Speaking of the green latticework, yesterday's New York Times House & Home section featured an article on parks designed to seem like wild nature in the midst of the city. Such spaces speak to a romantic nostalgia for an elusive, untrammeled nature, and perhaps more profound needs for connection to the earth. In the midst of the built environment, even small "wild" parks can have a restorative effect on all sorts of city-dwellers:
"There is a voracious appetite for parks that are vigorous, robust places, that provide the kind of complexity that only nature gives you," said Michael Van Valkenburgh, the landscape architect heading the master plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park, which will reclaim parts of the East River's buried shoreline.
Construction is still at least three years away. But Mr. Van Valkenburgh recalled the passion of community meetings, which started back in 1998.
"An elderly woman came up to me and said: `I have no money. I can't leave the city. All I want is to stand next to the river at night and see the reflection of leaves and the moon,' " Mr. Van Valkenburgh said.
And if all goes according to plan, people will be able to kayak or walk in the midst of 10 acres of wetlands, where sumac and bayberry hug the shore, and beach plum and holly thrive in the upland dunes. The natural shoreline disappeared centuries ago when piers with rail lines were built to transport freight from boats. This reconstructed shoreline will be on fill, pieces of stone and rubble, with mucky soil custom-made for the native plants that will grow here.
Mr. Van Valkenburgh saw cedar waxwings and robins flock to trees the day after they were planted at Teardrop Park, the two-acre fragment of the Hudson River Valley designed by his firm for Battery Park City. Great limestone rocks and a wall of bluestone, all quarried upstate, were just a moonscape, he said, until the trees and shrubs were planted.
"Within 24 hours, birds were inhabiting those plants and singing," he said.
FYI -- The organizers of World Environment Day 2005 are focusing on 'greening cities.' It really is time to take a good look at the urban environment.
Planeta.com conducted an online conference last year on the topic of Urban Ecotourism, We invite your support for the conference
I don't wish to gripe - but there is no such thing as 'wilderness'. When people talk of "places untouched by human hand" they invariably mean untouched by western constructions. There ARE no places untouched by human hand and have not been for thousands of years. Australian Aborigine's farmed their continent with fire and all indigenous peoples have their own idea of what a 'wilderness' looks like and it has very little in common with the European conception. We need to get our heads around this before it pits a new generation of environmentalists against the people actually living in these so-called 'wild' environments as it has with Greenpeace etc.
These "wild" urban parks are an excellent start to greening our cities. Another step would be to encourage city and suburban dwellers to wild up their own landscapes instead of maintaining them as biological monocultures with regular toxic hosings from Chemlawn. Cityscaping with native plants can dramatically reduce the need for irrigation and the application of poisonous chemicals. Everybody wins. Except, of course, Chemlawn.
And a way to repair the damage done by our chemical habits is to reweave and establish a native soilweb for those nicey-nice native plants to tke hold. This means good quality composts and aerobic compost teas made with fungi and bacteria which can hold and activate the minerals, and detox the poisons thru digestion. Without this basic structure, the broken and fractured soil foodwebs will not hold us going native, won't hold us going anywhere. Let us get busy with the fun of this.
To have a quick look on a very promising way to add "man made" wilderness in cities, just head to Paris.
Patrick Blanc's vertical garden on display in Pershing Hall hotel and in Quai Branly Museum is clearly telling to the world that any wall is suitable for welcoming biodiversity.