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Putting the human at the centre of urbanisation


Cities and nature was the theme presented by David Cope, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Strategy Director, at our recent “Healthy Cities” Forum on 9th October.

David who is also studying at Cambridge University on a Policy Fellowship described his vision:

'Urbanisation is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. Now half of the world’s population live in cities but by 2050 two thirds of the planet will be urban and the main part of the growth will be in the countries of the Global South. Cities are wonderful places full of innovation, growth, prosperity and stimulation but pollution, isolation, inadequate housing, over-crowding all make them challenging places.”

' We need to re-imagine what it means to live in a city to make the most of urban living. At the core of my thesis is the need to think of cities as a natural environment, not just a built one, so how can we put nature back into our environment. You will see plants and green spaces built in when you look at artists’ impressions of city developments, and I believe a natural city will be a healthier city. Parks provides opportunities for socialising and sport, access to green space is seen as beneficial for mental health, trees can strip pollution out, and nature brings beauty and surprise to everyday lives.”

'Too often nature is just used as a backdrop for cities so we need to work out ways that we can put ourselves back into nature. At Kew we know that our visitors enjoy an emotional relationship with the flowers and plants, and we are also valued as a learning environment about diversity. We do have urban out-reach programmes and projects (Grow Wild) which are based on the simple act of bringing communities together to sow wildflower seeds. To be successful, we must embrace a more natural, engaged city. Around the world populations are drawn together in a drive for prosperity but I want us – in London – to be advocates for ensuring that our lessons in urbanisation can be employed around the world. I’d love to see a development path for new cities where nature and greenery is the heart of the trajectory'.

Kew has also been supporting public art and design. The latest example is The Hive, which was the centre-piece of the UK Pavilion at the last Milan Expo. It was designed by Wolfgang Buttress, and is a fourteen metre cube lattice structure which now sits in the Kew landscape. It has thirty-two hexagonal layers of stacked geometry in the form of a honey comb, with a twist in the aluminium structure that is suggestive of a swarm. Connected to a real bee hive to make real time sights and sounds, it is an experiential space that connects with the life of bees. David commented: “The structure has helped us to tell the story of pollinators and plants, opening people’s minds, opening people’s hearts”.

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