Rewilding: How the Brighton initiatives are giving back

For a long time now, humans have been fed fear. Fear of an ecologically unstable future. Fear of technological developments spiralling out of control, fear of ourselves and how our consumerism has polluted the earth. We spend our days herded from one artificially lit box room to another. We are always being continuously pumped full of normalised horror about our warring species and our dying planet. Some studies even show that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” This fear is making us sick. It is time to start rewilding the city.

And yet despite this, or rather precisely because of it, many humans remain optimistic. Their faith has allowed a new and powerful seed of hope to emerge. As an antidote to dystopian fear, a utopian movement has been growing. Known by different names – solarpunk, rewilding, ecocities, noospheric consciousness, permaculture. This movement is unified by a philosophy of coexisting in harmony with the rest of nature. It paints a picture of the future where rooftop gardens and streetside wildflowers. Vertical farms and renewable energy and efficient public transport turn cities into clean, self-sufficient futuristic paradises. This is possible because humans have culturally shifted to identifying as a heart-centred unified collective rather than disparate mind-centred individuals.

We have been told by the news and media that we are a plague on the planet. In fact we have it in us to be the planet’s saviours.

This utopian solarpunk mindset asks us to humble ourselves and recognise our place within a planetary ecosystem rather than arrogantly assuming we own the planet and can do whatever we want with it as we mercilessly, ignorantly ravage it for resources. As members of the Earthling family the unique gift we contribute is our superior intellect. So for the good of all it is humanity’s duty and our privilege to be guardians of our beloved life-giving planet. We can use creative, artistic, technological innovation led by biomimicry – copying nature’s ingenious designs. Also, we can construct systems that capture earth and the sun’s massive abundant energy and create unlimited clean fuel to build this new Earth.

But how do we get from where we are now – loud, dirty, chaotic cities – to this idealised ecotopian future? In part by recognising how unnatural our world has become and making decisions that lead us back to a more nature-friendly life. The city has domesticated us by cutting us off from nature. Today many people are too hooked on the conveniences and lifestyle of the city. We choose not to give it up for the countryside and the benefits of being close to nature.

But with innovative ecocity designs we can bring nature into our inner cities so we no longer have to choose. Here is where rewilding comes in.

Defined as “conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and wilderness areas’. Rewilding in the city can be as humble as letting the grass grow and allowing wildflowers and pollinators a place in the city. It can also be major redevelopment projects, redesigning entire parts of the city to prioritise natural space, as has been seen in our very own Brighton.

For the last few years Brightonians have watched construction workers redevelop the heart of Brighton. From The Level to the Palace Pier, these have been part of the Valley Gardens project. This transformed the entire city central area from a labyrinth of crisscrossing pavements and busy roads into a beautiful 1.5km public park that acts as a green garden corridor connecting the length of the city.

Before pedestrians had to tiptoe along narrow pavements next to relentlessly busy traffic. Now wildflower meadows, new grass lawns, perennial gardens and generous tree planting have transformed the area into a spacious, pleasurable, peaceful place to walk through. As well as being functional and attractive, the space is now home to over 37,000 new plants. Also, 135 new trees, and countless vital pollinator insects and other animals. The Valley Gardens represents a human-focused approach to city planning, where corporate interest is not prioritised as usual.

This massive and ambitious rewilding project has not only beautified the city and streamlined travel, more than that it now acts as a symbol of how possible it is for humans to peacefully coexist with nature. Rather than uprooting it and building something unnatural we can make space for nature. We can learn from it, grow with it and benefit from it, living happily in harmony. Eating fresh food, breathing clean air, meeting in beautiful public spaces, thriving alongside a living. Loving city instead of surviving in a city that doesn’t care about you.

Brighton is known for its open-minded, forward-thinking culture.

It is no surprise how quickly and successfully our city council has implemented a very futuristic and innovative take on city planning. As Valley Gardens enters its third and final phase this year, we can be grateful to live in a city that is leading the way towards an intentional, natural, holistic future. When we as humans accept that we are one part of a larger whole. We submit our ego to something greater than us, we connect to a web of meaning that stretches beyond our individual self to the infinite cosmos, and we become harmonised with the rhythms of the natural world: cooperation, tranquillity, truth. It may start with rewilding our cities, but the ultimate goal is the rewilding of our hearts. A seed of hope planted in a rewilded heart is an unstoppable force of change.

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