Saturday, June 10

The Forbidden Forest

I've been reading on some websites about a new "tree display" project that the City of Boston is working on. It's going to take up about 3 large city blocks, not downtown, but somewhere nearby; I'm not really familiar with the layout of Boston. It's essentially a park, but the interesting thing about it is that no humans will be allowed in. The idea is that the space will start with rich soil with a few native plants and grasses already planted to keep the soil down, and then just let nature take it's course: beginning with grasses, bushes, and eventually trees, plus whatever insects, animals and birds that decide to come along for the ride. In a generation or two, who knows what it could look like? It will be bounded by 8 or 10 feet high fences, so people can look through, and so animals and birds can get in and out, but it will permit almost no human entry.

The only people who are allowed into the park will be a few professional gardeners or tree-keepers, who will make sure any litter that gets blown in by the wind is removed, everything gets enough water, etc. They can promote plant life, but they can do nothing to oppose it, so no weeding, grass cutting, or landscaping, and of course no pesticides.

The majority of the costs are being paid for by the City of Boston and by one of Boston's art organizations, plus a few other groups across the states. It's considered by some to be an "art project", something like Christo's The Gates, in NYC.

I haven't quite made up my mind on whether this is a good idea or not. I can see both sides of it, and I've read some comments from people that are both positive and negative. It boils down to a question of humanity's value: is the presence of a human, or many humans, a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, why have what could be a beautiful place of life and harmony cut off from access? Why assume that human presence will obstruct that life and harmony? Are we inherently harmful to nature? And if we aren't, why do some people think we are, so much to forbid us from entering a pleasant part of a city?

One of the points against it is the potential that it will be the first of many tree museums. This argument suggests that we've reached a point where untended nature is so far away that in order to remind or educate people what Mother Nature is like when left alone, we have to put it behind glass, like in a museum. If these museums pop up all over the place, then it will lessen the value of the "real" nature that's left: the untouched rainforets, the arctic, the miles of boring trees in northern New Brunswick, etc.

But of course, there are benefits. The park will become a habitat for all kinds of living things, and without people feeding them, cutting down their homes, or otherwise meddling with their existence, a real ecosystem will develop, right within a busy city, the last place where one would expect to find an ecosystem beyond cockroaches and rats. The secondary benefits to humans would certainly be noticeable: the improved air quality as a result of the trees doing their thing, the spiritual value that a true forest can bring, and of course it will serve an educational purpose: a child born and raised around a few scattered city blocks, connected by underground transportation, may not get to see a thriving forest for many years, even if just from the outside. Because of it's unique position inside a loud and polluted city, the park/forest will likely develop in unexpected, never-seen-before ways.

It's a wierd and fascinating idea, but I'm still on the fence. If I promise not to hurt anything, can I go inside? Maybe they could do weekly tours or something. But still, I know that any human presence will have an impact. We're big animals, much bigger than the rodents that will occupy the park, and so our size and weight alone will damage and possibly kill certain organisms. If supporters say that certain things won't have a chance to grow and live if I go in, they're right. In the end I wish the forests and other untouched natural spaces that we have access to already were more respected and valued than they are now.


At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Indeed your email is down. I'm coming into town late Monday nite, and I have a big evening planned for the 21st so I hope you can partake! Email me at or phone 902.404.5427. What's your phone number?


At 10:45 PM, Blogger Johnathan said...

Hi Sam!

'Tree museum' musings aside, I think that keeping humans out of the place entirely is really the only way to go. Two of the most ecologically diverse areas around nowadays are the demilitarized zone between the Koreas and the area around Chernobyl, because nobody ever goes there.
Zagbot is dead.


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