy food.

6. Pocket farms in Sydney

Camperdown Urban Community Farm.
Camperdown Urban Community Farm. Photography: Karstu Photography / Alamy

In 2016, a lawn bowling club 3 miles from Sydney CBD was transformed into a city center farm by the Pocket City Farms group. Camperdown is a 1,200 square meter vegetable garden and 16 square meter composting unit, used to grow local organic food and educate people about healthy eating. The farm also has beehives and a greenhouse for seedlings. During confinement, online orders increased from two per fortnight to more than 25 per week. Other community farms in Australia include Sydney City Farm, Green Connect Urban Farm in Wollongong, and Popes Produce, an urban farm in Illawarra.

7. Gray water in Dodoma

Julius Nyerere looks at the transformed plaza that bears his name in Dodoma
Julius Nyerere, first president of independent Tanzania, gazes at the transformed plaza that bears his name in Dodoma. Photograph: Joerg Boethling / Alamy

Gray water is relatively clean water that has been used in kitchen appliances such as washing machines and sinks, but is not clean enough to drink. Recycling this water (which is often wasted) transformed Nyerere Square in the center of the drought-prone capital city of Dodoma, Tanzania. The square was once a large concrete space, but has been transformed into an urban park filled with trees and plants to provide shelter for people and habitat for pollinators. But how do you keep the greenery in such a hot and arid region – using the gray water to irrigate the gardens.

8. The flower meadows in Berlin

Wild bees in Berlin
Of the 300 species of wild bees present in Berlin, more than half are threatened or threatened with extinction. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt / The Guardian

Berlin is creating more than 50 wild gardens at a cost of 1.5 million euros (£ 1.2 million) as part of a larger effort to save biodiversity in Germany. The country is home to 580 species of wild bees, of which 300 are found in Berlin, more than half of which are endangered or in danger of extinction. Over 100 wildflower meadows have been planted in Germany’s largest cities over the past three years, after a Bavarian ‘save the bees’ petition in 2019, which garnered 1.75 million signatures, resulting in most successful event in the history of the southern German region. The petition was created following research in 2017, which showed that Germany had lost 75% of the biomass of flying insects since 1989.

9. Community gardens in Los Angeles

‘Gangsta garden’ in LA. Photograph: courtesy of the Ron Finley Project

The Los Angeles Community Garden Council manages 42 community gardens and provides advice and workshops to 125 others, serving more than 6,000 families. The goal of the project is to connect people from different backgrounds, create sustainable communities and encourage people to eat healthy and fresh food. In traditional gardens, people rent land to feed themselves; in educational gardens, the council educates people about gardening and healthy eating; and on urban farms, volunteers grow vegetables to sell in the market or to give to people in need. One of the main leaders of this movement is ‘gangsta gardener’ Ron Finley of south-central Los Angeles who has traveled extensively to talk about his work and is featured in a 2015 documentary on community gardens titled Can you dig this?. “If you are not a gardener, you are not a gangster,” he said.

10. Peregrine Falcons in London

A peregrine falcon in flight near St Paul's Cathedral.
A peregrine falcon in flight near St Paul’s Cathedral. Photograph: David Tipling / Getty Images

In 2003, the first pair of peregrine falcons attempted to breed in London. Now there are 30 pairs across town. This is thanks to the availability of high-rise buildings where they can nest, an availability of food (pigeons and parquet floors) and the absence of human persecution. The birds are protected by law and maintenance work must be carried out from August to January outside of their breeding season. One of the earliest pilgrim nesting sites in London was the Battersea Power Station. At a cost of over £ 100,000, an alternative birdhouse was created for them atop a specially designed tower as part of the redevelopment. A new permanent nesting box will be built upon completion in 2022. The birds can also be seen on Tate Modern, the Houses of Parliament and Charing Cross Hospital. Several of their nests have webcams in them. London is home to one of the densest peregrine falcon populations in the world.

Find more coverage on the Age of Extinction here and follow the biodiversity journalists Phoebe weston and Patrick greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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