19th October 2021

Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened global focus on rewilding our urban spaces

Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened global focus on rewilding our urban spaces
The pandemic and the aftermath that followed forced policymakers and business leaders to reassess what global recovery and 'new normal' could look like as large parts of the world's rural economies are undertaking significant shifts in how land is used.

These shifts may ultimately influence how and where people live and have an impact on the real estate industry. As part of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World's newly-launched Sustainability series, we explored the practice of rewilding, which is frequently carried out in rural areas.

It can be defined as restoring an area of land to its natural and uncultivated condition to enable natural processes to repair damaged ecosystems. Now cities across the globe are working to "rewild" their own communities by incorporating new elements of green and eco-friendly architecture and design.

Between 2001 and 2017, the US alone lost 24 million acres of natural area— or the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks — largely due to housing sprawl, agriculture, and energy development, according to a 2019 Reuters report. Every day, 6,000 acres of open space — parks, forests, farms, grasslands, ranches, streams, and rivers — are converted for other uses.

City planners have realized rewilding urban areas can incorporate both the old and the new, allowing wildness to reclaim a patch of land or using innovative architecture, such as building new parks on empty lots, incorporating more biophilic design when creating new structures, or green walls — growing fauna on the facades of buildings. A major draw to rewilding in urban areas is the proven positive impact of nature on our health and wellbeing, particularly for cities with less access to outdoor spaces.

In Barcelona, when the city emerged from its six-week lockdown last April, they found their parks bursting with wildlife. In May and June of 2020, there were significant increases in biodiversity in the city: 28% more species per park overall, 74% more butterflies, and an explosion of plant growth that supplied more insects for birds to feed on. Inspired by these changes, despite having difficulty implementing rewilding efforts in previous years, Barcelona is now planning 49,000 square meters of "greened" streets. In addition, beehives and ?insect hotels? have been created throughout the city, as well as 200 bird- and bat-nesting towers to encourage biodiversity.

In Singapore there has been a tangible effort to increase quality of life and restore native vegetation by taking it from a "Garden city" to a "City in a Garden". Along Marina Bay, 18 Supertrees have been dispersed throughout the landscape, some as high as 160 feet; while not living things themselves, the trees are home to over 158,000 plants and mimic the functions of regular trees by providing shade, filtering rainwater and absorbing heat.

And in the UK, with the number of empty shops on high streets at the highest level in six years, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has proposed a new vision for the now-empty Broadmarsh shopping centre in the city of Nottingham: an urban oasis of woodland, wetlands and wildflower meadows was submitted in December. Replacing six acres of unused development could set a precedent for how such spaces are repurposed in the future.

Australia is considered a world leader the biophilic cities movement — a different design approach that brings nature and urban life together by encouraging native species and making even the densest spaces more wild. The government of New South Whales has outlined the benefits of bringing nature into cities — for human health, improved property values, and resilience against the effects of climate change — by creating more green infrastructure.

We?ve also seen the cities of Frankfurt, and Dessau, Germany agreeing to set aside plots ? such as the sites of former buildings, parks and vacant lots where nature will be allowed to take over. The resulting wildflower gardens and untamed nature will create new habitats for plant and animal species. Since the project's onset in 2016, The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Federal Ministry for the Environment have already reported greater drought tolerance of these areas and increases in the number of butterflies, bees, birds, butterflies, and hedgehogs.

As rapid climate change creates more frequent extreme weather, many cities are addressing the problem of increased flooding. Haerbin, the capital of China's northernmost province, which sees 60-70% of its annual precipitation from June-August, has taken a creative approach: fostering a wetland in the middle of the city.

The pandemic forced communities to take time away from their busy day-to-day work lives and offices. This period of reflection has created a new sense of purpose around sustainability and global wellbeing. I predict we will see many more exciting rewilding initiatives adopted by governments in global urban centers over the next 12 months.

LeadingRE has launched The LeadingRE Sustainable Series, a campaign designed to shine a light on the newest sustainable properties, technology, initiatives, policy, and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in the global real estate industry. Each quarter, LeadingRE and its global network of 550 member firms in over 70 countries, will focus on a different segment of worldwide real estate and take a closer look at sustainability within, highlighting some of the most forward-thinking environmental features from around the world.