Re-naturing cities

Dr Mary Gearey, Research Fellow in our school, joined 40 other British and Brazilian researchers for a four day, Newton funded workshop in July, exploring methods, strategies and theories in support of ‘re-naturing cities’. The event was held in Goiania, Brazil, Mary tells us more about it here.

The Newton funded workshop brought together researchers from a wide range of disciplines including Architecture, Ecology, Public Health, Urban Planning, Human Geography, Soil Science and Land Management to share expertise around developing green infrastructure in highly dense urban spaces. My work on public perceptions in support of urban wetlands expansion contributed to a series of round-table seminars which explored a wide range of subjects from improving green roof structures to expand biodiversity, to extending community participation in developing public spaces through growing fruit, vegetables and flowers in street side rain gardens.

Complementing existing ‘grey’ infrastructure – the buildings, roads, transport networks which are the fundamentals of city spaces – with ‘green’ infrastructure – city parks, tree lined greenway cycle paths and wilder areas such as urban wetlands – offers urban dwellers the chance to improve their health and well-being in a range of ways. From cooling down the ‘heat island’ effect of cities, both now and with a view to future climate change impacts, as well as improving air and water quality, expanding nature into cities via urban parks, green ‘wedges’ of land set aside for plants and trees and softening buildings through living walls and mobile gardens housed in skips, offers city dwellers a respite from noise and traffic fumes and improves access to nature for everyone, not just wealthier residents.

This Newton funded workshop has demonstrated that the research I currently undertake within SET exploring the value of wetlands for local communities as part of a Natural England Research Council (NERC) project alongside Professors Neil Ravenscroft and Andrew Church has an international resonance and impact, and highlights the wonderfully diverse range of work undertaken by University of Brighton researchers.

This is my second time in Brazil, disseminating and undertaking research on behalf of SET and the University of Brighton. In November I worked with Physical Geographers at UNIVALI University in the South of the country, supported by a Santander Bank travel grant.

Both times in Brazil I’ve got close up and personal with the wildlife; last time it was a surprise encounter with a rainforest bush rat in a rangers’ toilet, this time with this very cute monkey (pictured). We found him in our hosts’ campus at the Federal University of Goias and thought he was adorable, rolling around on the floor and clapping his hands– until we discovered he was working a con act with another monkey who was going through people’s bags searching for food when we were distracted. What a cheeky monkey!

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