In recent years, the mobilisation of ‘nature’ within urban planning and design has taken a shift. The language of green ‘spaces’ - parks, gardens and so on - has been replaced by that of green ‘infrastructures’, as an understanding of the importance of plant life to health, climate adaptation and food security has entered mainstream planning thinking. In the context of these intersecting crises, this project will reveal how changing imaginaries of urban natures stage new forms of publicness, and interrogate the more-than-human political endeavours they entail.
As philosopher Emanuele Coccia (2018) argues, plants are not just ‘in’ space but construct reality itself, via their production of a shared, breathable atmosphere. How do their configurations, then, shape the way we experience ourselves and one another in the urban public realm?
Paris is an ideal territory to illustrate this shift. Whilst its grand, symmetrical gardens were conceived as a spectacle of the ordering (or indeed domination) of nature by ‘man’, its mayor Anne Hidalgo is now proposing to rip up symbolic public spaces and ‘rewild’ them as urban forests, acting as working infrastructures to fight the effects of excessive heat. This represents a transformation in the design and political mobilisation of urban natures, but also in ideas of the urban public. Tamed rows of topiary were produced as a passive stage for the bourgeois performance of the ‘promenade’, whereas rewilding could be seen as a counterclaim for the political participation of non-human life on its own terms. Meanwhile, in London, productive ecologies like allotments and rural commons, with marginalised political histories, are seeing mainstream acceptance in new urban design.