2012 Animal Architecture Award Honorable Mention
URBAN HEDGEROW, Lisa Lee Benjamin
The Urban Hedgerow is a series of urban-animal friendly installations. The project creates wall mounted vertical forms which can be comprised of collected sticks, industrial components, lumber discards and clippings from parks, yards, and forgotten city bits. The ambition is to create space and allow more of our wild world into the city, and to make people grapple with where they draw the line between wild neighbor and pest.
Urban hedgerow suggests that we, Humans are also “nature” and the project inspires all of us to be a little more tolerant and a little more natural. Allowing for our “nature” means tolerating degrees of neglect and chaos, and cultivating enjoyment, delight, and even awe. The aim is to provoke these experiences in the humans astride these Urban Hedgerows as the installations provide sustenance and habitat for an abundance of insects, animals and plants.
Lisa Lee Benjamin is a catalyst for the planet. She is profoundly dedicated to altering the way we live and transforming passion into action. As Principal of Evo Catalyst, an environmental design and consulting firm based in San Francisco, Lisa works internationally in collaboration, to open the possibilities and challenge our ideas of sustainability and community to create systems that work. www.lisaleebenjamin.com
Urban hedgerow explores the idea that we are also “nature” and inspires all of us to be a little more tolerant and a little more natural. It is good practice to get along with and encourage our small invertebrate compatriots as they provide us with important ecosystem services of pollination, predation and decomposition. Art is a wonderful way to start a movement, involve community and increase awareness of these simple and necessary processes. Allowing for our “nature” means tolerating degrees of neglect and chaos, and cultivating enjoyment, delight, and even awe. The aim is to provoke these experiences in the humans astride these Urban Hedgerows as the installations provide sustenance and habitat for an abundance of insects, animals and plants.
Urban Hedgerows are multifaceted, each piece is a conspicuous, wall-mounted, outdoor vertical installation for wildlife to colonize. They can be easily reproduced universally and are best done in community. The forms will take shape with a foundation of collected materials such as sticks and branches that are drilled with sized holes for cavity nesting bees, beetles, spiders and other insects, and various fill materials providing nest makings, food and fodder for wildlife. The protrusions provide rest stops and nesting locations for birds and windblown seeds to take hold.
The Urban Hedgerow will be placed in a well-traveled locations with the materials collected and foraged from surrounding local parks, gardens and vacant lots. The harvesting process encourages a certain amount of clean up, engagement, maintenance and responsibility and requires a retraining of how we look at our urban environment. Just as a herd of elk will graze a meadow selectively, city dwellers can be trained to gather storm debris, prune trees, harvest flower heads, fennel stalks and leaves. This in turn provides an ecosystem service and we become just another animal. This hands on education strengthens community, understanding and participation in our environment and our world.
Accompanying the installation, and responding to the attention it attracts, will be street level information that discusses the ideas of the project in the two or three languages most commonly legible to neighborhood passersby. It will also pose questions about people’s feelings about the bugs, and birds in their midst, and will coax an awareness and tolerance of, and even joy for, the continual colonization of the city by plants and animals.
The urban hedgerow, widely replicated, could enhance footholds and provide forage and fodder for passing birds, insects, spiders, and other animals as they move through the city on their way between wildlands. To do so, we need to rework the human line between tolerance for and disgust with wildlife in the city. The artists’ desire is to infuse street smarts with nature smarts: avoiding bee flight paths, for example.
The stresses of global change include vast human and non human displacement, especially palpable in many of our urban areas. Steeped in the emotions and economics of displacement, immigrants have brought living reminders of their lands left behind, whether roses from england, potatoes from Peru or sweet pea seeds carried in pockets. With this migration, spontaneous elements from home such as hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, and other familiar species appear on the wing, seemingly out of context from a wild transcontinental flyway. Our small human intervention, the urban hedgerow, provides rest stops and footholds for the far traveling organisms. By making an effort we can create an acceptance that we are also nature and that maybe our purpose has been misunderstood as one of destruction instead of one of creation, togetherness and conglomeration.
The global groundswell of interest in urban agriculture, green roofs, sidewalk gardens and urban greening paves the way for inviting uncultivated, wild organisms into the city, broadening the focus of human-nature relationship from management (agriculture) to benign neglect (hedgerow). If we begin to see us as nature our design and our organization all begins to change in order to support the whole and we become just another animal as we are.
All images credit: Lisa Lee Benjamin