Framing wilderness: the view from the city

Oropallo, Gabriele (2021) Framing wilderness: the view from the city. In: Design and Mutations: Processes for the Continuous Transformation of the City. Bononia University Press, Bolognia. ISBN 9788869237614


In the spring of 2020, as cities worldwide entered lockdowns implemented to curb the spread of SARS‐CoV‐2, images of wildlife reclaiming urban spaces and other anthropized areas left temporarily vacant started making the rounds in mass and social media. These spectacular images and the attendant stories of “resurgent natures” rekindled the conversation on the space for wildlife within the urban constellation. The very terms of this conversation position wilderness and urbanisation in opposition with each other, or at least at the opposite ends of a spatial continuum. Yet, a crop of recent literature in urban studies highlight the level of intermingling between global history and natural history.

This essay is a foray into the history of wilderness as cultural byproduct of urbanisation. Nature has been described as the result of a mediated, designed gaze at the world, or as a “mystified anthropocentric ideal.” This relationship is established through a culturally framed view. Accordingly, the essay argues for an understanding of the city as a viewing device. Moving along a landscape for the first time will continuously provide the observer with multiple, unexpected viewpoints. In their stead, the city as a viewing device returns outlooks that reflect and document intention. This design endeavour charts the environment and overlays a normative grid on it. In the process, the open territory is thus turned from a potentially life-threatening wandering into a navigable spatial arrangement of resources.

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