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How WILD should we go? LCC’s Green Week symposium WILD: ReNaturing the City

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Written by
Helen Carney
Published date
08 February 2016

On Wednesday 10 February, LCC hosts the symposium WILD: ReNaturing the City as part of Green Week 2016, which also sees the distribution of the brand new Artefact: The Wild Issue across UAL sites.

The symposium features speakers including Green Candidate for London Mayor 2016 Siân Berry, Rewilding Britain’s Carlo Laurenzi OBE, and Chair of Design for Social Innovation at UAL Ezio Manzini.

Sarah Temple and Tara Hanrahan of the Conscientious Communicators Research Hub introduce the week’s events.

The content of the symposium and magazine will investigate how fundamental Nature is to us all and how our human lives fit into an urban eco-system.

As a part of the natural, physical and material world, we need to continually, intellectually and practically monitor how our actions affect the ecological structure and behaviour of our surroundings.

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Credit: Sunflowers: Supertrees, Gardens by The Bay: Grant Associates, photography Darren Chin. LCC Green Week 2014: Paleo-fitness workshop / Survive exhibition, photography Ana Escobar. Bittern, Bethnal Green: ATM streetart. Inflatables: Active Ingredient. Hackney House: Something & Son.

What if we were all to lead wilder lives? How WILD could we and should we go?

What if we swam in the River Thames, scaled our buildings for sport, cultivated and shared all the food we need within edible city boundaries (instead of shipping everything in), commuted to school and work by bridle paths, met our energy needs with renewable sun and wind power, greened our rooftops for unlimited recreational space and took our medicinal health products from the hedgerows?

Last year we met the inspirational guerrilla geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison, who has an exciting vision for London. Only 18 months ago he initiated the Greater London National Park City initiative – a proposal to make London the first National Park City; a city where people and nature are better connected; a city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors; a city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe and green homes are affordable to all.

We have been fortunate enough to work with Daniel to create the WILD symposium which is populated with an array of pioneering individuals who are working in symbiotic territories, investigating the exciting intersections between Nature, design, technology and urban life.

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Credit: Meerkats project with London Zoo: Knit and Future Cities Catapult. 200 Year Continuum: Christian Kerrigan. National Park City, photography Luke Massey. Bionic City: Melissa Sterry. LCC Green Week 2012: OFF by Elizabeth Bradley, photography Tolga Akmen. Ivy Licking a Frog: Project Wild Thing, photography Jack Barnes.

This has enabled LCC and University of the Arts London to collaborate with geographers, designers, authors, inventors, artists, futurists, explorers, campaigners, planters, planners, technologists and performers for a truly inspirational Green Week event.

Documentary maker and campaigner David Bond:

“London used to be wild. It produced some of the wildest children in human history: Keats, Bowie, Hitchcock, Attlee. But London children are increasingly locked up and sitting staring at screens. If we can re-wild London, we can re-wild London’s children and raise a generation of free-thinking, self-dependent kids.”

Daniel Raven-Ellison of Greater London National Park City initiative:

“At WILD I’m not going to be asking if we should let our cities go wild… I’m going to be asking how wild we should make them. After all, aren’t we all happier when we let ourselves go wild?

“WILD is going to be an emotionally, politically and artistically challenging event. It’s timely, because there is now mounting evidence that renaturing the city can hold solutions not only for nature conservation, but our health and happiness too. With the convening of the experts at this event, I think it could help to make something serious happen…

“By 2050 it is estimated that there will be 9.7 billion people in the world – nearly 3 billion more people competing with wildlife for the Earth’s resources. Over three in four of these people will be living in towns and cities.

“There is increasing evidence that while there are many benefits to living in urban areas, this new urban generation is increasingly disconnected from nature. This disconnect can not only affect the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals, but their likelihood to actively enjoy, invest in and protect nature too. WILD is a unique and timely event to consider how we can start to creatively address this significant challenge.”

Contributors to the WILD: ReNaturing the City symposium include:

Green Candidate for London Mayor 2016 Siân Berry
Sian wants to talk about ‘Your London’ – Giving London back to Londoners. She wishes to empower Londoners to reclaim their city. As Green Mayor she will give people the powers they need to run their own communities as tenants, commuters, pedestrians, parents, children and citizens.

Rewilding Britain’s Carlo Laurenzi OBE, formerly London Wildlife Trust CEO
Carlo will argue that Rewilding is ecological restoration and a little bit more. It’s a journey as much as a destination. It’s about seeing things differently, and taking a new approach to nature and our place in the midst of it. Rewilding is allowing nature to look after itself, helping people to thrive alongside wildlife, securing the good things that nature provides – clean air and water, carbon storage, flood control, amazing experiences.

He is passionate that we can’t build natural processes but we can help them re-assert themselves. For example, by reintroducing missing species. Or by reducing high populations of grazing animals to help woodlands grow. More woodland leads to more insects, more plants, more birds, more animals. Rewilding isn’t an alternative to farming. On the contrary, rewilding can be farming’s greatest ally. Rewilding helps restore nutrients to the soil, provides for pollinating insects, purifies water, reduces flood risk and helps resist droughts. It’s about helping nature, and that can help all of us.

Landscape architect Johanna Gibbons of J & L Gibbons
Johanna’s work, interests and research are from the community nurture of the ruderal assets in Dalston and spontaneous self-seeded urban ecology of Bethnal Green to Capability Brown’s Wilderness at St Johns Cambridge and their collaborative research regarding mental well-being in the city in the context of Ecologies of Addiction.

Design scientist and futurist Melissa Sterry of Bionic City
Melissa’s contribution is entitled ‘Anthropomorphic meets animal architecture’. Her work at Bionic City asks ‘How would Nature design a city?’ and explores the potential of biomimetics, biotechnology and biology in the built environment in the now, near and far future. Melissa is recognised as a world leading authority on the science, technology and thinking that could help build a better world.

Landscape architect Andrew Grant of Grant Associates
Andrew believes that every city should develop ‘Forests of Imagination’. Forests of Imagination reconnect urban populations with the sensory and spatial experiences of wildness and natural phenomena. A fusion of art, science, play and curiosity, they can be permanent interventions in the city or temporary expositions of Nature and human imagination.

Social/environmental designer Andrew Merritt of Something & Son
Andrew is going to explore bringing Nature into the City via design and architecture. His work is rooted in inquisitiveness and experimentation with a passion for socially driven and environmental challenges. A keenness to collaborate has led him to work alongside many different professions including swift experts, mushroom men, scrapyard merchants, farmers, horticulturalists, scientists and sociologists.

Designer Tim Brooke of Future Cities Catapult
Tim believes that we need to go Back to the Future, and that old is the new new. Future Cities Catapult is a Government-supported centre for the advancement of smart cities and he intends to prove that some of our best choices are from a long time ago and far far away…

Nature-based psychotherapist Beth Colliers
Beth will unpick the benefits of Natural therapy and nature within urban lifestyles. Her practice ‘Wild in the City!’ provides opportunities for those living in cities to have greater contact with Nature and benefit from its potential to support well-being.

Radical gardener Richard Reynolds of Guerrilla Gardening
Richard believes long-term determination and citizenship proves that illicit cultivation can plant perceptual change at The Elephant & Castle and beyond.

Artist Rachel Jacobs of Active Ingredient
As part of the artist collective Active Ingredient and in her own independent creative and research work, Rachel explores data, dialogues and participation to reveal invisible, hidden and emotional narratives. Working on city streets, in derelict buildings, industrial spaces, galleries and forests in the UK and internationally to transform environments.

Documentary filmmaker and campaigner David Bond of Green Lions
David asserts that you can market Nature: that it is the ultimate free wonder product. Determined to get his kids out into the outdoors, David appointed himself as the Marketing Director for Nature. With the help of branding and outdoor experts, he developed and launched a nationwide marketing campaign to get children in touch with Nature. He made the film ‘Project Wild Thing’ about the experience, and a movement to rewild childhood, ‘The Wild Network’, has grown up around the film.

Architect, artist and technologist Christian Kerrigan
200 Year Continuum is the overarching title of Christian’s work which explores the possibilities of time in relationship to technology and the Natural world. In his project ‘Growing A Ship In A Yew Forest Over 200 Years’, artificial and wild systems are choreographed, and the natural production of resin is harvested from the yew trees as a way of measuring time.

Chair of Design for Social Innovation at UAL Ezio Manzini
Ezio will present ‘the wild/culture paradox’. He asserts that today, in the anthropocene epoch (an epoch that began when human activities started to have a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems), to give ‘wild’ the opportunity to thrive, we must consciously choose to do it.

To recognise the value of that which has no direct human value implies an intrinsically non-humancentric approach: we must learn to think in a world where non-humans (including those that are not responding directly to human needs), have a reason to exist. The recognition of this is meaningful step towards a radical new culture: a culture of resilience that today, more than ever, is needed.

Ralph Underhill of The Public Interest Research Centre, and author of ‘Common Cause for Nature, Why conservation needs to change’, will chair the Future Feral Debate.

Surrounding the WILD symposium lectures will be a showcase of art installations and performances. Silva + Sajovic will host a performative talk (Eating the Bones) amidst their Five Hundred Flowers and the Mother Plant exhibition. Active Ingredient (in collaboration with Hugo Richards and Natali Tublenchak) and ATM street art will display artworks that respond to the changing urban ecosystem.

Contemporary thought suggests that urbanites have moved away from an understanding and appreciation of Nature and yet it provides us with an incredible access to ‘smart’ information and innovation.

We describe ourselves as creative and yet Nature provides us with quite disconcerting intelligence and scientific innovative opportunity. WILD suggests that as city dwellers we must seek a state of adaptation and balance with our natural surroundings.

WILD proposes that living in harmony with Nature in the city is our new ambition.

This magazine and symposium explore the opportunities we have to celebrate these relationships, asking: How might we biohack our city? How can we rewild modern life? Is Natural selection a design 
process? Is unwilding uncivilized? Can designers and artists co-create 
our future with Nature? Will technology save us? What does a smart city look like? Is our future feral? Are we the regeneration generation?

Words by Sarah Temple and Tara Hanrahan.

Read more and view the programme

Read about Artefact: The Wild Issue

WILD is a Conscientious Communicators Research Hub event and is part of the LCC public programme and Green Week 2016.