Last week I happened upon an exhibition: La Ville Fertile: vers une nature urbaine (The Fertile City: Greening Urban Environments), which shared much with a TIBG paper on “Geographies of environmental restoration” (Smith, 2012). The exhibition presented a number of urban planning initiatives that have sought to create a semiotic relationship between the man-made city and nature, showing how landscape architects have attempted to restore nature (through images of forest, prairie, wasteland and riverbank) back in the urban landscape. The visual displays drew from sixteen world case studies and considered various themes including space, time and ecosystems.
Reading Smith’s essay on environmental restoration (the practice of assisting ecosystem recovery), the two sources clearly complement one another. Smith draws on the relationship between nature and culture in restoration theory, while the exhibition showed this through actual examples. Similarly, Smith’s nuanced approach to the field reveals how geographers have been interested in the restoration of nature by natural processes, as well as restoration of social ties with nature. Within the exhibition, plant life was shown to be capable of renewing nature in man-made cities, while a US project ‘Greening of Detroit’, emphasised how environmental development programmes, tree planting projects and urban agriculture can foster ongoing social ties between inhabitants of the city, and nature.
Smith’s essay enabled me to contextualise the discourses of restoration presented in the exhibition: to recognise their inter-relationship with geography, to situate such projects in cultural, socio-economic and political contexts, and to challenge the meaning of nature as it was used in the various examples.
La Ville Fertile is currently on display in a number of locations across France, but details are also available online, as is further information from the various projects illustrated.
Smith, L. (2012) Geographies of environmental restoration: a human geography critique of restored nature. Transactions of the Institute of Human Geographers.
Some of the projects illustrated in the exhibition: