As the topic of urban restoration garners more attention, we have seen an increase in the investigation and experimentation relating to NYC’s ecological past. NYC Wildflower Week demonstrated a rise in popularity of plants native to New York City. Coupling urban restoration and indigenous plants, Julie Farris and Sarah Wayland-Smith, both landscape designers, were commissioned by the Public Art Fund to design and construct ‘A Clearing in the Streets,’ a 15-foot wide, plywood structure containing the beginnings of a meadow. The temporary installation, meant to invite passers-by to appreciate and watch the “re-insertion” of nature back into the city, offers a glimpse into NYC’s native landscape.
We found the walls enclosing the landscape to be slightly disorienting, since we typically think of nature as residing outside, not inside. The designers explained in an interview with Flavorwire: ” [The] narrow apertures, where the bright blue photographic mural can be clearly seen, draw visitors toward the structure and to a closer, more intimate view of the plantings inside.” We were instantly reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth upon approaching the project’s exterior, which made us wonder if by peeking in, we would be whisked off to another world where New York City is no longer a dense, concrete jungle.
And in fact, this sentiment was perhaps not far off. At least, not if you think about the implications of “re-inserting” nature into the city. What would our city look like if more public attention was turned toward green spaces? Or more importantly, how would cities feel — how would the life of an ordinary citizen change?
Upon peering inside, we found that Farris and Wayland-Smith chose to populate their installation with plants native to NYC. As the summer progresses, the plants will grow, creating a very close juxtaposition between nature and built environment. While the use of native plants certainly stirs a bit of nostalgia of what the land once was, the creation of greenery more importantly points to what might be. Inquisitive individuals who investigate the piece will hopefully find that the installation illustrates how a bustling metropolis such as NYC can begin to invite nature back into the daily experiences of its residents.
True to the principles of nature where all matter is part of a living cycle, the designers plan to re-use the materials of the project at the end of the installation: the plants will be donated to NYC community gardens, while the plywood will be re-used to create planter boxes.