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UK researchers reveal true urban grassroots greening

  • Subject: [cg] UK researchers reveal true urban grassroots greening
  • From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 18:16:14 -0800 (PST)

From the Economic & Social Research Council (UK)

How city dwellers and living things put the green into
our urban open spaces

Urban planners must recognise that green spaces are
not produced by professional designers alone, but by
ordinary residents and all manner of plants and
insects, animals and birds making themselves at home
in our cities and towns, says new research sponsored
by the ESRC.

 What makes urban green spaces green is that they are
'living' - and it is this 'more-than-human'
interactivity that is key to understanding what makes
cities habitable, argues the study led by Professor
Sarah Whatmore of the University of Oxford and Dr
Steve Hinchliffe at the Open University. 

Over the past decade, the ecology of the UK's urban
areas has gained the kind of conservation significance
once reserved for rural and sparsely populated
regions. Scientists now recognise that cities sustain
important 'communities' of plants and animals drawn
together from many different routes and places. Urban
wildlife groups, amateur naturalists and voluntary
organisations have been key players in bringing about
this change of emphasis. 

For the study, researchers investigated cultivation,
conservation and restoration activities in the
allotments, woods and brownfield sites of Birmingham
and Bristol, including producing 60 hours of video
footage recording social and ecological changes
through the year. Their report describes in detail,
among other things, the benefits of interaction
between people, creatures and plants in activities
such as allotment gardening, hedge-laying and

Professor Whatmore said: "Our research has highlighted
the ecological and social diversity of urban
landscapes, tracking some of the flora and fauna of
cities. These plants and animals are not only valuable
in conservation terms - some of Britain's rarest
species, like water vole and Black Redstarts, live in
cities - they are also key components of urban life.
Whether rare or abundant, people put a lot into and
take a lot of pleasure from urban green spaces." 

Importantly, researchers found a great variety of
ecological expertise among residents' groups;
allotment associations, and others such as wildlife
groups, including practical skills and local knowledge
picked up through everyday observations, acquired
know-how and shared enthusiasms. As a result, their
report calls for a 'redistribution of expertise' to
ensure that valuable local skills and knowledge are
tapped by scientists and planning authorities
responsible for green spaces.

 Among examples of local action they describe are an
informal group of Birmingham residents fighting
alongside a wildlife trust to save a site threatened
by fly-tipping, off-road driving and dog walking.
Others include a project aimed at working with a local
community to make better use of community gardens,
many of which have been long abandoned and are a
danger to public health. And they cite examples of
people who organise regular wildlife surveys and
clean-ups in their local woods. 

A forum entitled 'Living cities: a new agenda for
urban natures', was staged by the research team in
December, 2003. It was favourably received by
participants as a rare opportunity for people making
decisions at national and city level to talk
face-to-face with local residents' and activists'

Professor Whatmore said: "This project has
strengthened our grasp of the practical know-how,
passionate enthusiasm and ecological concern that city
residents bring to bear in creating various kinds of
urban green space. "And our findings challenge policy
makers and scientists to engage the knowledge of
ordinary local people more constructively in the


Contact: Becky Gammon becky.gammon@esrc.ac.uk 

Professor Sarah Whatmore: sarah.whatmore@ouce.ox.ac.uk
Dr Steve Hinchliffe: s.j.hinchliffe@open.ac.uk

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