Maintaining the Marginal

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 Recently, a friend took me to visit an extensive public garden in Berlin, where she had helped establish a perennial plant collection some years ago.  For several hours we strolled over hillside meadows, through woodlands, along lakes and wetlands, all built during the last three decades in a formerly industrial area.  The garden was well laid out, bucolic, its trees beginning to achieve real stature, its plantings diverse and intelligent.  Drawing from the classic traditions of English landscape design, the garden offered a mirror of nature.

I began to notice something was missing.  The park had elements one would expect in an ecological restoration project—water, topography, diverse plantings and habitat.  Yet the wildlife was noticeably absent.  The place is simply too well-maintained.  Scenic, but not really alive.  Bill Mollison (one of the originators of the Permaculture concept) used to say, “Tidiness is maintained disorder.”  I was witnessing a clear demonstration of the disordering influence of tidiness.

In urban areas, vitality and diversity tends to retreat to the marginalized spaces—  riverfronts, rail right-of-ways, highway embankments, old graveyards, abandoned lots or neighborhoods.  These places are largely left alone, the controls relaxed.  They are the places where endangered species can be found, where people go to drink or have sex.  Outlaw places, and out of them can come ecological and social renewal. (more…)

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