There’s just something about gardens, isn’t there?
I mean: gardens. They’re a big deal. Palaces have gardens. French chateau’s have a gardens. Emperors and empresses have gardens. The “garden scene” is a standard turning point in the conventional narrative of a hero’s quest, appearing in epic works such as the Aeneid and Karate Kid. (Yes. The original Karate Kid was, in fact, epic.) Heck, Adam and Eve started this whole mess in a garden. I’m not entirely sure what it is about them: the colorful flowers, the wafting scents, the fact that you can pretend you’re in a Jane Austen novel, or if it’s just that really cool people go to gardens to fall in love and/or meditate. Regardless, gardens are a pretty big deal.
And they’ve been making the news, lately, too! This week, the New York Times and several other news outlets ran features about the unveiling of “vertical gardens” in Mexico City – one of the world’s most polluted cities when it comes to air quality. These arches consist of over 50,000 plants, which apparently have the capacity to remove both greenhouse gasses and particulates from the air. They also generate oxygen and are said of reduce noise pollution in the city as well. The structures, which are the work of a nonprofit called VERDMX, are one of numerous initiatives that Mexico City is taking to shed it’s longstanding nickname “Mex-sick-o City,” a title earned because of the incredibly poor air quality and polluted conditions endured by residents.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, someone woke up and decided that the city was not to be outdone: a proposed initiative in the city would plant 60,000 trees in rooftop gardens all around Beirut, drawing inspiration from the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Is that capitalized? Grammar aside, it seems like one of the seven wonder of the ancient world should be a proper noun, so I’m going with it.) I’m not entirely sure how they came up with that, since the original gardens would have been somewhere in present-day Iraq, but despite this fact it’s an impressive and ambitious initiative. The plants would provide air and water quality benefits to the city and bring some new life to a city that is currently less than 3% parks and green space.
Both of these initiatives are representative the fact that initiatives like urban gardening and green infrastructures are gaining ground in many ways. No longer confined to the hemp-eating corners of the world (hello, Portland, Oregon), merging green space with urban atmospheres – when done effectively – can bring both environmental and aesthetic benefits. In the U.S., Chicago has more green roof space than any other city, followed by Washington, Minneapolis, and Baltimore.
Not everyone is a fan of the growing trend, though. Many residents view efforts such as those in Mexico City as overly expensive – and a waste of money during a time when more pressing issues might need to be prioritized. Others don’t see efforts like Beirut’s rooftop tree proposition as true “gardens.” Unlike a park, you can’t wander through them on a lazy Sunday afternoon (which, apparently, some people have. Who knew?) Finally, the projects do require maintenance and upkeep, which can be costly and difficult. Plants must be hardy enough to survive local conditions, and groups implementing these efforts must be careful to balance the costs and benefits. Projects which fall into disrepair because of poor planning and maintenance don’t provide many benefits, and in some cases are just as hideous as the concrete jungle they were trying to improve. It seems likely that in decades to come, we’ll see more initiatives like these become an integral part of urban planning and revitalization projects. Let’s hope they’re done well. Or if not, removed quickly.