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The Case for Preserving Spontaneous Nature in Cities

From roadside weeds to accidental gardens, cities are full of significant natural spaces that don’t get their due, argues Matthew Gandy in a new book. 

Park am Gleisdreieck in Berlin incorporates, or even mimics, elements of "wild urban nature" such as wastelands.

Park am Gleisdreieck in Berlin incorporates, or even mimics, elements of "wild urban nature" such as wastelands.

Photographer: Matthew Gandy

When a bomb site in the inner London borough of Islington was set to be turned into offices in the 1970s, Matthew Gandy wrote a letter to the local planning official objecting to the plan. To him, it wasn’t an urban wasteland as planners likely saw it, but a “strange paradise” of magenta rosebay willowherbs and bright yellow ragworts, with bright red cinnabar moths flitting about.

Gandy, now a professor of cultural and environmental geography at the University of Cambridge, was still in primary school. The memory serves as an early inspiration for Gandy’s study of the “unintentional nature” that springs up in urban spaces and is often neglected by humans. That can include everything from wild predators living on the urban fringe, to the unkempt oases that flourish in post-industrial sites, to roadside weeds.