Matthew Gandy Introduction

The artist Lucian Freud is perhaps best known for his striking figurative representations of the human body. In the recent retrospective of his work held at the Tate Gallery in London, however, we find an intriguing exception to these studio portraits represented by a painting entitled Wasteground with Houses, Paddington (1970-2). This intricate tableau, which reveals a remarkable glimpse of London from the window of his studio, is framed by the rear elevation of a typical Victorian terrace. The drab greyish-brown brickwork and stained cornices are enlivened by ranks of chimney stacks with their jumble of fulvous earthenware chimney pots. Cutting through the middle of the scene is a mews of former stables now appropriately converted into a row of smart garages and in the foreground is an expanse of rubble-strewn waste ground. Despite the twisted remains of abandoned furniture and rusted metal this former bomb site is now brimming with botanical interest: the faded spikes of the ubiquitous Buddleia davidii are interspersed with other characteristic colonizers of London's post-war landscape such as ground-elder Aegopodium podagraria and rosebay willowherb Chamaenerion angustifolium. This, then, is an urban landscape, a seemingly unremarkable fragment of urban nature yet a critical reminder of the intricate combination of nature and human artifice which has produced urban space. An "urban ecology" is by definition a human ecology and is no more or less "natural" than any other kind of modern landscape whether it be a managed fragment of wild nature in a national park or those accidental pockets of nature of the type that Freud observed from the window of his studio in West London.

The interaction between nature and the modern city raises a series of conceptual complexities. If we understand the city to be a special kind of nodal point within an extending hyphal mesh of urbanization this still leaves the idea of urban nature as a somewhat ill-defined entity. The urbanization of nature, a transformation that has gained accelerated momentum over the last few decades, is clearly much more than a gradual process of appropriation until the last vestiges of "first nature" have disappeared. The production of urban nature is a simultaneous process of social and bio-physical change in which new kinds of spaces are created and destroyed, ranging from the technological networks that give sustenance to the modern city to new appropriations of nature within the urban landscape. The word "nature" is used here to encompass two somewhat different clusters of ideas: on the one hand, the term nature is used to denote a menagerie of concrete forms ranging from the human body to parks, gardens or complete ecosystems; and on the other hand, nature is evoked as an ideological and metaphorical schema for the interpretation of reality. In practice, however, these abstract and concrete elements are often interwoven to produce a densely packed urban discourse within which the origins and implications of different conceptions of nature are often afforded only cursory reflection.

The rise of the modern industrial city necessitated a refashioning of relations between nature and culture. Yet to refer to this transformation simply as the production of "urban nature" does not fully capture the complexity of this transition. The term "metropolitan nature" is probably more apposite since it can be deployed to signal recognition of the specific ways in which cultures of nature evolved in response to the socio-economic development and technological complexity of the modern city (see, for example, Green 1990). The urbanization of nature—and the concomitant rise of a metropolitan sensibility towards nature—encompasses not just new approaches to the technical management of urban space such as improved housing and sanitation but also extends to different kinds of cultural interactions with nature as a source of leisure. The transformation of nature in the modern city thus extends from new modes of urban governance or "governmentality" to use Foucault's term to changing modes of cultural perception so that both the strategies and techniques of negotiating urban space become inseparable.

Conceptions of the modern city have often been framed in terms of degrees of deviation from a supposed "natural" mode of living or in terms of analogies made with the body of a living organism. Ideas drawn from nature have played a significant role in developing an "ecological imaginary" in which ideas or metaphors drawn from the biophysical and medical sciences have been used to understand the form and function of the modern city. The dynamics of urban change have been conceived, for example, in terms of processes such as ecological succession, the metabolic transmutation of nature or even the post-industrial impetus towards putrescence and decay. Underlying many formulations of the ecological imaginary, however, there is an implicit naturalization of urban processes so that urbanization is no longer conceived as the outcome of historical change but rather as a cyclical dynamic alterable through technological modifications rather than by political contestation. By developing a conception of urban nature as a medley of different elements we can begin to critically dissect some of the nature-based metaphors which have played such an influential role in the development of critical urban discourse. This chapter seeks, therefore, to explore a hiatus between the conceptual stasis emanating from organicist conceptions of urban form and an alternative set of readings of urban space which place greater emphasis on the malleable, indeterminate and historically specific dimensions to the urban experience.

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