Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The High Line and Viva La Revolucion!

During our brief visit to New York, we were blessed with great weather, perfect for a walk in the recently opened High Line. What a great place. The High Line is a park/walk created on the disused West Side elevated rail line. Even if you’ve been to New York a million times, I promise you’ll still get new and stunning views of it from the High Line.

The walk is really just a short stroll, from the Meat Packing district to 20th Street at the moment, eventually being extended up to Chelsea.

cycle through San Pellegrino - yes, the one where the (free)water comes from!
Not only is it a perfect refuge for city residents, but also feeds my love of converted railways. Between the delightful Tarka Trail and the magnificent views of the Valle Brembana Cycle Route (right) in Lombardy, Italy, I seem to be developing a bit of an obsession with disused railways. Which led me to find this jewel of a website, with a list of them (England only, sorry):

Back at the High Rise, I particularly love the landscaping. No manicured lawns or picture pretty borders, but rather a focus on native species and allowing most of the work to self-seeded plants. According to their website: "The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. The 210 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees in Section 1 were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species. Many of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are incorporated into the park's landscape."

The landscape project was the careful - and expensive - work of urban designers Field Operations, but the results remind me of the kind of space one would associate with the work of guerrila gardening.

I am a huge, huge, huge fan of this concept, as much as I detest the word guerilla. It really would sound better if guerilla were to be replaced by independent, or free, perhaps surprise gardening.

Digression alert!Don’t you love the way some words are imported into a particular language, indicating the lack of a particular notion in that culture? Examples: the use of French Bon App├ętit in England. And there’s no Italian for privacy. Of course there isn’t. Guerilla warfare and the English character don't really go together, do they?

Guerilla gardening is used to describe the transformation – by members of the public – of a neglected public space into a garden of some shape.
The idea started in New York City back in the 70s, when it still had so many run down areas.

But don’t be fooled by the seemingly illicit, underground name. Generally, local authorities are quite happy to turn a blind eye to this, if not illegal, at least unregulated activity. And understandably so. After all, these are groups of individuals volunteering to do for free what increasingly tight budgets force local governments to push to the bottom of the priorities list.

As put by the wonderful blog You Grow Girl: "Guerilla gardening doesn’t have to be an illicit affair. It’s about transforming space to benefit everyone rather than about personal ownership. It’s about gardening anywhere and everywhere, using plants to create beauty in forgotten spaces."

In England, Richard Reynolds is The Name on GG. After dedicating a lot of his spare time to planting his way around South London, he started blogging about it, which led to a very successful website, followed by On Guerilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries. I just found this really fascinating clip on his website, showing a spot of public guerilla gardening in Stockholm. I love it not only because of the sunflowers, but also because it combines another great idea to cheer up grey city life: flashmobs.

But ultra civilized Scandinavia is perhaps not the obvious beneficiary of guerilla gardening. This is a perfect idea for countries that don’t traditionally rely so heavily of government services. It’s big, polluted, unplanned, violent cities, mostly in the developing world that spring to my mind as the ones crying out for initiatives like that. Places like Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Mexico City.
It makes perfect sense. All the ingredients are there: neglected areas; absent government; a massive social inequality which comes in rather handy when it comes to find well heeled volunteers willing to live in a more pleasant city.

from this...

to this?

I’d love to hear of existing GG projects in such places.
I wonder if you'd soon spot a relationship between this kind of initiative and the dicrease in violence levels.

My personal gardening experience have so far been restricted to the allotment and a stubborn persistence in killing my tiny garden. But who knows, if Anne from London Differently is prepared to join me, I'd be a willing recruit of the Guerilla. Anne?

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