Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Cities, restoration & art

I met the artist Carmen Bouyer over the summer

..and asked her about her involvement with two organisations with similar names, The Nature of Cities (
https://www.thenatureofcities.com/the-nature-of-cities-europe-the-nature-of-cities-france/), and City as Nature (http://cityasnature.org), and FRIEK, the Forum for Radical Imagination and Environmental Knowledge (http://cityasnature.org/post/2019/radical-imagination-friek). City as Nature is a project set up by a colleague of Carmen who is a curator based in Osaka, Japan. The Nature of Cities, by contrast, is the organization for which Carmen works in France, which aims “to curate joined conversations about urbanism across ways of knowing and modes of action. [It] creates transdisciplinary, publicly available, and widely disseminated programs, events, knowledge, and engagements for green city making. [It] strive[s] for cities worldwide that are resilient, sustainable, livable, and just.” Finally FRIEK “produce[s] place-based storytelling (essays, poetry, and film), and actions (interventions, arts exhibitions, residencies, and transdiciplinary events) that inspire direct ecological actions in local landscapes and communities” and works with Nature of Cities. FRIEK organised round tables, installations, a mural, a library, performances and poetic walks through the city at the Nature of Cities Summit in Paris last June (https://www.tnoc-summit.org/about/en). The Summit combined reflections on cities from and for planners, scientists and artists. The aim of the artistic interventions was to provide a transdisciplinary forum in which people could reflect and make connections.

I thought that the idea of having artistic and multidisciplinary activities within a conference on urban technical and policy issues was a great idea. Carmen told me that she had previously worked at the New York City Urban Field Station carrying out artistic and outreach projects. Now she is based in Paris as part of the team setting up the French office of Nature of Cities, which hopes to develop and promote similar fora, artistic activities and outreach.

Much of Carmen’s past work in New York involved habitat restoration. She worked with grassroots efforts to plant trees and other plants in to re-establish healthy natural habitats, or cleaning habitats full of trash or other pollution. I asked her about the difference between restoration as a technical activity as restoration as performance art. She insisted that at least for the kind of grassroots restoration efforts that she has been involved with, there isn’t really a difference, that restoring a habitat is always an act of poetry, and that the intention, more than any particular practice, is what makes all restoration a work of art. She pointed to the ritualistic aspects of planting and cleaning in community with other people and plants.

You can see some of Carmen’s work here:
http://www.carmenbouyer.com

This link between art, planning, science and technology is indeed relatively well-developed in cities. In what other context would you invite artists to reflect with planners and scientists around socio-ecological design issues? The value of cities is that they bring together many different actors and provide (or force) spaces for exchange. During our discussion of restoration as art, I kept thinking of the gridded plantings of native or non-native trees covering hills in Chile and parts of the developing world, where restoration as industrial impact compensation or emissions compensation is applied not like the poetic, grassroots actions Carmen was thinking of, but as a type of industrial forestry. Once the irrigation is no longer paid for, the plastic sapling protectors become dislodged and litter the landscape, and the plastic irrigation tubes are embedded in the ground. Meanwhile many of the trees die, and the remaining trees form something that does not at all resemble a forest, with the organic and intrinsic history of relations between plants that you would expect. Forests that grow in rows are places where the meaning comes from outside—someone planted them for a human reason, imposed on all other kinds of reasons. In a spontaneously and “naturally” forming forest, the spaces between the trees and plants reveal their relationships and histories. The distribution of things in the landscape is rich in meaning. Its not that grids of equal-aged trees are not without meaning, but the meaning is particular and limited. It talks about power, money, nature made to resemble a plantation (or vice versa), of impersonalization and standardization of the tree-human and plant-plant relationships. It would be helpful if cities can start teaching remote, rural and “natural” areas about how to do restoration as art.

--Meredith Root-Bernstein, 10-10-2019

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