About the project

The project Rethinking Urban Nature challenges existing understandings of urban nature by using an innovative interdisciplinary framework in a comparative international context focused on a range of cities in the global North and global South. We develop a new theoretical approach that provides a novel synthesis between advances in urban ecology and original insights into cultural and political dimensions to the production of urban space. A core argument is that in order to understand the dynamics of urban nature we must link the independent agency of nature with a renewed urban environmental history that takes full account of changing conceptions of human and non-human subjectivity, the ideological dimensions to scientific metaphors, and the need to develop new critical engagements with the global South.

The “urban revolution” as originally elaborated by Henri Lefebvre and other scholars in the early 1970s has entered a new phase in the early twenty-first century with over half the world’s population now living in cities. The recent emphasis on Lefebvre’s original distinction between cities and urbanization now includes ecological transformations at a global scale. Urban nature lies at the centre of these developments as a focal point for multiple cultural, political, and scientific discourses ranging from concerns with climate change and public health to the protection of biodiversity. The idea of nature is being reworked to encompass different scales, different processes, and different conceptions of agency and ethical responsibility.

The emphasis of this project is not on produced dimensions to urban nature such as parks or urban infrastructure, which I have explored in my previous work, but on spontaneous forms of urban nature such as wastelands and other marginal spaces that emerge at the intersections between cities and bio-physical processes. In this project I build on existing research interests, which span not just cultural geography, environmental history, and urban studies, but also ecology, entomology, epidemiology, and film studies (including film making). I am developing my growing focus on the independent agency of nature, working with a world-class team of researchers, as part of an ambitious multi-site international project. The research programme uses a wide range of methodological approaches including semi-structured interviews, oral histories, archival sources, ethnographic observations, and site surveys. The project will also utilize novel forms of research dissemination including an exhibition and a documentary film.

Matthew Gandy
Principal Investigator