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The Role of Landscape Designers in Rewilding Urban Spaces

1.Introduction: The Transformative Power of Rewilding Urban Spaces

The Rise of Rewilding in Urban Areas

Rewilding is no longer a term confined to vast wilderness areas or remote countryside locations. It’s also making a significant impact right in the heart of our cities. The concept of rewilding urban spaces is gaining traction as a revolutionary approach to revitalise our cities, improve the quality of life, and combat the ongoing climate crisis. From creating green spaces that serve as urban lungs to reintroducing native species that have long been pushed out, urban rewilding projects are reshaping the way we interact with the natural world.

The Pivotal Roles of Landscape Designers and Landscape Architects

This blog aims to delve into the specific roles that landscape designers and landscape architects can play in the burgeoning field of urban rewilding. While both professions fall under the umbrella of landscape architecture, their contributions to rewilding projects can be distinct yet complementary. Whether it’s the meticulous planning of public spaces by landscape architects or the nature-based solutions implemented by landscape designers, these professionals are the unsung heroes turning the biophilic city dream into a reality.

By examining case studies and best practices, we’ll explore how these experts are not only enhancing urban areas but also making a positive impact on cities around the world. So, whether you’re a seasoned professional in landscape design or someone passionate about rewilding Britain and beyond, this blog is your comprehensive guide to understanding the transformative power of rewilding our cities.

Stay tuned as we unpack the complexities and celebrate the successes of rewilding projects, large scale and small, that are making our urban spaces more livable, sustainable, and vibrant.

2. Landscape Design and Landscape Architecture: Definitions and Differences

What is Landscape Design?

Landscape design is a sub-discipline within the broader field of landscape architecture that focuses primarily on the aesthetic arrangement of natural elements. Landscape designers are often responsible for selecting plant species, designing garden layouts, and creating small-scale features like insect hotels that contribute to urban rewilding.

What is Landscape Architecture?

On the other hand, landscape architecture is a more comprehensive field that encompasses the planning, design, management, and nurturing of the natural and built environments. Landscape architects often work on larger projects that involve public spaces, urban areas, and even entire cities. They are instrumental in designing biophilic cities and have a broader scope that often includes regulatory compliance and large-scale environmental impact.

The Distinct Contributions to Rewilding Projects

While both landscape designers and landscape architects can work towards the common goal of rewilding urban spaces, their roles may be quite different. Landscape designers often focus on the micro-aspects, such as the selection of native species or the creation of small wildlife habitats. In contrast, landscape architects might be involved in larger initiatives like transforming an abandoned lot into a thriving wilderness area.

3. The Role of Landscape Designers in Urban Rewilding

The Importance of Native Species Selection

One of the most critical contributions of landscape designers in rewilding projects is the selection of native species. These plants are not only adapted to the local climate but also provide a natural food source for native fauna, thereby enhancing the area’s biodiversity.

Small-Scale Features: Beyond Aesthetics

Landscape designers also excel in creating small-scale features that serve both aesthetic and functional purposes. For example, insect hotels can be both visually appealing and crucial for supporting local insect populations. These small features can have a significant positive impact on the local ecosystem.

Aesthetic Considerations in Rewilding

While the primary focus of rewilding is ecological, the aesthetic element should not be overlooked. Landscape designers bring an artistic touch to rewilding projects, ensuring that the renewed spaces are not only functional but also beautiful.

Further Reading

For more insights into the benefits of rewilding urban spaces, check out our previous blog post that delves deeper into this fascinating subject.

Gerry Maguire Thompson-author-photo-with-book-in-his-hand


Rewilding An Urban Garden: An Illustrated Diary of Nature’s Year

A book by

Gerry Maguire Thompson

Gerry is a successful Irish author, rewilder, humorist and wild gardening consultant.

4. The Role of Landscape Architects in Urban Rewilding

The Multifaceted Contributions of Landscape Architects

Landscape architects play a pivotal role in the rewilding of urban spaces. Unlike landscape designers who often focus on the smaller, more aesthetic elements of a project, landscape architects are usually involved in large-scale planning and execution. Their work often intersects with urban planning and environmental science, making them key players in the rewilding movement.

Large-Scale Planning: A Cornerstone of Urban Rewilding

One of the most significant contributions of landscape architects is their ability to plan and implement rewilding projects on a large scale. They often work in collaboration with city planners, environmentalists, and other stakeholders to transform urban spaces into more sustainable and nature-friendly environments. This large-scale planning can range from creating new public parks filled with native species to restoring entire wilderness areas within a city’s boundaries. Their work aims to improve the quality of life for residents while also making cities more sustainable.

The Importance of Public Spaces in Rewilding

Public spaces are often the focal points for urban rewilding projects, and landscape architects are at the forefront of designing these areas. Whether it’s a small community garden or a large public park, these spaces serve as vital green lungs for cities. Landscape architects ensure that these public spaces are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, serving as habitats for various species and contributing to local biodiversity.

Wilderness Areas: The Ultimate Rewilding Goal

Creating or restoring wilderness areas within urban settings is often considered the pinnacle of rewilding projects. These are spaces where nature is allowed to take its course, with minimal human intervention. Landscape architects are instrumental in the planning and creation of these wilderness areas, ensuring they are sustainable and integrated seamlessly into the urban fabric.

Case Studies: Real-World Impact of Landscape Architects in Rewilding

  1. The High Line in New York City: Originally an abandoned railway line, the High Line was transformed into an elevated park by landscape architects. It’s a prime example of how derelict spaces can be repurposed to create natural thriving ecosystems in the heart of a bustling city.
  2. The Lurie Garden in Chicago: This garden serves as a model for how landscape architects can create balanced ecosystems within urban settings. The Lurie Garden features a mix of native and non-native plants and serves as a sanctuary for local wildlife.
  3. The Eden Project in the UK: This is a more ambitious example involving the transformation of a disused clay pit into a collection of biomes housing plants from around the world, in addition to native species. It’s a testament to the far-reaching impact landscape architects can have on rewilding projects.

For more in-depth information on these case studies, you can visit our case studies section. More in-depth case studies are presented below.

5. Challenges and Solutions in Landscape-Driven Urban Rewilding

Navigating Public Opinion: A Double-Edged Sword

One of the most significant challenges in landscape-driven urban rewilding is public opinion. While many people appreciate the aesthetic and environmental benefits of rewilding, others may resist changes to their familiar urban landscapes. Landscape architects and designers often have to work hard to educate the public on the long-term benefits of rewilding projects, from improving the quality of life to enhancing local biodiversity.

Budget Constraints: The Eternal Hurdle

Another major hurdle is budget constraints. Rewilding projects often require substantial investment, especially in the initial stages. This can be a deterrent for local governments and other stakeholders who are wary of the costs involved. However, it’s crucial to highlight that rewilding can also be cost-effective in the long run. For instance, native species typically require less maintenance than exotic plants, which can result in long-term savings.

Maintenance: The Ongoing Commitment

Rewilding is not a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of project. It requires a degree of ongoing maintenance to ensure that the ecosystems continue to thrive. This is particularly challenging in public spaces and large wilderness areas where human activity can quickly degrade the environment. Landscape designers and architects often incorporate low-maintenance native species and automated irrigation systems to mitigate these challenges.

Solutions and Recommendations

  1. Community Engagement: One effective way to navigate public opinion is through community engagement. Landscape architects can host workshops or public forums to educate people about the benefits of rewilding. This not only helps in gaining public support but also in collecting valuable community input.
  2. Phased Implementation: To overcome budget constraints, landscape designers can propose phased implementation. This allows for smaller, more manageable investments over time and provides the opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact of the project.
  3. Partnerships and Grants: Landscape architects can seek partnerships with environmental organisations like Rewilding Britain to secure additional funding or expertise. Grants from governmental and non-governmental organisations can also be a valuable resource.
  4. Sustainable Design: For maintenance challenges, the key lies in sustainable design. Using native species, installing efficient irrigation systems, and planning for long-term sustainability can significantly reduce maintenance costs and efforts.

By addressing these challenges head-on and offering practical solutions, landscape designers and architects can play a pivotal role in the successful rewilding of urban spaces. For more insights into overcoming rewilding challenges, you can read our comprehensive guide.

6. Case Studies

The High Line, New York City

One of the most iconic examples of urban rewilding is the High Line in New York City. Originally an abandoned railway line, it was transformed into an elevated linear park by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The project incorporates native plants and offers an escape from the urban jungle below, attracting both wildlife and humans alike. The High Line serves as a testament to how landscape architects can turn derelict spaces into thriving natural worlds. For more details, visit the High Line’s official website.

The Barbican Wildlife Garden, London

In the heart of London, the Barbican Wildlife Garden is another excellent example of urban rewilding. Landscape designers collaborated with ecologists to transform a previously unused area into a haven for native species. The garden features insect hotels, bird feeders, and a variety of native plants, serving as a model for how small-scale interventions can have a significant positive impact on local biodiversity. Learn more about the project on the Barbican’s website.

List of Rewilding Projects Around the World

For those interested in exploring more case studies, this external link provides a comprehensive list of rewilding projects around the world, many of which have been significantly influenced by landscape designers and architects.

7. How to Get Involved

For Landscape Designers and Architects

  1. Networking: Join organisations like Rewilding Britain or the Landscape Institute to connect with like-minded professionals and stay updated on upcoming rewilding projects.
  2. Education and Workshops: Offer your expertise in community workshops or online webinars to educate the public and local authorities about the benefits of rewilding.
  3. Collaborate: Partner with local governments, NGOs, and community groups to propose and implement rewilding projects. Your expertise can be invaluable in these settings.

For the General Public

  1. Local Initiatives: Support local rewilding projects by volunteering or donating. Your local community centre or environmental organisation is a good starting point.
  2. Social Media: Follow and share updates from rewilding projects and landscape designers to raise awareness. Use hashtags like #UrbanRewilding, #GreenSpaces, and #LandscapeDesign to spread the word.
  3. Petition and Advocate: If there’s an unused or neglected space in your community, petition your local government to consider a rewilding project. Public support can be a powerful catalyst for change.

By getting involved, whether you’re a professional in the field or a concerned citizen, you can contribute to the rewilding of urban spaces and improve the quality of life for all inhabitants—both human and non-human.

8. Conclusion

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve delved into the transformative roles that landscape designers and landscape architects play in rewilding urban spaces. From small-scale interventions like insect hotels to large-scale public spaces and wilderness areas, these professionals are at the forefront of creating biophilic cities that harmonise with the natural world. Their work not only enhances biodiversity but also significantly improves the quality of life for urban dwellers.

Whether you’re a landscape professional or a concerned citizen, there’s a role for you in this exciting and essential movement. By engaging in urban rewilding projects, we can collectively make our cities more sustainable, more beautiful, and more aligned with the natural ecosystems they replaced. So why wait? Get involved and be part of the change you wish to see.

9. Further Reading and Resources

For those keen to explore this subject further, here are some recommended resources:


  1. “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs: A seminal work that discusses the importance of community-centric urban planning.
  2. “Planting in a Post-Wild World” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: This book focuses on landscape architecture and how to create resilient and beautiful landscapes.


  1. The Rise of Urban Rewilding: An insightful article by National Geographic that delves into various urban rewilding projects around the world.
  2. Why We Need to Bring Nature Back into Cities: A BBC Future article that discusses the positive impact of green spaces in urban areas.


  1. Rewilding Britain: A leading organisation in the field of rewilding, offering a wealth of information and resources.
  2. Landscape Institute: The chartered body for landscape architects, offering news, events, and resources for professionals.

By diving into these resources, you can deepen your understanding of landscape design and urban rewilding, equipping you with the knowledge and inspiration to make a meaningful impact.

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