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Rethinking Urban Nature

Final Report Summary - RUN (Rethinking Urban Nature)

The ERC Advanced Grant Rethinking Urban Nature challenges existing understandings of urban nature using an innovative interdisciplinary framework in a comparative international context. The project provides a new conceptual approach that moves beyond existing research to provide a novel synthesis between advances in urban ecology and original insights into cultural, political, and epidemiological dimensions to the production of urban space. The core hypothesis is that in order to understand the dynamics of urban nature we must link the independent agency of nature with a renewed urban political ecology that takes full account of changing conceptions of human subjectivity, the ideological dimensions to scientific metaphors, and the need to develop new critical engagements with the global South.

The project has undertaken primary research in six cities — London, Berlin, Gothenburg, Tallinn, Lahore, and Chennai — and shows that a theoretically nuanced and historically grounded exploration of the intersections between critical urban discourses and recent advances in urban ecology can provide a vital counterpoint to narrowly reductionist or utilitarian approaches to urban nature. In particular, the insights from the project are framed as an alternative to ahistorical or systems-based analytical frameworks that do not situate urban ecology within the wider dynamics of capitalist urbanization or expanded conceptions of non-human agency.

Comparative studies of urban nature reveal a paradoxical set of developments: on the one hand, cities often exhibit elevated levels of biodiversity on account of their diverse biotopes and traces of global connectivity; on the other hand, however, cities are bound up with broader processes that mark a step change in the destructive momentum of recent global environmental change. There is, nonetheless, another dimension to this dynamic in terms of the role of cities as generators of new cultures of nature as reflected in fields such as grassroots scientific practice, ethical debates over relations with the non-human, and experimental aspects to landscape design.

The project has produced four books and over 40 book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed international journals. Further major publications, including research monographs, are under preparation as part of the longer-term project outputs. In addition to academic publications the project has delivered a prize-winning documentary film, two state-of-the-art websites, two popular social media accounts (Twitter and Instagram), and a series of workshops and public events.