Urban parks in densely populated cities are more often the result of decades of meticulous planning than of neglect, but the recent designation of Bucharest’s rich Văcărești wilderness shows that mother nature remains the most powerful landscape architect.
The 183-hectare swath of wetland is actually a bit of abandoned Soviet infrastructure just a 30-minute walk from downtown. It was originally constructed as an artificial lake to connect Bucharest to the river Danube, but the project was abandoned in 1989 following the Romanian revolution.
Surrounded by a high dirt wall, Văcărești was left on its own and naturally transformed into one of the country’s most diverse ecosystems—with meadows, lakes, wetlands, and dense vegetation providing a home to more than 96 bird species, otters, weasels, turtles, and protected fire-belly toads.
“We have no idea how otters arrived in Văcărești,” Dan Bărbulescu, executive director of the Văcărești Nature Park Association, told The Guardian. “But it certainly shows how clear and good quality the water is.”
After four years of lobbying by local groups eager to preserve the area’s remarkable wildlife and greenery, the park was officially designated a “protected nature park” last month, making it one of Europe’s largest urban parks.
It will soon get rangers and other support staff to help manage the land and make it more accessible to the public.