Until the 1980s, what is now Is-Simar wildlife sanctuary in Malta was a marshy area used as a dump. Back in 1995, BirdLife Malta took it under their wing (ahem!) and transformed this wasteland into a beautifully yet naturally sculpted wetland area where urban folk can come and enjoy the birds. It’s just a tad surreal. Within minutes of walking through the main gates, we were enveloped in greenery, completely hidden from the outside world. Strolling along the pathway that encircles the sanctuary, our view of reality was shielded by bamboo fences as birds and traffic vied for airtime.
Walking beneath the man-made arbors, the sounds of traffic filtered through the trees reminding us that we were in fact in an urban area, and not, as we might have thought, in the heart of the countryside. It took a little getting used to. Looking out through the narrow slits of windows in the hide, we watched the birds cavorting, oblivious to the fact that where they now lived was once a dump or that just yards from the edge of their world, life was moving at a different pace. Would all such areas be reclaimed.
Across the Atlantic, in the Portland/Vancouver area of Washington State, the Urban Greenspaces Insitute has as its motto: In livable cites is preservation of the wild. I am reminded of Budapest last year when local councils wanted to lob down trees to make room for more parking spaces. There’s something not quite right with that picture.
Instead of laying down an arbitrary design for a region, it might be in order to find a plan that nature has already laid down…a regional design of streams and valleys that provide superb natural connectors, into the very heart of the urban area. Where continuity has been broken, the pieces should be reclaimed wherever it is at all possible. ~ William H. Whyte, The Last Landscape, 1968