Examples of the multiple ways in which nature can be brought back into urban environments. Clockwise from to left: ‘The Living Pavilion’ was a recyclable, biodegradable, edible and biodiverse event space that took place at the University of Melbourne, Australia. It was an Indigenous-led platform for revealing and celebrating past, current and future ecologies as well as hosting events and performances by local Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, artists, knowledge-sharers and scientists (Photo by Tanja Beer); the kaka parrot Nestor meridionalis, which was successful reintroduced to the urban ecosanctuary Zealandia, has colonised and is thriving in adjacent urban areas of Wellington, New Zealand (Photo CC license – sandwichgirl @ Flickr); an indigenous sweet bee (Lasioglossum sp.) collecting pollen from the non-native cape dandelion (Arctotheca calendula) in a patch of disturbed inner-city public lawn in Melbourne, Australia (Photo by Luis Mata); the residential apartment buildings of the project ‘Bosco Verticale’ (vertical forest) in Milan, Italy is an example of how architects are responding to the challenge of providing habitat for plants and animals in urban environments (Photo by Kent Wang); a group of citizen scientists recording plant-pollinator interactions in one of Westgate Park’s (Melbourne, Australia) ‘Pollinator Observatories’, as part of the park’s reconnecting with nature program (Photo by Luis Mata); members of the public engaging with ‘Refugium’, an ecoscenography participatory event that created a bush refuge for people and other species in the heart of Melbourne, Australia. The event included workshops to make ‘kokedamas’, a technique consisting of wrapping plants in moss and string to transform them into sculptural art pieces (Photo by Tanja Beer).

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Caring for nature, including people, all other species and the natural environment in which they live, is and has always been a core value to local and Indigenous cultures, and has more recently become part of the urban sustainability agenda. Understanding of the wide range of benefits provided by nature – and the recognition of how colonial settlements and uncontrolled urban growth have weakened nature’s capacity to thrive in cities – are generating an awareness of the importance of protecting nature in urban environments. Not surprisingly, researchers and practitioners have been exploring how best to manage existing nature in cities to provide positive results for people and other species.

Bringing nature back into cities is an emerging pathway of research and practice that advocates for the return of nature into urban environments. It embodies actions that encourage the return of locally native species to areas within cities where they are rare or locally extinct. As such it is often a key feature of urban sustainability (e.g. urban greening) and conservation (e.g. ecological restoration) approaches.

We present perspectives on seven key areas needed to fully unlock the potential of bringing nature back into cities. Specifically, we argue that (1) the sovereignty of local and Indigenous knowledge-systems be acknowledged and respected; (2) the choice of actions to bring nature back should be driven by an inclusive decision-making process; (3) key advances in the field of ecology would need to be considered to facilitate the return of nature into cities; (4) established communication theories can help us understand how actions to bring nature back spread throughout social networks; (5) built-environment professionals can help demonstrate to clients, research institutions and local governments the value of urban infrastructure for bringing nature back into cities; (6) long-term research needs to be established to provide evidence of the benefits of actions to bring nature back; and (7) solutions need to be brought forward to address concerns about potential risks associated with bringing nature back actions.

We hope our perspectives provide energy and encouragement for individuals, communities and organisations to think creatively about the ways in which rare and locally extinct species can be brought back into urban environments. We believe that bringing nature back into cities has the potential to become a vital dimension of the 21st century’s urban-sustainability agenda upon which future generations of city-dwellers rely.