We helped create a ten-year vision for transforming East London through urban wilding, as part of a project initiated by EdenLAB, in association with Eden Project. Umbrellium founder, Usman Haque, was creative director of the overall project, while Umbrellium's role was to develop a Digital Masterplan designed to support urban wilding.
From 2020 to 2021 we worked with the EdenLAB team and a number of organisations around East London to develop a transformative vision for the area, focused on re-connecting people and the natural environment. Our work was sited at Royal Docks, London, and although the project was not taken through to the implementation stage, much of the learning can be applied to other urban contexts. The details of our work on Re:Wild Royal Docks remains confidential and so the description below is high level, but get in touch to discuss what we learned through the project.
Successful deployment requires an integrated, holistic and inclusive approach to everything from buildings, parks and public spaces to homes, balconies and waterfronts — and even the concept of non-human citizenship. An integrated digital masterplan based around rewilding can help tackle all these challenges.
Re:Wild Royal Docks Digital Masterplan
The Digital Masterplan was designed to support the overall project strategy: combining greening the urban landscape and improving biodiversity with a participatory approach to rewilding. The goal of the project was to get people actively involved in making decisions about green spaces and systems, while feeling a little 'wild' themselves. Our Re:Wild Royal Docks Digital Masterplan was developed to transform how local residents relate to each other and the natural environment, and empower them to make simple changes to their homes and neighbourhoods that improve environmental and sustainability factors, built around technology infrastructure for connecting together humans and non-humans.
The base layer of the proposed masterplan was to instrument the landscape, non-human species and natural environments through sensor networks and monitoring stations, gathering data in order to provide a means for observing patterns of activity, interaction and response. This would contribute both to real-time data repositories as well as to a long-term register of local non-human species, natural systems and ecosystems (so that, for example, tree-planting schedules could support monitoring development, growth and change over the entire lifetime of a tree, and feed into air quality impact assessment for individual trees).
This would be augmented by a second layer of interventions in the landscape that would enable members of the public (and, for example, students from nearby schools) to observe and 'listen in' on what was going on, beyond their usual thresholds of perception (e.g. visualising or sonifying real-time data and other augmented reality interfaces). Building on this active observation, and tied into design, technology and sustainability curricula, people would be able to contribute to making sense of the observations and (albeit in an anthropocentric way) give a "voice" to the non-human species around them throughout a set of activities that would generate additional multi-layered subjective metadata for the datasets.
Finally, a third layer would integrate this sense-making approach with artificial intelligence pattern-recognition and creation, in order to combine human, non-human and synthetic systems into a collective-intelligence infrastructure. This would be manifested in an immersive and interactive physical space, connected both to the on-site network as well as sensor networks and environments throughout the borough. This space was designed to host local residents, community groups and businesses making collective decisions on key issues to do with the Climate Emergency, informed by real-time environmental data and input from non-human neighbours. In contrast to typical "smart city operations centres" that centralise surveillance and control, this would be an open space for discussion, deliberation and decision-making, uniting both humans and non-humans.