nature // wildness // environment // children // urban change

Urban Wildness sought to engage children with wild nature in cities. A lack of meaningful encounters with local biodiversity at an early age limits the inner necessity to experience the outdoors and negatively shapes environmental attitudes later in life. Yet wild nature nearby home is an accessible resource to replenish deficits in knowledge and experience. An experimental workshop format took place in Floridsdorf, Vienna in June 2016. In play, storytelling and drawing, a sense of wonder and connectedness is rekindled to replace irrational fears and naïve beliefs. By seeing through the uninhibited eyes of children, parental presumptions about the permissible ways of interaction with nature in urban settings were also addressed. Urban wildness is seen as an experimental space to trigger a different perception of the environment and encourage healthier interactions with those around us.

The objective underlying the artistic concept was to encourage positive perceptions of the voids and overlaps in the man-made and the natural fabric of the city by engaging children with wild nature in urban settings. By introducing nearby wildness as a place of biodiversity, spontaneity, freedom and dynamic ecological adaptation, the universal issues of the urban-natural continuum are brought to the attention of the local community. Through the action, wild nature nearby home is depicted as an accessible resource to replenish deficits in knowledge and experience, and the role of everyday contact with nature is highlighted. Whether a difference is made between cultivated and wild nature is also questioned. A more balanced connection with living nature is sought to replace irrational beliefs, fears and naïve misconceptions. Furthermore, parental boundaries and presumptions about the admissible and beneficial ways of experiencing nature in urban settings are addressed. Is a child’s perception already burdened by negative notions of uselessness, ugliness, neglect? Or, rather, an attitude of “taking care” of the environment is observed regardless of which nature is being addressed? By channeling the sharpened senses and curiosity for the world characteristic of early age, the project takes both children and parents on an exploratory journey through new territories and new mindscapes. Urban wildness is seen as an experimental space to promote a different environmental consciousness and trigger more mindful and healthier interpersonal interactions. Ultimately, the way we connect with our surroundings is the way we connect with each other.

We employed participatory visual tools, performance and storytelling based on scientific, ecological, humanistic and symbolic values and beyond traditional environmental education and awareness approaches. In order to preserve and develop senses to perceive and abilities to understand everyday urban wildness, the objective was undertaken to create a multilayered experience and stimulate positive recollection of the particular space and time spent there. The action was planned based on previous findings that the reutilization of urban wildness areas relies on accessibility, versatile recreational uses, better understanding of the site and a sense of safety. The positive perception of and preferences for both urban green spaces and wildness areas are triggered by certain features, such as degree of canopy closure, artificiality, prospect (panorama) and refuge, beauty and accessibility. A workshop format was developed around a location-specific storyline with contributions by Jan Phillip Ley and Cosima Terrasse. The narrative was sustained by a number of creative tasks designed to enhance the semi-fictional imagery and engage children with the nature in the park where they usually play as well as to introduce them to the variety of trees that grow on the other side, in the abandoned wildness. The image of the park as a familiar, home-like place was juxtaposed to the yet to be explored wildness host to a different set of vegetation, in order to recreate the picture of the diversity of nature contained in such a small area. Children collaborated to the storytelling by taking part in the pre-designed activities. The overall reception, level of interest, participation and attention during the workshop were positive. A good balance was achieved between storytelling and activities. Upon further improvement and experimentation, the urban wildness format could create opportunities for creative collaboration and rewarding interactions between artists, authors, scientists, educators, and local communities.