It’s a given that a majority of visitors don’t flock to New York City to commune with nature.
Instead, they come for the bright lights, the blaring horns, the concrete canyons and the messy, dirty, thrilling, chaotic in-you-face-ness of it all. They’re perfectly fine leaving the city without having experienced something that could be described as remotely “tranquil,” “bucolic,” “pastoral.” And aside from ubiquitous urban fauna — rats, pigeons, subway-dwelling microbes, et al. — visitors to NYC generally aren’t expecting to encounter any other forms of wildlife. And if other critters are encountered, they damn better be passing out 15 percent off coupons for the Disney Store.
A buzzy new Kickstarter campaign from urban ecologist Mariellé Anzelone, however, aims to remind visitors — and long-time residents — that the five boroughs are positively teeming with natural areas — forests, marshes, meadows and other secluded spots where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone hawking $2 hot dogs (sorry, Central Park). And to do so, Anzelone plans on erecting a pop-up forest — read: a “large-scale temporary nature installation” — in a spot where you’d least expect it: Times Square.
Dubbed PopUP Forest: Times Square, Anzelone’s sylvan vision involves plopping a whole lot of greenery into the tourist-clogged heart of Midtown Manhattan. Mature 70-foot trees and wildflowers (Anzelone is the founder and executive director of NYC Wildflower Week) aplenty would join “flowering shrubs, mosses, and understory vegetation” that provide “beauty and important sustenance for migrating birds and pollinating insects.”
Unlike the immaculately landscaped elevated conveyor belt otherwise known as the High Line, PopUP Forest would offer visitors a wholly immersive experience. That is, it would be a total removal from the manmade environment complete with piped-in nature sounds from a real patch of Big Apple wilderness — Inwood Hill Park, to be exact — that will “cancel out the urban cacophony.”
“It’s not just trees, but forests are so much more than that,” Anzelone recently explained to CBS 2 News. “There’s also shrubs and ferns and wildflowers. You’ll notice as you’re walking, the ground’s not hard underneath. It’s soft. It’s squishy. There’s a layer of leaves, and there’s moss. And then suddenly, the smells are different, and the sounds are different.”
Anzelone imagines the whole lush shebang — a "crazy PR event for nature," as she puts it — would go up overnight in a high-traffic public plaza in Times Square and last about three weeks. After its run, the trees, shrubs and other vegetated elements used in the PopUP Forest installation would find permanent homes in parks, school yards, sidewalk tree pits and so-called City Block Biomes.
As mentioned, the primary goal of PopUP Forest: Times Square is to serve as both an ephemeral oasis for urban wildlife and as a very public reminder that New York City isn’t just skyscrapers and sidewalks and subways and fast-talking, fast-walking scrums — roughly one-eighth of the entire city is open, undeveloped and wild. As the PopUP Forest website also explains, the installation hopes to “foster a movement to redefine cities with nature in mind. This is critical as more people now live in cities than rural areas, making the world an urban place.”
Thus far, PopUP Forest: Times Square has blown past its initial $25,000 crowdfunding goal with 18 days left to go. As of publication Anzelone and her colleagues at NYC Wildflower Week have raised an impressive $31,400.
Of course, this one round of fundraising won’t result in a dense thicket magically materializing in Times Square any time soon. With a total estimated cost of $1.7 million, the funds secured during this initial Kickstarter campaign will go towards the crucial first stage of the project: covering marketing and legal costs, creating professional design renderings to present to the Times Square Alliance and erecting a prototype pop-up forest near Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal this summer.
If all goes as planned, the fully realized PopUP Forest would hit Times Square during the summer of 2016.
In the meantime, here's a quick and very-much-not-complete list of real deal forests located within New York City limits.
Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan
Boasting 196 acres of largely untouched and un-landscaped primordial forest, Inwood Hill Park offers visitors a taste of what Manhattan would be like if everything was stripped away and the island reverted back to its original state.
Forest Park, Queens
Described by NYC Parks as an “agrarian delight,” the 538-acre Forest Park is the largest continuous oak forest in the borough of Queens. Largely concentrated on the park’s eastern side, the sylvan sanctuary is home to to towering beauties including Northern red oaks, white oaks, yellow poplars and shagbark hickories.
Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Although best known for its beaches, Pelham Bay Park — New York City’s largest park at nearly 3,000 acres — is also home to 520 acres of dense forest. A long, leisurely walk along the Kazimiroff Nature Trail on Hunters Island is a must for those seeking respite from the relentless hustle and bustle.
When on Staten Island …
Via [CBS 2], [Grist]
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