Nature in the City – The Work of Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

“You see, as a kid growing up in Orange County, nature was this place we drove to.” This quote is from an essay by James M Brown which was the winning essay in this year’s WOLFoundation annual writing competition (download full essay here). It expresses what is in danger of happening as a result of the conservationist’s ongoing narrative: nature is something that is ‘over there’ – very little to do with us except as entertainment or a packaged ‘product’ we consume as a National Park or other nature reserve – a kind of Disneyland without the big, smiling mouse.

Landscape photographers Diane Cook and Len Jenschel have created for National Geographic Magazine a set of images that shows us that nature is right in our cities – and has always been. The meadowland recreated on the London roof (above), not only serves as insulation for the solar powered house it covers, but also provides a view of nature in our midst for the urban dwellers looking out of the surrounding windows. And there may be even more practical applications.  In Japan, where space is at a significant premium, some of the rice that goes to make Hakutsuru sake is grown on the roof of the company’s offices in Tokyo (below).

But maybe one of the most successful recent projects of urban nature has been the creation of the Highline in New York City. The conversion of a disused, raised railway line into a promenade, mini-park and social gathering space has created a strip of nature snaking between the towering blocks of New York City (below). Cook and Jenshel have been one of the many photographers and artists who have been inspired by the Highline and the vibrant life that has been created around it. It’s surprising how uplifting even a small patch of nature can become.

We live in an age when it is inconceivable that anyone will be able to invest in creating mega projects like those that created the great parks that grace cities worldwide. Yet, the Highline and the many initiatives now sprouting on roofs and walls everywhere are worthwhile and highly valuable. They bring benefits to people and create small areas of refuge that attract birds, butterflies and other creatures right into the middle of our great cities. Valuable as they are, we needn’t just focus on creating new Yellowstones to make a difference. Smaller initiatives sprouting in our midst are valuable too – and all the more so because we don’t even have to drive to them.

National Geographic article about green roofs here

National Geographic article about the Highline here

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